Hosting a dinner - how to handle cost of alcohol?

So I volunteered to organize a dinner out for nine graduate students who will be joining our department this fall. Then I found out that it will be “hosted”, ie, department will pay, but my budget at this point is about $10 per person. Which basically means pizza at a sit down place, but there’s still not really room for alcohol. But my feeling is that if you take someone out to dinner at a restaurant (which is what the original plan was) then they should be able to make a reasonable order from the menu, and IHMO a reasonable dinner order includes one or two beers.

So my question is, is it be acceptable to tell people that they can order soda but not beer? I mean, I can’t really announce at the table, “You’ll have to pay for your own beer”. Another option is to just order all the drinks ahead of time – pitchers of soda and beer, and assume that no one will decide to order a Guiness for themselves.

Thoughts/suggestions/previous experience welcome. Part of the goal here was to show people around the city, but honestly, if the best we can do is pop and pizza, I’m wondering if its worth it.

Negotiate - How solid is the $10 a person. For 9 grad students that’s a little over a hundred bucks with tip. I’d spend more than that with my wife and I - two people. I’d ask if you can double it - if you are using departmental budget I’d wonder how $200 bucks is all that much. So ask if you can use 2 or 300 dollars and then take them to a proper dinner not a pizza and pop outing. They are grad students not cub scouts.

That being said: On your current budget I’d go for a cash bar where ever you go, and people can order whatever drinks they wish, and the food is on you. So even still you’s have to spend a little more than $10 a person. This is dinner afterall not lunch.

Phil - hosted many corp and school outings, never skimped on the grad students. They deserve what they’ve earned.

It’s a very nice idea to host a gathering for the new students, and I think it’s worth pursuing.

First of all, check to make sure you can use university funds to buy alcohol. At the college where I work, we can’t use any college money at all to purchase booze. (Which seems a little ridiculous if you’re taking a prospective faculty member to dinner and she has to buy her own wine, but I digress.)

If you can’t do it, then that’s an easy answer right there, “Pizza’s on the department, but we’re not allowed to use university money for alcohol.” If your budget just won’t allow it, I don’t think most folks will blanch at buying their own drinks. Hell, when I was a grad student, I was thrilled when anyone offered me a free meal. It never occurred to me that they were cheaping out by not buying my beer, too.

Especially if you’re at a state school, it may be common for departments not to want alcohol on the bill. If you’re at a private school, that may not be as much of an issue. But personally I think it’s reasonable. I recently attended a university-sponsored dinner where that was precisely the deal–entree under $8, no alcohol unless you pay yourself. It is really hard to anger grad students with free food.

If the pitchers of soda and beer are OK w/ your dept., I think that option is fine. People will mostly be involved in getting to know each other and worrying about what other people think of them. Don’t worry too much about the food.

You want to really double check if the department will pay for alcohol at all. Depending on the source of the money (how it is being billed by the department- is it coming off a Federal training grant for example) alcohol may not be covered.

If alcohol is ok- I would go with pitchers of soda and beer- really, grad students will not complain about free food and drink!

The department will pay for alcohol, I know that for sure. You guys are right, they’re not going to care what the food is, I think a lot of them are straight out of college. I personally was hoping to take them somewhere besides pizza (which gets to be a bit of a cliche in Chicago) but it will be all new for them.

ETA: and Phlosphr, i wish i could negotiate, it was other students who agreed to the dollar amount . but in general, sound advice

Can you go to a place that lets you take alcohol in and let everone know its byob and just tell everone it’s byob, so if the want to drink bring something?

How about finding some place with even cheaper meals? Over here we have idealistic volunteer-run places that serve a fixed menu, often vegan, under 8 dollars a person. Such places target an different set of clientele then soup-kitchens for the poor or homeless. The places I know of are frequented by people from the vegan, tree-hugging scene, and the food and atmosphere are very good, even though the china and cutlery and chairs consist of mismatched Goodwill-stuff.

Or you could ask one of the students to host the party at her place and order in and buy beer in advance.

At my university, there are all sorts of crazy rules for when alcohol is allowed to be funded. There’s actually a law about this, the tax exemption laws for colleges don’t include alcohol taxes, or something like that. To make it easier on me, I don’t ever fund it (okay, almost never). If I’m organizing something like a dinner or outing for students, I spell it right out in the email confirmation (or whatever communication is used) such as “Dinner will include salad, pizza, and soft drinks.”

I don’t think anyone is ever offended (and if they are, I don’t care), but people do seem to appreciate knowing what to expect in advance. If it’s the kind of thing where you think it’s likely that people will opt to order and pay for their own alcoholic beverages, you might want to let the restaurant know in advance when you make the reservations so that they will be expecting to run up two tabs for your group. There is nothing worse than having them come all on one bill and having to sort it out after the fact.

Also, I think pizza in Chicago is a great institution and would be fun for especially for people who are new to the area.

Hosting a dinner - how to handle cost of alcohol?

