A good friend of mine is getting married in a few weeks, and her sister and another bridesmaid are planning the bachelorette party. We recently became aware of the plans for the night, and they are rather unexpected. Part of the evening includes an exercise activity between dinner and dancing (we've been told to bring a change of clothes and a towel because it's a "workout"). The kicker here isn't that we'll be all sweaty after dinner and before dancing, but that out of the blue, they've assumed that all of the guests will chip in for the cost of the activity. I was always under the impression that when you throw a party, you cover the cost. If you can't afford it, then you shouldn't do it. Am I being a cheapskate for being annoyed that I am expected to chip in? Would it be rude to ask if they are expecting us to help pay for the entire night? Please help since I'm feeling like a cheapskate.
—Spent Enough on My Damn Bridesmaid's Dress
Dear Spent Enough,
In general, it's tacky indeed to throw a party and demand an entrance fee, and that includes weddings (though that doesn't seem to stop some couples from expecting guests to pay for the food and drink). But the bachelor or bachelorette party is the exception to this rule. This is one night when guests should expect to pay their own way and help chip in for the guest of honor. No, it's not fair that you should have to shell out for cocktails when you also have to spring for a set of espresso cups or designer table linens as a gift and, in your case, for a bridesmaid's dress. But it's the way things are done. So don't bother asking the hostess if you'll be helping to pay for the rest of the evening. You definitely will.
But, there's a big caveat to this advice. Expecting guests to help pay for a bachelor or bachelorette party is acceptable when the party is of a somewhat predictable and limited scope: say, presenting the bride with some edible underwear and then taking her on a bar crawl. The problem is that, like weddings, some bachelor and bachelorette parties are getting quite elaborate. Nowadays, your hostess could ask you to chip in for a cooking class ($149 per guest, not including tip) or dinner and drinks at a transgender club with a personal lap dance for the bride ($120 to $150 each, including limo). Just as there are destination weddings, now there are destination bachelor and bachelorette nights: Vegas vacations, wine country spa weekends, ski cabin rentals. Asking guests to pay such exorbitant costs puts them in an uncomfortable position, and, I believe, is rude behavior on the part of the host.
If a host wants to do something expensive, I think they should ask people to respond only if they are willing to contribute. That's because it's awkward for you, the guest, to write back and explain that you don't want to fork over your cash for, say, a group pole-dancing class. You end up looking like a tightwad, when in fact your refusal is perfectly reasonable. Moreover, the host should be up front about what's in store. You're quite right to be annoyed that your hostess has scheduled a mystery exercise activity and is now demanding that everybody help pay for it. If you're paying, you have a right to know what you are paying for.
So what should you do? At this point, even though the request is rude, you can't really refuse to contribute without looking like a buzzkill. But if it makes you feel better, buy a slightly less expensive wedding gift.