So here’s the thing. Technically, according to Miss Manners and other old school etiquette experts, throwing or organizing your own birthday celebration is rude. This is one of those rare areas where I fundamentally disagree (even though I see where they are coming from) and think it is one of those sections of etiquette that are changing due to different social norms.
The reason they consider it to be rude is that there is a traditional expectation that when you are invited to a birthday party, you will bring a birthday present and if you are throwing the party for yourself, then you are actually asking people to bring you gifts, which is not polite. In discussions of adult birthday parties, party poopers also like to bring up that it is all about honoring your ownself and being a bit “me me me,” rather than throwing a party in order to simply entertain guests. Miss Manners, herself, is firmly against adult birthday parties. The general suggestion is that if a person is to have a birthday party, it must be thrown by a spouse, significant other, or other friend.
However, I find, at least among my social circle, that people are incredibly busy these days and while they might bow out of a “just because” party, most people try to prioritize birthday parties. There is also now the expectation that if you wish to celebrate your birthday, you will organize it in someway (spouses and significant others do often do this instead, but it would almost be weird if a friend said “oh let me throw you a birthday party this year”). Also, in my experience and region, birthday gifts for adults between friends are very rare (except maybe a gag gift?), and so there is no expectation that people will bring gifts. With our wide ranging social circles of friends and colleagues, you are also probably the only one who knows who you would want to invite to celebrate with you. So throwing your own thing is absolutely normal and polite.
There are some things that you can do, though, that will make your birthday party impolite:
- Expecting birthday gifts, especially by making and distributing a registry. (Also don’t mention gifts anywhere in the invitation! Even to say no gifts).
- With a dinner at a restaurant, you are going to mostly want to invite very close friends so it doesn’t seem like you are inviting people just so they will chip in for your dinner. If you want to invite a bunch of people, have a party at a bar or throw it at your house.
- If it is your social circle’s custom to all split the birthday person’s dinner, then don’t argue too much when time comes to pay the check. Just say thank you graciously. That being said, always be prepared to pay your own way and don’t pick a restaurant out of the normal price range of restaurants your crowd frequents.
- Be careful how you phrase invitations, “please join me for dinner at Bistro” sounds more like you are planning on paying for everyone than “I am celebrating my birthday at Bistro and I would love to see you if you can make it.”
I think what causes so much controversy over this issue is that it is something that really has evolved over the last decade or so. No one bats an eye at a Bride and Groom hosting their own wedding to celebrate their own marriage (which decades ago, was Not Done) and I see adult birthday parties as pretty much the same thing. The phrase “just because everyone does something doesn’t make it right” doesn’t actually apply to social customs. Social customs and etiquette are based on what everyone does, and if everyone starts doing something differently than the way it was done 100 years ago, then it becomes correct.