Casual engagement party – splitting the bill among the guests


I’m so happy I stumbled upon this site as I’m hosting my first ever engagement party for my best friend and have lots of questions!

I’ll begin by saying that this is going to be a casual engagement party at a local rooftop bar in New York City. I’ve negotiated with the venue to provide a private section of the roof for our guests (50-60 in total) with an agreement that we will spend a minimum of $2,500 in drinks and food. For NYC, this total is definitely reasonable for the size of our party; however, the venue will only let me use one card to pay for the bill.

What is the best way to ask the guests to pay for their portions of the bill? We’ve asked the venue if they can keep track of our spending, but they said that would be too complicated and they will charge one card at the end of the night. A friend suggested bringing an iPad and asking guests to pay via paypal on a type of honor system, i.e. you pay for the amount you think you owe, but I’m worried people will lose track and pay the wrong amount. I also thought we could ask people to pre-pay (like $50 for all you can drink type of situation), but again, I’m worried that people will get there and drink more than $2,500 and the card will get charged accordingly with me left to pay the difference.

Does anyone have any tips for figuring out how to use one card to pay for everything while gathering money from the other guests?

Thank you so much for your help!


As I always say, if you invite, you pay, so host the engagement party you can afford. Just imagine it this way: What if you were hosting this party in your home? Would you hand your guests a bill, ask them for a credit card or pass around a hat? The answer should be no!

If you’re worried about going over budget perhaps limit beverage service to beer and wine only or shorten the party time to a certain timeframe (2 hours?).

Consider moving your party to a different venue. Just go across the bridge to Hoboken. There are several rooftop locations with breathtaking views of the city which would probably be less expensive. Guests would need to hop the train and pay for their own ride, but I suspect they’re all used to that anyway.

Another way to lighten the financial load is to pare down your guest list.

And speaking of guest lists, don’t forget that when planning an engagement party you’ll need to check with the bride and groom on the guest list since everyone invited to the engagement part has to be invited to the wedding.

Best of Luck,

Jay Remer, The Etiquette Guy, International Protocol and Corporate & Social Etiquette

You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot by thinking you are hosting a party in this scenario. As Donna has pointed out, hosting a party means paying. However, I have a friend who once did organize a party like this and the cost per head was collected up front with the understanding that any overages would be picked up by the party organizer (you). The venue can control the flow of food and beverages so an agreed upon budget can be honoured. Have fun!

Donna, Wedding Queen, President; Top Wedding Sites,

Really? Your friend hosted an engagement party and asked guests to pay for themselves upfront?

Brandi Hamerstone,
Owner/Senior Wedding Planner All Events Planned

Even in the most laid-back situation, if you host a party, you are expected to pay. There really is no way around that. No one would ever expect to pay for themselves at an event they were invited to. Had you asked people to “join” you while you were having dinner somewhere, then maybe you could have assumed they would pay their own way, but that isn’t the case at this point.
You really can’t even think about bringing and ipad and having people pay their bill via paypal, that’s out of the question. If I were a guest and had been invited to an event, I wouldn’t even be prepared to pay for my bill, let alone attempt to be spending x amount to meet a minimum.
You need to reconsider the event and host something smaller, that you can afford, so that your guests don’t have to pay for an event that they have been invited to.
If you choose to ignore the advice (which you absolutely can) then I would at least expect a few guests to be offended and/or not prepared to be paying for their dinner/drinks.