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A Mom Asks: Am I wrong for thinking it’s tacky to invite kids to a birthday party at a restaurant and ask them to pay for their own meal?

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Wow! This question sparked a deep and wide conversation ranging from “Who pays for parties?” to differences in responses based on economics, how you were raised, and much more.

Do you always pay for all your guests? Does it matter whether we are talking about kid’s parties versus an adult get-together?

Here’s The Scenario

little girl at a party.
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The original poster is a Mom who received an Evite for her 13-year old that said, “Please be prepared to purchase meal at the time of event,” which was to be held at a Red Robin restaurant. She wondered, is the poor server supposed to make separate checks for a bunch of middle schoolers? Why have a party in a restaurant if it’s cost prohibitive? 

More Details

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She further mused, there is nothing wrong with having a cake at home, letting the kids run around and do what kids do, and call it a day.

She decided she would send her child with cash for meal, tip and a gift, but she still wondered, “Is this normal etiquette for a kids party?”

And More Info

handling a lot of money.
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She subsequently found out that the birthday kid gets a free meal, and that the gift registry attached to the invite (!) was an automatic thing, that one would have to pay for to remove. Did any of these additional details matter?

In addition, she added some edits to the original post, as folks had questions. The birthday child’s family does have money…but she really wanted to focus on the social aspects of the invite. Was this tacky? What lessons are you teaching the children?

She got answers. Over 500 of them.

Nope. Nope Nope. Don’t Do That!

woman looking shocked.
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Right out of the gate, people were horrified, furious, shocked and saddened:

“I would never in a million years make my kid’s friends pay for anything we invited them to.”

“Nobody goes hungry when I’m around.”

“Tack overload.”

“You host=you pay.”

“If they pay for their own food, don’t expect a gift.”

“My 16 year old agrees that this is tacky and weird! When the 16 year old is the voice of reason, you know it’s a really dumb idea.”

Experiences Like This Form Our Relationship With Money In The Future

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Turns out, many had stories of similar experiences, which then formed their relationship to money and generosity later in life.

“I might not have a pot to pee in, but if I can pick up a friend’s tab, I always will.”

“This seems like one of those early experiences that would forever change how you deal with money.”

“For better or worse, I definitely grew into a ‘it’s my treat!’ kind of person. I genuinely like covering my friends and family when I can and have never cared to nickel and dime expenses.”

What Is This Family Thinking?

plate with sad face.
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Here is one of those experiences:

“This whole thread reminded me of when I was like 12/13 and one of my best friend’s family invited me to go in a day trip with them to Baltimore. We went to the aquarium, walked around the inner harbor, had a good time. My mom gave me like $30/40, maybe, to buy snacks and souvenirs. By the time we left the city I’d spent all my money, admittedly on probably stupid stuff because I was a kid.

The family stopped for dinner on the way home and when we sat down they said I’d have to pay for my own. I said I didn’t have any money left, and the mom basically said, ‘not our fault.’ So, I sat there for an hour while they all ate, and I just watched. Got home at like 9/10pm absolutely famished. My mom was really angry and never let me hang with that girl again.

I’m 31 now and never forgot that. I can’t imagine letting a child go hungry during an excursion I invited them on.”

And Then This Story: Get Out The Hankies

happy kids.
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“In my experience those with the least to give really are the most generous.

I grew up dirt poor. Like some days, there wasn’t food kind of poor. The whole neighborhood was the same. Thing is, if you couldn’t afford to feed your kids, you just sent them out to find a friend to eat with.”

The poster went on to explain how anyone and everyone would just divvy their food up to whomever landed on their doorstep. And if you could stretch it, you send extra home to their Mum or Dad. And maybe the next night, you were at someone else’s getting the same kind of care.

“No one complained. No one ever thought not to feed a hungry child. We were all in the same boat just trying to stay afloat together…

For this family to make a child go hungry over 3 dollars when they have the expendable cash for day trips makes me feel physically sick. I could not in a million years imagine allowing a child to go hungry if I could feed them. It’s simply not an option as far as I’m concerned.”

Many Weighed In On Income Status

person sharing change.
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Turns out, the majority of posters who came from poorer families, or who knew families who didn’t have much, said that they were the most generous:

“Actually, something I noticed from my husband and his siblings – kids that grew up poor are far more willing to share than those that grew up in excess.”

“The stingiest people I know all grew up rich. They’re usually pretty selfish in all areas of their lives not just paying for things. A horrible character trait.”

School Trips Can Be A Minefield

kids skipping.
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Many reminisced about school trips. Either not affording to be able to go, or being the kid who couldn’t buy souvenirs or lunches:

“As a chaperone (for school trips), I always look out for the kids that might not have food money. Stuff like that isn’t a child’s fault and they shouldn’t have to suffer.”

“As a parent that doesn’t want to chaperone, I give the teacher extra money to help pay for kids that can’t afford the field trip and to buy stuff at the book fair.”

