DEAR ABBY: Our friend's adult children invited us to a birthday party they were throwing for their parent at a restaurant. As we were ordering, the server asked if the checks would be separate or couples. (This was our first clue that we were expected to pay for our dinner.) For us, it was no problem, but an elderly couple had a long discussion about how they would pay.
When inviting guests to a party, is it proper to expect them to pay for their dinner? And if so, how should it be phrased in the invitation? If no mention is made, how would one inquire as to how the bill is handled?
This has never come up before. Hosts (including us) have always picked up the tab. -- CAUGHT OFF GUARD IN OHIO
DEAR CAUGHT OFF GUARD: How embarrassing for that older couple, not to mention your friend.
Unless it is discussed or agreed upon beforehand, a host is expected to pick up the check. (That's what "host" means.) If guests will be expected to pay for their own drinks (or meals), then the occasion is a "no host" gathering. That the guests were expected to pay for their own meal should not have been announced at the last minute; it should have been mentioned when the invitation was issued.
As to how to ask who will be paying when you are invited out, please know that asking that question isn't rude -- particularly in light of what you experienced.