You shared horror stories of getting charged after dinner parties. I lost my faith in humanity .

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In my last newsletter, I wrote about a shocking incident wherein a woman reported being asked to compensate a dinner party host for a plate of penne she ate. No, this wasn’t a home-based restaurant. For those of you who are already getting ruffled about going Dutch with friends or asking them to pitch in for extravagant home feasts, there are two important things to remember in this case: She brought wine, and she wasn’t told about those expectations before she put her fork in that pasta. I asked readers to let me know whether they had ever experienced this. Unfortunately for humanity as a whole, I got tons of responses, which I’ll include below, mildly anonymized and edited to protect the innocent. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with their stories.

I think this set off so many people because the very concept of inviting someone over and turning the occasion into something transactional goes against so many cultural mores. There’s the ancient Greek value of xenia, a sort of ritualized tradition of hospitality that meant feeding guests regardless of where they came from. The idea was that you never knew if a stranger in your home was a god in disguise — so denying them bread and wine could potentially earn you a world of spiritual pain.

The Greek principle isn't singular in the world, though. Many people grew up in families where their parents would leave out an extra table setting, just in case some friend or neighbor happened to show up hungry. There are other families where jockeying to pay the entire bill at a restaurant can be as competitive as Olympic figure skating. And many people told me that, even though they grew up with little money to spare, they were taught to freely share even the last grain of rice with a guest. Asking to be paid after your guest gulped down that grain of rice would be a wretched thing indeed.

I hesitate to name this as a recent trend, though it’s clear that payment apps like Cash App and Venmo have made it very easy to nickel-and-dime your loved ones. People have been violating xenia for eons — just ask King Sisyphus, condemned to pushing a boulder up a hill for all of eternity in Tartarus because he was a terrible host (and pesky guy, generally). How the hosts mentioned in the stories below turned out so sour is a mystery, but let’s hope there’s time for them to reform before they end up pushing their own boulders.


A couple years ago I brought my boyfriend home to Los Angeles to meet my close childhood friends for the first time. We were in town for the holidays and one of my friends OFFERED to host folks at their condo (that they owned) for New Year's Eve.

After my boyfriend and I had dinner at my parent’s home, we joined my friends at the condo. We brought a bottle of wine. Friend had some drinks for us to mix up, and the food/snacks were just products from the frozen section at Trader Joe's. A fine array, but nothing fancy.

A great time was had: We laughed, we celebrated, and we went home. Later that week, the group received a text from the friend saying, "Hey, do you all mind pitching in a bit for the drinks and snacks at NYE?"

And! That person followed up! I begrudgingly sent $20 — but was left wondering why. The friend offered the condo at no one's behest, and they didn't preempt the situation by saying they would love to host but might need some financial help covering cost. We would have graciously been willing to pitch in; we all understand some months are tighter than others. Nor did that friend seem to understand that all of us came from having previously dined: I hardly touched the snacks since I'd already eaten dinner with my parents.

Just a weird situation that I would NEVER do to any of my friends, especially had I invited them over for a meal. My grandmother, a hostess extraordinaire, would have disowned me for such a display of avarice. Her motto was, "if there is enough for 2 there is enough for 10."

MAKE IT MAKE SENSE!


In 1978, I was a 25-year-old art student, living in the Mission with a couple of roommates. I had just moved here from Canada and didn’t know too many people. I had a few different jobs, none of which paid a lot. I worked at the old Exploratorium dissecting cows’ eyes in front of hoards of screaming children and in a small furniture factory sanding wooden dowels.

When my roommate invited me to a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s place, I was happy to accept. It was in an old house on Potrero Hill. The guests included the human jukebox and a bunch of poets and artists. The food was potluck and we brought wine. But when we got up to leave the host asked us each for $20, an enormous sum for my budget! (Ed. note: Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $87 in 2022 money.) I think I gave him all I had, which was five dollars, and sheepishly left.

I’ve never forgotten how surprised and insulted I felt!


I moved into a group house in D.C. last fall with three strangers (all of us late 20s and early 30s), and largely it's been fine. I love cooking so I've cooked a few "family" dinners for the house where sometimes my roommates contribute by making salad or getting wine, and sometimes they don't, but it's fine! If that was important to me I would have explicitly said that long ago. Which brings me to the Venmo Requester.

This past winter, one of my roommates wanted to host a big birthday party for herself, and after some "there's literally a pandemic on?" tensions we did bargain her down to about a dozen of her closest friends. My other roommates and I were still invited, and we went because it was at our house. The next day, WE EACH GET A VENMO REQUEST FOR $18. This was NEVER talked about ahead of time, the only snacks at the party were like four pizzas and some hummus, and also it was at our house and we had to clean up. I paid it because I was not in a great place mentally and $18 was worth the peace of mind.