Ice Cream & Cremation. They Go Together

kid watching others eat ice cream.
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Many Redditors shared stories from their past:

“One time my father took me for a walk with his girlfriend and I heard an ice cream truck… so naturally being a child that excited me, and I said to my dad we should go get some ice cream! He said okay son let’s go get ice cream and we walk over and find the truck parked on the side of the road. 

My dad got himself and his girlfriend ice creams, and didn’t purchase me one because my mom hadn’t sent me with cash to his apartment that weekend during our visit. They (two full grown adults) just proceeded to eat their ice creams in front me me…That lesson taught me just how self-serving people (even our parents) can be sometimes. I’ll never forget that moment, especially not when I’m inevitably forced to pay for my father’s funeral at which point I will definitely opt for the cheap cremation option I see on this billboard on the local highway.”

Money Might Just Be Money, But It Can Make A Difference

women hugging and crying.
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Money is money and not as important as integrity and compassion, but it can make a difference in people’s lives. This Mom knows how to do it right:

“Gobsmacked by your experience, what horrible people. When I was a kid had a friend and his mom did not have much money… I invited him to an amusement park, but he declined. Invited two other friends, and they would have their own money. My Mom told me to convince my friend to go, and then she paid for everyone. Ride tickets, food, games, etc.

She did not want my friend to feel awkward. Everyone had a ball, and I recall that night when we dropped everyone off the other two moms tried to give my mom cash, but she turned it down; just the way she was. The other Mom though spent time talking with my Mom after we dropped my friend off, and was crying & hugging my Mom. Long time before it dawned on me what exactly happened.”

This Teen Shows Ingenuity!

girl doing laundry.
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We wonder where this teen ended up in life? Wouldn’t be surprised if they were a successful entrepreneur, and we love their sense of humor:

“My mother sent me on a 2 week Christian Youth camp in my teens without a cent for lunches or trips. (I was never given pocket money.) When I got back, she laughed at me, saying she hoped I enjoyed my lunches – she was really evil – and was furious when I told her I not only had wonderful lunches, but had enough money to buy lunches for the other kids who had no money, too. 

I explained to my horrified parents I’d earned it doing ‘dirty things for the boys at night’, and left them forever believing whatever they chose.”

Here is what she did: “Every evening I’d take a basket around collecting clothes guys wanted washed, and for 20c per garment, (this was late ’60s,) they’d get their clothing back next morning, cleaned, dried and folded. I did get teased a lot, but all in good fun, and made lots of friends.”

One person’s response: “You’re my spirit animal. I love this story so much!”

Adult Parties Are Different

adult birthday party.
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There was a discussion on how things are different, it we are talking about an adult birthday party:

“I dunno… if I went to a birthday party for my friend at a restaurant I would expect not only I pay for my meal, but we all pitch in for the birthday person’s meal.”

“You can have a party at a restaurant and as an adult I would expect to pay for myself at a restaurant.”

“As an adult I don’t expect for anyone to pay for my meal at a friend’s birthday dinner, in fact I expect that we probably chip in for the birthday girl/boy.”

“If one person/couple says, ‘Please join me at Restaurant Name to celebrate Person’s birthday/anniversary/bar mitzvah,’ then I’m assuming that I am meant to bring a gift for person and that the host will take care of my food. 

It’s all about who is hosting, if anyone is.”

Being Passive Aggressive Can “Pay” Off

money in wallet.
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Many people were quite upset for the original poster, even offering “to throw down hands” with the stingy parents, even though they know they are too late. This person had a fairly passive-aggressive idea (that we kind of liked):

“Send the parent a note saying you didn’t know they were having financial difficulties and offer to pay for part of the party. Let see what the response is.”

One cheeky person asked, “And what would you do if they accept the offer?”

The answer: “Send a check.” Right on.

Some Defended The Stingy Parent’s Invite

Right Wrong sign.
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There were a few posters who defended the stingy parents, but their comments were made before the original poster let everyone know that they did, indeed, have the means to throw this party. Still, here are some of the comments:

“I’m not saying it’s not tacky, but as a poor parent, it can be difficult to find an affordable way to have a birthday party for our kid…I sympathize with parents who can’t afford to throw their kid a birthday party, but want to do something because it’s your kid.”

“This whole thread is elitist… So, if a kid’s parents are poor and can’t afford an entire parties worth of meals, that kid never gets to have a birthday party at a restaurant? To have food catering? To do anything that costs money?”

“Even the word ‘tacky’ is elitist.”

A common response to that was, “Then just invite one or two kids. I would rather not eat myself (ie: eat at home first, let the kids have their fun restaurant meal and sip a coke) then make a kid pay for themselves.”

This Is How To Be Gracious

girl eating burger.
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Small actions can speak volumes. Let’s end on an up note. So many awesome adults here!

“Years ago…My mom at a fast-food restaurant overheard a young child being similarly treated…She leaned over and asked …

‘Excuse me. We bought extra for someone who didn’t show up…Would you please take this extra burger and fries off our hands?’

Yes…It was my mom’s lunch she gladly donated to the hungry kid.”

Folks, be kind. Be compassionate. Help those in need. Every, little bit matters. Even small actions can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Some language from the original Reddit thread has been edited.

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