David Byers presented me with a challenge at the beginning of the week. “Would I argue for Charging guests for Christmas?”. As it happens, I’m the guest of my family and I’m feeling guilty that I’m not paying a penny, Of course the true currency of Christmas is “Love” and as we all know – you can’t buy or charge for that!
Should you get your guests to pay this Christmas?
No! Nobody should ever, ever, ever, charge their aunty to come over for Christmas dinner (or Chanukkah tea – or any other occasion).
— David Byers (@davidbyers26) December 22, 2022
Henry Tapper, the chairman of AgeWage, a pensions advisory service
You may feel embarrassed asking guests for money, but you will be doing yourself (and, in the long term, them) a favour if you do.
Even before inflation took off, the Bank of England reckoned the average household spent £740 on Christmas — and, in the current climate, the simple fact is that people aren’t going to be able to afford to host in the way they used to. No host wants to be left with bills they can’t pay in January.
But it’s important to do it in the right way — tell your guests in advance (there’s still time) and be as upfront as you can. Don’t be shy: make sure everyone is forewarned with an email, text or phone call. Don’t leave it to the day — nobody likes an ambush.
Be very wary about giving people the option to pay in anything other than hard cash. Every home has the wretched bottle that’s been doing the rounds for years, the nuts no one has the will to crack, and the chocolates that are too fancy to eat. You don’t want guests bringing any of those. You’re organising the meal and you’re buying the drink. If they want to choose, they should find a restaurant.
I know a fair bit about arranging collections like this: I run free boat trips on the Thames in the summer and have hundreds of guests each year. Anyone is welcome on the Lady Lucy, but I make it clear that I need donations and I get them. I list what a typical donation is, give my bank details and I accept cash.
My crew look relieved not to be freeloading and what’s more, they are determined to have fun and get their money’s worth. The famous restaurateur Peter Ilic asked diners to pay what the food was worth and found that they paid more than he would have charged.
So, work out what you want, be clear about how to pay and do everything with confidence and good humour. And once you’ve done it, it is likely that when it’s your guests’ turn, they’ll do it too.
You may even find that you have broken an important social taboo.
David Byers, assistant Money editor
Even if your mortgage is about to rocket and you have burnt through your savings, asking family to pay for dinner or over this festive season would be unthinkable in a close-knit big family like mine.
Picture the scene at our annual Chanukkah party last Sunday: the food on silver platters whirling with a dizzying frequency. Tuna and egg bagels galore, bridge rolls by the hundreds, salmon pinwheels, cream cakes. Plus, cheese and doughnuts (obviously). I could go on.
Much of this is because of my family’s huge generosity. Much is down to many Jewish families’ deep dread that anyone should ever go home from any occasion even a tiny bit hungry. But a third part is our culture’s pride in entertaining — and most importantly being seen to entertain.
As a child, I had no clue what it meant when I heard my father talking to my mother solemnly about “returning invitations”. When I grew up, I became aware of certain friends “out-hosting” each other. If you invited them, they accepted, then invited you back before cynically getting in another invitation. Two families actually got into a broigus (feud) because they were so desperate to host that neither would accept the other’s invitation.
Yes, entertaining is all about generosity, family and an obsession with food — but it’s also about ego. Charging your guests, whether it’s Chanukkah, Christmas or new year, just wouldn’t be done.
Of course, I’m mindful of people’s money troubles. Overcater if you must (I must) but always offer doggy bags to take home — we took loads from Chanukkah last week. Plus, remember: if people are coming to stay, they might be counting on a few days’ respite from soaring energy bills and food costs, so making them pay could ruin their festive season.
If you can’t afford to host, for goodness sake be honest — people will respect you for it. Far better that than causing a broigus by handing your aunt a bill at the front door.
Appendix; the BBC gets in on the act!
Caroline Duddridge, 63, from Fairwater in Cardiff, said she makes the adults fork out up to £15 and her youngest grandchildren £2.50.
“There’s a few out there who think I’m a bit of a Scrooge but my friends think it’s quite a good idea,” she said.
Research suggests cooking a traditional festive feast for a family-of-four is £5 pricier than last year.
She said the idea came about when her husband died in 2015 and she had to halve her income.
“I said to my children, ‘right, it costs a lot of money, I’m going to do a little kitty jar so you can put £2 away starting in September’,” she said.
“It sounds good, doesn’t it? But of course it all got a bit shambolic, trying to keep track of them and there were a few stragglers.”
That is when Caroline gave the orders to have her family transfer the money straight into her bank account.
This year Caroline charged her two sons £15, her three daughters £10, her four grandchildren over five £5 and her two three-year-old grandchildren £2.50.
She charges her sons more because they are full-time workers and her daughters who work part-time also have families.
About £90 of her £180 or so levy goes towards meat which she admits she “doesn’t even eat!”.
When speaking to 5 Live on Thursday morning she joked: “If you don’t pay by 1 December, you’re not coming.”
“Obviously there were a few moans and grumbles saying I’ve got a few children, but at the end of the day that’s not my problem really, is it?”
But is it worth it? For the teaching assistant, it is a no-brainer given the full festive spread she puts on from 24 to 26 December.
On Saturday Caroline will make a mini buffet of sandwiches before a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and drinks on Christmas Day. A nut roast is also on the menu with a choice of four desserts.
All that is followed by a full buffet on 26 December. The festive spread over the three days costs Caroline about £300.
Research by Kantar revealed a dinner for four including frozen turkey, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and Christmas pudding rose to £31 this year – up from £24.67 in 2021.
She said in the past she “always ended up with hundreds of sausage rolls and bags of potatoes but not much else” as her relatives would bring food over.
“At least this way I’ve got a bit of autonomy over what I can buy,” she added.
“It saves on food waste which is another important thing.”
As she mulled over the idea about charging for dinner, she settled firm in her belief, saying: “Why should the host hold the full financial burden?”
She also hopes her grandchildren will see her new tradition as the norm when they are older.
“I’m hoping that people won’t think it’s a terrible thing and think ‘hmm that is a good idea’.
“It’s very fair. I’m not out to make a profit, I’m doing it just to have a bit of help with the cost of it.”