pizza candles

Somewhere along the lineage of American history, white girls people thought it would be a good idea to celebrate their birthdays in restaurants with literally everyone they knew in order to feel popular and validated and make innocent servers want to blow their brains out. And listen, I’ve been guilty of this — I remember my hootenanny of an 18th birthday dinner at T.G.I.Friday’s in Dover, Delaware like it was yesterday (full disclosure: I wore a hot pink crop top and sarong but there was a pool party afterward). And I think I had approximately 23947 girls at my 25th birthday dinner at Loca Luna but I barely remember it because I blacked out due to being dumped five days prior and taking a pitcher of caipirinhas to the head before the entrees came. #YOLO. But I digress.

So I do understand the logic: Hey, it’s my birthday! And I have friends I want to celebrate with. And we all like to eat. Sooooooo a gathering of all my friends and semi-friends and their friends and frenemies at a restaurant seems like the perfect plan! Right?

GIF-Beyonce-dislike-finger-wag-no-no-no-no-nope-wrong-GIFLet me break it down.

Once you get past the eight person threshold (sometimes even six), it’s no longer intimate and you can no longer participate in a full group convo. MAYBE if you had a party of 10 at a round table (if restaurant physics even allows that), you could all be at the same dinner, but any more than that and people are speaking exclusively to who they’re seated near. And if you get stuck sitting next to someone who sucks: NIGHTMARE. Hey, I really just wanted to come celebrate my college roommate’s big 3-0 and now I’m stuck having small talk with her ratchet cousin in the knockoff Herve Leger dress who keeps taking selfies and mispronouncing foie gras. CHECK PLEASE. I recently went to a birthday dinner with 25 attendees (that’s literally more than two dozen) at a fancy seafood joint (not Joe’s Crab Shack) and I didn’t speak a word to the birthday girl the entire night because I was sitting 3 football fields away from her. Like, what did I drop that hundy on again?

And as if I even need to say it, servers are probably going to fucking hate you by the end of the meal because: 1) At least 30% of the amateurs attendees got wasted on apple-tinis and all basic manners went out the window, and 2) Unless ol’ birthday gal has a rich boyfriend who’s picking up the tab, everyone is going to need separate checks or figure out how to split shit up when it comes time to pay, which basically turns into 6-year-olds trying to do long division and they’re bringing the server down with them.
For these reasons, people stop wanting to go to big birthday dinners (EVEN YOURS) after they’ve been to 239472947 already this calendar year. You take an Uber there, talk to the three or four people seated near you, and end up spending a bunch of money on a mediocre time. Can we do away with these already?

I know what you’re thinking. OMG, then what am I supposed to do for my birthday? I have like, so many friends, and I literally ONLY know restaurants. Have no fear, my dear. Here are a number of options better than the big bday din.

1. Intimate dinner + party at a bar afterward. Go to dinner with just your significant other or closest friends and/or family (MAX 8 PEOPLE), then meet everyone else at the bar afterward. You think people will be mad they didn’t get the dinner invite? Unless you’re in middle school, I doubt it. They’ll be glad to be off the hook.

2. Bowling or some other activity. I bowled for my 31st at Atlanta’s swanky Painted Pin and it was awesome. Some friends came early and had dinner with me, most people came later and bowled, some people just stopped in for a drink, everyone got to move around and mingle instead of being confined to a restaurant chair, and I could talk to everyone. SCORE STRIKE! Other ideas: Old-school roller skating, floating down a river, Dave & Buster’s, Medieval Times, go-karts, anywhere with a ball pit, RENT A BOUNCY CASTLE, etc.

3. Informal dinner situation or private room/area. For my 30th, I had a pig roast at Barcelona wine bar on the patio and we did a fixed price per person for dinner (and had a sangria station, duh). If you have a large #squad, this scenario is perfect — everyone gets to eat and drink but also move around and it’s a true dinner PARTY. Also look into private rooms/areas that will make the experience more intimate if you have to do 20+ people. If you have a spring/summer birthday and can get a bar/restaurant to let you reserve part or all of the patio, it’s such a win. (Full disclosure: Once, we had about 25 people at a private room at a suburban Red Lobster for our beloved Trey’s birthday, and like I even have to say this……it was incredible.)
biscuitThose cheddar bay biscuits tho…

4. Get a party bus. There’s nothing better than a party bus. Have everyone meet at one or two locations for pickup then bar hop all night. Newsflash: People are going to spend at least $60 on a dinner at a decent place anyway, and bus rental will probably be less than that per person plus way fucking cooler. (If you’re in Atlanta, it’s Fur Bus or nothing.)

5. Don’t do anything and let people take you out. If you say, “I’m not doing anything this year,” your friends (well, the real ones) will be all, “Omg well let me take you to dinner/lunch/drinks/strip club/etc.” Take them up on it and have multiple meaningful birthday celebrations with people you actually like…on their dime. #NailedIt

6. House party/pregame/dinner. Some of the most fun birthday dinner/parties I’ve attended have been at someone’s house (dinner can be grilling out, potluck style, bunch of pizzas, catered, whatever). Everyone eats and drinks and you can all hit the bars afterward (or pass out in your bed, whichever). If you don’t have a big enough crib, surely one of your friends does and will host if you promise to BYOB and not get him/her evicted.

So forget about making that res for 17 at Macaroni Grill and have the birthday you deserve and your friends will actually enjoy. Cheers!


And for the record/shameless plug, my birthday is this Thursday (hence the inspiration for this post) and I’m doing a standup show (which was not on the list) then party at a bar afterward. Details here if you’re interested.

Follow on Instagram for more snark and gems like that crop top + sarong getup: @AshHess


Food + Drink


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