Why The Big Birthday Dinner Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
I almost never dread a meal, with one exception: The Birthday Dinner. Why do we think it will be so much fun to sit at a long table filled with at least two frenemies, to fight over appetizers, and to spend over $50 on drinks to celebrate? Six guests is a party. Ten plus is disaster.
We're not saying we don't like partaking in the festivities. But, could we please stop allowing this big birthday dinner circus to continue? How about gathering at a rowdy bar or inviting everyone over for pizza, beer and birthday cake? Or, at the very least, make plans with each friend(s) on different evenings – you know, break up the overwhelming group a little bit. Anything but the dreaded $112 for girls screaming over each other while hoarding chips with guacamole.
The whole night is a recipe for aggravation. Starting with the actual invitation, which comes in the form of either a mass text or mass email or mass Facebook message or some combination of all three. Everyone feels compelled to write a cutesy response like, “YUM! I love sooshi, hehe!” Comments like that do not make us “so psyched!” to sit down to dinner with you. We're already taking pity on the fact that we have to endure a two hour gab fest about everyone's boyfriend and awesome life – no need to kick it off early.
Then there's a matter of location. If you're really going to subject us to a birthday dinner be mindful that not everyone lives in the East Village. If you want a surefire way to piss off your guests even before they arrive, it's making us sit in Thursday night downtown traffic to an overpriced restaurant in South TriBeCa. Do us a favor and choose a location that's pretty central to downtown Manhattan, like NoLita. There are enough bars around to ensure the affair isn’t totally drab.
And now on to the actual place, which is oftentimes never a spot you'd ever want to go to and/or you already frequented it last year for someone else's miserable birthday party. Birthday Diva's listen up, because we're onto you. We know you are clearly choosing an expensive fancy place because you know your attendees will be responsible for picking up your tab. That's just wrong. We'll probably not even get to try half of the food anyway and will spend more on sugary cocktails than actual nourishment. Spare us from having to shell out the equivalent of a week's worth of lunch money and instead choose a place that is designed for this sort of group gathering.
Is it just us, or do we always leave a birthday dinner still hungry? It feels like we never get our share of tuna tartare because three girls are greedily going at it the moment the plate touches the table. It’s not like we'd want to touch it after seven people just fingered the hummus and massacred the pita.
Once we finally arrive at the restaurant, the most critical part of the night is about to happen: The Seating Arrangement. If we happen to be extremely fortunate that day (or if the birthday girl did her homework), there will be a round table. If this is like every other sucky birthday dinner, then it will be a long table, absentmindedly put together in the most complicated way possible, so that four girls have to get up before you can go to the bathroom.
If it's a round table, you won't get stuck talking to the lame high school friends at the end of the table with whom you have nothing in common. Instead you'll just have to shout to be heard over everyone cross-table talking. If it's a long table, the food will never be in an easily reachable location and you will most certainly hate who you're sitting by. Invariably, when we just end up not speaking the entire meal because it's too much of an effort and we'd prefer to fake listen.
By the time the birthday cake arrives (always very obviously pre-arranged by the co-captain – aka the other girl taking charge of the evening – when the birthday girl goes to the bathroom) we're actually looking forward to dessert, if only because that means the dinner is ending. We'll probably skip out on splitting that ice cream laden tartfuo, which has been invaded by the vultures the moment the birthday girl blew out her candles.
Singing 'Happy Birthday' to the special lady is actually kind of a touching moment. We won't rip on this part. It's definitely the only time during the entire dinner we're actually happy to be the birthday girl's friend.
And just as we're finally starting to enjoy ourselves and the round of tequila shots start kicking in, the check is placed on the table by a waiter who is all-too-happy that the annoying group of girls who demanded the most complicated orders with insulting instructions is finally leaving the restaurant. The good-hearted patrons dining at tables next to ours are absolutely grateful that we'll be gone, too. They've unwillingly had to overhear us talk about penises, throwing up hungover and girl drama. We're such class acts.
Turning back to the bill, regardless of how little you ate or how much you drank, we will never leave thinking it was fair. Especially when we factor in the actual birthday gift, which was separate from the dinner, the total is always outrageously double what we thought it would originally cost. But, what do you expect when the birthday girl chooses a place that serves $26 for two fish tacos and $18 for vegetables?
There's always the annoying friend who claims she didn't drink anything, so she won't pay to split the tip. Then there's the other ridiculous one who says she barely ate anything (uh, no one did considering there was barely enough food), but picked off of everyone else's plate and so she doesn't have to pay an extra $5. And then there's us, who actually didn't touch half of the appetizers, and we're now stuck covering for the birthday girl, her infuriating sober friend, and the one who ate from the bread basket, but doesn't consider that part of the meal.
We always try to go to the bathroom when the check comes. The number one reason? We absolutely cannot stand watching some barely-educated-in-math-but-thinks-she’s-a-genius-because-she-works-as-a-receptionist-in-a-financial-firm girl painfully crunch numbers on her iPhone for thirty minutes while trying to determine what's 20% of $625. Nah, we'll go use our cellphones in the bathroom stall for that time instead.
After it takes four girls to figure out how to split one check eleven different ways, we can all pay and say our goodbyes and PEACE OUT. Right? No, not until we stand outside as a big huddle to kiss each other thirty times while simultaneously getting in the way of every passerby and being shoved off the sidewalk. We do our best to be the first to leave the circle of love, if only because we're not here to fake it.
The cab ride home consists of rehashing to anyone who will listen how awful the dinner was and how pissed we are about spending so much money on such a terrible night. If this has taught you anything, ladies, it's that big birthday dinners are good in theory. You want to make your birthday memorable while still being able to celebrate with all your friends since kindergarten? Have it at some place that involves standing room and dancing, not three courses and a lot of aggravation.
Top Photo Courtesy: WetPaint