Service of Incredible Audacity

December 14th, 2009

Categories: Anniversaries, Audacity, Celebrations, Charity Begins at Home, Manipulation, Restaurant

I’ve been bothered by what a friend described to me a month or so ago. She’d been invited to a birthday party at a restaurant and was told by the birthday girl what her share of the check would be.

Note: In my opinion, this person was a greedy facilitator hired by herself to get people together to give her gifts.  She wasn’t a host. If she wanted to plan a gathering that she could afford she might have ordered in pizza and served an ice cream smorgasbord at her home or waited until a year when she could pick up the bill.

How can people be so self-centered and assume that others not only care to toast them, but want/are able to fork over money to do so?

Turns out, this woman isn’t alone. You may have read “When Invitations Come with Invoices,” by Beth Levine in The New York Times Style Section on December 6.  Ms. Levine described something worse: Bill-sharing by the guests at a very expensive restaurant was the big surprise made known when the check came. The birthday boy’s wife handed it to the person next to her and asked him to figure out what each guest owed, according to Ms. Levine. Would I have left the restaurant then and there? I’d have been tempted to do so and thank the wife the next day, telling her that her sense of humor was priceless.

I love contributing to events and dinner parties. My favorite is baking pies and making all kinds of desserts and I have always asked what I might bring–through both thick and thin economies. I’ve gladly brought yawn-items such as salad and dressing or a vegetable dish. My sister, who frequents a fabulous bakery, always offers to bring the most incredible treats to gatherings. And I’ve happily participated in many a baby or wedding shower at a home where everyone brings a treat, as well as in get togethers in a colleague’s home to celebrate participation of members of a committee.

But I feel there’s a big difference between volunteering and being hijacked to contribute.

I don’t think the economy is an excuse. Why do you think that this kind of behavior is considered acceptable?

7 Responses to “Service of Incredible Audacity”

  1. Ann L Said:

    Bad economy, Bad taste……

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I still can’t see the economy as the excuse.

    If you live long enough, and if you’re not born with a trust fund under your arm, you know what it’s like to tighten your belt–in fact, some belts are so small as to make the owner appear anorexic.

    I’ve given parties on one military salary and have been invited to gatherings that use ingenuity instead of money to produce a great gathering—some of the best! Pretty, delicious things to eat don’t cost a fortune—make canapés and skip chunks of cheese which cost so much these days–or select a time, such as tea, and serve a gaggle of cupcakes. Folks won’t miss having liquor [though Trader Joe has incredible wine for under $5/bottle and even less] at 4 pm on a Sunday.

  3. Jonathan Wentworth Said:

    Jeanne,

    I just found your blog and am impressed with the topics about which you have chosen to write.

    Wow! I’ve dealt with demanding New Yorkers insisting on divvying up a check, person by person, down to the last penny of what each consumed, and then leaving a miserly tip. When this has happened, I’ve had to go back and add cash to make sure that the waiters got fairly paid for taking care of us. In such cases, I have ceased knowing the people, unless there was a damn good business reason to keep still know them, but your examples take the cake!

    Were I to be invited to events such as you describe, my first reaction would be to refuse the invitation — rudely. If caught in a restaurant, after the fact, being asked to share in paying the bill when I thought I was somebody else’s guest, I would, as loudly as possible — and I have a “big mouth” as Jackie Gleason would say (I once brought a Lincoln Center restaurant with 200 diners in it to dead silence, much to the embarrassment of its management and my companion) –I would offer to wash the dishes. Then I would immediately forget the names of my hosts.

    For some reason, your horror stories bring to mind a very different experience I had when I first came to New York some years ago. My wife and I were invited to a black tie charity event by local friends, at which one of the benefits was a vast array of first class merchandise at bargain basement prices — premium scotch at $5.00 a bottle, for example. I bought all I could afford, and in return for my checks, the charity passed out receipts not mentioning the merchandise, but thanking me for my “charitable donation.” I don’t remember the name of the charity, and probably never knew it, but I do remember being appalled by the supposed generosity of this particular group of do-gooders as they broke every tax rule in the book.

    Keep up the good work.

    Jonathan

  4. Linda Said:

    Jeanne, you keep hitting on subjects that completely hit home! I too had a similiar experience a few years ago. I was invited by a woman to her birthday party at a restaurant. I brought a present, as I think everyone did. At the end of the evening, after watching an enormous amount of food and wine be consumed by others, I was told my share of the festivities. It was by far more than I have EVER spent on a nice dinner out in Manhattan. I was appalled! Not being quite bold enough to walk out without paying, I paid the “fee” and picked up my present on the way out. No double dipping! I have never spoken to that woman again.

    My other comment is slightly off topic, but about splitting the bill. When I am out with close friends whom I see often, I am happy to split the bill by the number of people. I figure it all comes out in the wash, as they say, in terms of who ate or drank more on a single occasion. What I cannot tolerate, is dining with people who have several drinks before dinner, three courses and wine and then want to split the bill, when I have only had an entree and maybe one glass of wine. When this happens, I always speak up by announcing that I am paying for my portion and adding a generous amount for the tip…which I make sure goes to the waitperson. Then I delete these folks from my blackberry as I leave the restaurant. Who needs them!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I am so glad that you took back your gift, Linda. My blood pressure boils when I read of such examples of insensitivity and greed.

    I used to know people who drank a ton of premium cocktails before dinner at restaurants AND always came late. As one of the couple was an old friend I didn’t want to give up, we made a point of meeting at one or the other person’s home which cut down a bit on the liquor bill and eliminated having to hang out at a crowded restaurant for 3/4 hour or more, hogging a table and trying not to look the waiter in the eye.

    Someone I saw last night said she’d read my post and thought that only young people do this. The person in the example I gave was no spring chicken.

    Calling friends to suggest having dinner together–Dutch–is appropriate at any age. But if I call you up and invite you to a party for me, my husband, my mom, dad, sister, uncle or pet gerbil, in my opinion, the celebration is on me.

  6. Nancy Farrell Said:

    How about throwing yourself a “destination” birthday party and expecting your guests to come up with $1000.00 for a cruise? This didn’t happen to me but it happened to someone I know. Time to get other friends.

    I agree with you, Jeanne, that a little creativity and thought goes a long way. A neighbor of mine has some friends who are professional ballet dancers so for her daughter’s fourth birthday there was dancing on the front lawn–costumes and all.

    For people who live in cities, some apartment buildings have common rooms that can be reserved. Bring in pizza and a movie and you have a movie party.

    The comment about tipping brought back a memory of traveling in a car with a couple who fought the whole time. We stopped for lunch and it was buffet. Once lunch was over, the couple started arguing about how much the tip should be (the server had brought us drinks and dessert but we served ourselves the main course). I wound up making an excuse to go back in just so I could leave more money for the server.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    People have told me of more and more instances of others asking friends and relatives to pay for their celebrations, mostly with a shrug, as if it is what it is, nothing to do about it.

    How did we allow egos to grow so big? A destination celebration? Geesh.

    Further, we have become so passive.

    I have done the return-to-add-money to the tip trip on too many occasions, Nancy!

    We used to have dinner at the Metropolitan Museum with a very old friend of the family who was, in fact, old at the time. We’d eat in the cafeteria–she’d pick up the food check–and a waiter would bring water and silverware and maybe dessert and coffee, wine glasses–I don’t remember the details. Because it was a cafeteria situation, she’d leave nothing for a tip and she could have afforded the few extra dollars. Every time, either my husband or I would make an excuse, just like you, and return to leave one. It was easier.

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