We asked Marge to tackle one of Kitchn's most divisive questions we've ever received: Is it OK to ask your friend for money for Thanksgiving?
A friend just invited me to his home for Thanksgiving dinner — and asked me to pay $50 upfront. I understand that hosting can be expensive, and I wouldn't mind being asked to bring a dish, but asking guests for cash seems incredibly rude. Am I crazy to be a bit miffed? Has anyone else experienced this? If so, how do you handle it?
Should I tell my friend that this is not the norm?
– Pay to Play
Dear Pay to Play,
At $50 this better be one amazing, over-the-top feast! Seriously, good restaurants don't even charge that much. You definitely are not crazy — this is an unusual and discomfiting situation, to say the least.
There are really two issues here: the idea of being asked to chip in, and the outrageous amount he asked for. Before we break it down, though, remember this: You are not obligated to go. If this (or any) invitation makes you uncomfortable, just say no.
I am going to give your friend the benefit of the doubt and assume he wants to get everyone together in the true spirit of the holiday, will do all the work involved, but can't afford to foot the bill. It sounds like he was upfront with the invitation — that is, he said (to put it a slightly different way), "I would like to host Thanksgiving, but can't afford it, so I would like everyone to chip in." That's his prerogative to do, and it is not wrong or "bad manners." Think of it like this: If he arranged for everyone to meet at a restaurant, you would split the bill without hesitating.
Your friend is going to the effort of shopping, cooking, baking, and cleaning up. He is devoting a couple of days of his life to creating a homey atmosphere for all of you — but he can't afford the cost of ingredients. I've been there. I was the only one willing or able to host — if I didn't do it, no one else would have, but I simply could not afford it. Luckily a couple of people chipped in, so we didn't all end up staying home alone, feeling sorry for ourselves.
You raise another very good point: You would rather bring your own homemade dish, a la potluck, than chip in. By all means offer just that! To again give your friend the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he felt that asking people to go to the effort of cooking is more of an imposition than asking for money. It would have been wiser for him to offer everyone the choice — but it is still not bad manners to do what he did.
All this is based on the assumption your friend can't afford to pay for the whole thing. Let's think about how this changes if, in fact, he can afford it. He is being cheap, for sure. It could be argued that when people throw potlucks, it is essentially the same thing: inviting people over and asking them to contribute to the meal (except at a potluck guests bring food, not money). I don't buy that they're fully the same thing; there is something warmer and more participatory about bringing a casserole than showing up with a wad of cash. His response to your offer to bring a dish could be very telling.
And that brings us back to the question of how much he asked for. It is just way too much. I'd like to think he just doesn't have a handle on what it costs to entertain. But if that is not the case, and your friend is trying to make a buck from this meal (and is not upfront about this being a business venture), forget everything I wrote above: He is profiteering pig.