I would like to host a party for my wife's 30th birthday in one of her favorite restaurants. Since I can't afford to pay the dinner bill for all of my guests, I thought I'd just ask everyone to share the cost of the food and drinks at the end of the party. How can I word the invitation so that guests know that they'll have to pay for their own food and drink, but that there will be birthday cake served for dessert?
I have received this question more times than I would have thought possible. In fact, sometimes I receive questions from the shocked guests who have not been warned in advance, and are simply presented with a bill at the end of the party. They write to me asking if they really have to pay the bill that was presented to them. I can only guess that this poor etiquette derives from the tradition among high school and college students where friends chip in to take a mutual friend out to celebrate a birthday.
Once you're all grown up, however, this is not the way to host a party. When you invite guests to a party for a family member, it's expected that you will be picking up the bill. Therefore, you have two choices if you can't afford to pay for all of your guests. You can reduce the size of your guest list and only invite a few close friends and family - as many as you can afford. Talk to the restaurant in advance to see whether they can present a limited number of affordable menu choices to your guests so that you can stretch your budget. Alternatively, simplify the party and invite everyone to your home for a piece of birthday cake and coffee. Save the fancy restaurant meal for just the two of you.