You pay for it. That is the idea of ‘hosting’.
If your department wants you to organise a dinner without sufficient funds, just un-volunteer.

If I were a new grad student, I’d rather have a welcome dinner with no beer than no dinner at all. It would be weird to have to provide your own drinks at a private dinner party someone was hosting, but this is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

ETA: Gah! **burundi ** is posting this, not Left Hand.

don’t buy any?

I should clarify that a bit if my hesitation is that this was supposed to be a “dinner out”, at a restaurant, so they can get a chance to see other parts of Chicago. My limit is now up to $15/head, or about $12 before tax and tip, but even if I forbid alcohol its pretty easy to tip that if people order for themselves off the menu. (There’s also one wife in the group who I feel should be invited, since its an evening event and shes new in town too) So with my budget it looks like it has to be pizza, and doesn’t it seem a bit odd to drive people downtown or beyond … for pizza and pitchers of Bud and Coke? We have Chicago-style chain restaurants right next to campus, we could just do that here.

I guess I feel that pre-ordering people’s food and drink seems contrary to the idea of taking a group out for a restaurant dinner, which is what I was specifically asked to do. But as pointed out here, grad students often operate under a slightly modified etiquette when it comes to social dining, especially if they haven’t already been spoiled by business dinners.

Having it at my apartment did occur to me … order Italian (and actually offer a salad!), get wine and a case of beer, and let people stay as long as they want. I actually may suggest that, now that I think about it. But if not, pizza and pitchers it is.

Although you’d like to do more than pizza, at least at a pizza place you can afford a bit more.

I’d suggest talking to a restaurant in advance. They might be able to give you a deal for a party of 10, perhaps throw in pitchers of pop for free. Secondly, if the waitress says “oh, you’re the department party, I have you down for 4 large pizzas, 3 pitchers of beer, and unlimited pop, I’ll start tabs for anything else”, then you don’t have to do the explaining.

You call the restaurant and arrange to have the order ready. If its grad students and pizza, order a selection of pies and pitchers of pop. - no one sees the menu. Or do Chinese or Thai or Indian (all cheap and they often don’t have any sort of liquor license). I think part of your issue is you are thinking “pizza” and therefore need to extend to “beer” - if you do Chinese you just don’t go there - few people thing “Chinese and Beer.”

Can you talk to your department administrator about getting your tax exempt information to the restaurant in advance? I’m sure every place does it differently, but here, we have a form that gets faxed to vendors. That way, you can spend your $15 per person on food and tip, and not have it go to tax. I have never had a restaurant not understand the tax thing, I imagine they do it often. The restaurant isn’t getting stuck with the tax, they just include your institution’s information when they report their tax statements to the government.

I do this sort of thing at a college all the time, and it’s not unusual at all to order in advance to have a family-style meal, or depending on the style of restaurant, to give each person a choice of one of two appetizers, one of three entrees, etc. When you call, ask them to suggest a pre fixe menu that is $15 per person inclusive of gratuity. With pizza, they could probably do something like several different pizzas (you choose the toppings) and a few large salads.

I think the appeal of going downtown, even if you are only eating pizza, is to show off a different bit of a new city for these folks, so perhaps selecting a restaurant in a neighborhood where you could plan to stroll down a main drag, you know, like a neat shopping area, or street with landmarks, or something, and then end up at the restaurant for pizza, and after perhaps walk somewhere for ice cream.

sugar and spice, I’m hosting a lunch today for my department - 35 people. The pizza place we’re going to (in Schaumburg) has a package (and the price applies for dinner too) that, with the alcohol, works out to about $13 per person. Pick a restaurant, call them, and see if they offer a package - usually you get three different pizzas to choose from and it includes sodas, coffee, etc. (That’s $8.75 per person for where we’re going today). Then you add a tab bar (which may end up cheaper than a per person bar charge) and it should be fine.

Sugar and spice, if it’s any consolation, I’m a grad student who would be absolutely delighted to have a dept funded dinner at Gino’s East or Giordano’s. (I think I’m salivating at the thought. I actually considered having Giordano’s FedEx me a pizza when I was pregnant.) Anyway, don’t worry about it - the newbies will be happy that the effort has been made. Or, you could try hitting up the faculty for additional $$. Our faculty is often good at chipping in for things that the dept won’t cover.

You might make your pizza outing the official event, but then suggest going elsewhere for drinks afterwards if people would be interested.

Okay, thanks everyone for all of your replies and suggestions! You’re right, pizza is fine, I’ve actually noted to friends back in NYC that around here, pizza is considered a nice meal out. I have a list going already of Chicago-style places besides the usual chains, BetsQ I’ll see if I can fed-ex you a slice!

When I was a grad student (two yrs ago), the department would often pay a current student to take out a potential. The only stipulation was that alcohol could not be paid for by the uni, so the bill had to be either itemized or from a location that didn’t serve. We were simply told, ‘buy your own’ and passed that on to the potential. No big deal.