I've never really had anyone to celebrate my birthday with, so I don't have experience with party/gathering norms.
This year I decided to be proactive and invite people out somewhere, maybe Topgolf[1] (to give an impression of the price/scale I'm wondering about).

Is it in keeping with etiquette that I just pay for the entire party? Or can I expect everyone to contribute their share?

If it matters, I don't expect any gifts, so in my situation paying for themselves would be plenty.
If I were in that position, I would plan on paying for myself if not also the birthday-person, but I'm not sure what the greater "social contract" says is expected.

[1]: Pricing is $25-45 an hour for up to six people, depending on time of day. For my situation it would be less than six people for at most two hours.

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    Right now, I'm sorry, but I don't see the Interpersonal Skill this is supposed to relate to. Whether or not you want to pay for a birthday party is a decision you should make. How to ask your friends to chip in might be a good Interpersonal question, but whether you should pay or not is primarily opinion based. (Speaking from experience, this changes per group of friends)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Dec 4, 2017 at 9:06
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    <answers removed> Folks, if you have an answer, please post it below. Comments do not have the features we use to vet or edit whatever you say here. Dec 4, 2017 at 12:01
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    @Tinkeringbell Interpersonal skills is not just about how to say things. It's also about social etiquette... and this certainly seems to apply. Dec 4, 2017 at 12:03
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    @RobertCartaino Then, I'm curious what the OP wants to know here: The etiquette or whether they are asking us to make a decision for them. Right now, the question can be interpreted both ways :/ (And I must admit I was leaning towards the second more)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Dec 4, 2017 at 12:10
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    @RobertCartaino I've made an edit to this question to try and bring out the social aspect of the question more. I hope this is acceptable.
    – Magisch
    Dec 4, 2017 at 14:41

5 Answers 5


In my personal experience:

If you invite people, you're the one paying

Unless you invite people and clearly state on the invitation that you're expecting people to contribute.

A befriended couple of mine invited me to a bar for a birthday of one of them. They clearly stated that first round is on them and for the rest of the night it's everyone for themselves. I really appreciated the fact that they were clear upfront and that they did pay for the first round.

I think people understand that prices can get really expensive for 1 person if you're paying for 6. You just have to be clear:

For my birthday I wanted to do TopGolf with all of you. It's $30 an hour, so if we split the bill, it costs us all $5.

(Optional) I am buying drinks during the activity/ afterwards we can go to my place to get some drinks and snacks.

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    It's all in the wording. An 'invitation' doesn't explicitly imply you are paying, but some may see it as such. What you are trying to do is 'organise' a group event, and that is very different. Perhaps your 'invitation' should be informal, like an email to all, saying you are organising an event, give the details and price, and then just incidentally mention at the end that their attendance would mean a lot to you and then add the reason why.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 4, 2017 at 14:21
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    This wasn't the OP's situation, but for the sake of future readers, I might note that there are exceptions to this, notably if you suggest just going out for a meal together, people will probably expect to pay for themselves, as with a non-birthday social meal out.
    – Cascabel
    Jan 9, 2018 at 19:59

Is it in keeping with etiquette that I just pay for the party? Or can I ask everyone to contribute their share?

Yes to both. If you invite people to something, they'd appreciate your offer to pay. However, including in the invite that the cost per person is X is also acceptable.

This being your birthday, I'd really suggest being transparent about this. You don't want to make it look like you're trying to arrange your friends to take you out for your birthday. What is your economic situation like? Would it be a hardship for you to pay for your friends?

If you can pay, I'd suggest wording the invite like this "I'd like to celebrate my birthday with you at X. We can meet at [time]; and we can plan on 2 hours." Then pay for it when everybody's there. If paying would be hard for you, then word it, "I'd like to celebrate my birthday with you at X. If we all split the cost, it would come to Y per person" I generally don't like mentioning cost in an invite because it can sound tacky. Far worse, however, would be for people to show up, do the event, and then find out that they are expected to pay. That can really cause some hurt feelings.

Have a great birthday!


The short version:

The one who invites is the one paying the bill.

The slightly expanded and more relevant version:

The one who invites is the one paying the bill unless they're clear about it on the invitation.

So word your invitation along the lines of:

"Hey, for my birthday I wanted to get a group of us together to X and I'm seeing if you want to come. Based on the size of the group it looks like we'll each only pay $Y."

  • Very nice short version with an example to boot!
    – Sinjai
    Dec 30, 2017 at 3:14

This could come down to cultural differences. I too don't really have many friends and we just do a bar or dinner. Usually someone pays for the birthday person's meal while the rest pays for themselves. If we are at a bar, everyone usually buys the birthday person at least 1 shot/drink.

I have not been invited or invited people to something that requires an upfront fee like Topgolf since high school in which the birthday parents usually covered the costs. However, knowing how at least my area/group of friends work it would be that individuals pay for themselves. If a friend cannot afford it, usually someone will help them out.

It just depends on your friend dynamics. If you can afford it and are willing to pay for all then by all means do it if that's what you want! Another group of friends would usually just rotate who pays for the whole thing. One person would pay for the movies, the next time we all hang out another would buy a round of beer, the next time someone would buy tickets to a game.

If it is expected that you pay but might not have the cash to, just post as part of the invitation that you will pay the $60 fee (you said no more than 2 hours at the assumed average price of $30) and that if anyone wants to help chip in to cover costs are more than welcome to.

From my experience though, I have never gone to a birthday completely free. Either buying a drink, a shot, buying their dinner, chipping in to pay for their entrance fee, it has always been something my group has done to take care of the person (I mean hey it is THEIR birthday after all).


Is it in keeping with etiquette that I just pay for the party? Or can I ask everyone to contribute their share?

If you are inviting people to a public place such as the one you mentioned on your question, then you are calling people to join you in this place to celebrate your birthday, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are paying for everything, it should implicitly tell them that it is for their own.

Otherwise, if you invite people to a birthday party that you are going to host on your house or a specific place such as a buffet or somewhere like this you are expect to be organizing and accounting for it's own expenses.

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