At the time I was dating a lovely human with a small child. He was unemployed and on food stamps, and I was working part time at a school district for $12 an hour. So we were BROKE. But this friend hosted a dinner party at a place she was house-sitting, and we brought food that we made ourselves or bought with food stamps (I believe we brought salsa and guacamole and corn chips). Then she asked at the end of the meal for everyone to give her $5 for the food. When I said we couldn't afford it and pointed out that we contributed almost as much food as she did, she threw a fit.

The drama dragged on for several months because for some reason I thought I should talk things through with her and make nice, and finally ended in me being banned from all events she attended — yeah, not just the ones where she was hosting but any of the ones that her friends were hosting. You'd think we were all in high school but this was when we were all in our 30s. Wild times.


I recently attended a bachelorette party where all of the guests (including the bride) drove several hours from the city to a small resort town because another guest (let’s call her Sarah) wanted to host us at the (second) home that she and her husband had recently renovated.

The five of us stayed nearby at an Airbnb, but Sarah invited us to her house for dinner and drinks — encouraging us to “come hungry.” Sarah served an elaborate, multi-course meal. It was really nice, and as someone who loves to host myself, I appreciated all the work that went into this.

Then, at the end of the weekend, as we’re settling up major expenses (Airbnb, restaurants, etc) came the Venmo request: $80 a person, Friday night dinner and drinks. I was FLOORED. Again, I love to host, I totally get that it can be expensive — in my younger days, our friend group did potluck Thanksgivings so no one person had to foot the whole bill. But even then, I’d die before I charged someone for dinner at my house. I cannot believe someone would be so tacky. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.


I have a family member who does this. At first I thought maybe I was wrong for being offended, but over the past few years, as I've told the stories (yes, plural) to dozens of people, the same horrified look of shock and offense crosses their face. This is going to be long because there are SO MANY instances of this happening.

The first time this happened, I was at her place that she shares with her fiance. My partner was there as well, and we were all with our mutual friends just hanging out, as one does. We always bring a bottle of wine because that's just the nice thing to do, regardless of whose house you're going to. Not having dinner plans, she pulled some things out of her freezer to heat up for us. At the end of the night, we were charged for the food she had previously purchased for herself and served to us. And the bottle of wine that we brought.

The second time this happened, same hangout situation, but this time Indian food was ordered. We didn't eat anything since we had dinner plans, but were still charged for the food that was ordered because we were there. We did not pay this time, though we would have if we did partake, obviously.

The third time this happened, it was our joint birthday party. She originally wanted me to make three quiches for a brunch at 10 a.m., to which I said there's no way in hell I'm making THREE quiches before noon. She changed it to mini pie orders from a local shop, assigned a few extra sides to some family, including myself, but had asked all 30 or so guests to bring a bottle of sparkling wine for mimosas, and to pay $30 each for the food purchased. My partner went over early, brought food and wine, helped set up, and was still charged $30 for it. This was the final straw for him and he vowed to never go there again.

The fourth time this happened, she had taken it upon herself to throw a birthday party for another family member. She didn't ask whether he wanted a party, just threw it for him. She bought decorations and assigned dishes for everyone (eight of us) to bring. At the end of the party, with the exception of the birthday boy, we were all charged $20 for the food and decorations she bought (and ultimately returned). This was the first time I brought it up with someone else there, who had brought her boyfriend as a guest, and was so embarrassed she didn't even tell him about the charge and just took care of it herself.

It's at this point I decided I wouldn't be going over there anymore for any meals. But then came the holidays in 2020.

Thanksgiving is usually at my sister's (her aunt) down in San Jose. We have a large family, so our gatherings are usually about 30 people. My sister was dealing with some personal issues, so while she could open her home, she wouldn't be able to contribute more than that, which is fine because we always do a potluck-style dinner. Everyone brings one to three dishes or helps set up and clean.

My niece and her sister decided to spearhead Thanksgiving and assigned dishes (yes, assigned, barely giving people choices beyond requests like "a potato dish" or "a pie") to everyone. They told us all to keep track of our spending so we could all split it at the end so that it would be "fair." I thought, fine. We'll split it, it's "fair." My partner and I brought three dishes. My niece's fiance took it upon himself to make a large prime rib (no one asked him to do this). Mind you, there was also a turkey and plenty of other food to go around.

Toward the end of the night, it was revealed that the prime rib cost about $400 and took about eight hours to cook. In the end, after costs were calculated, everyone owed them $50. My partner was livid and said he'd pay this time, but he was never going to another family gathering that they organize.

Cut to Christmas. My sister is still hands off, so again the nieces take charge, saying it's going to be a seafood fest and that it'll cost about $50 per person again. My partner and I had just paid for our dog's surgery, so I said that we were still paying it off and couldn't afford a $50 meal at home, so we'd be going to a friend's for dinner instead (with the implication that we didn't have to pay anything). Everyone assumed we really couldn't afford it, but I told a select few the real reason. At the end of the night, sure enough everyone was charged again.