A reader writes:
I belong to a group of mid- to upper-level professionals that meets several times a year for networking and a presentation (usually by one of the members) on a topic of interest in our field. Organizational duties rotate every couple of years; I’m currently in charge of organizing the meetings. There are usually 10-20 people at these gatherings. Members are in related industries in which there is a good deal of income disparity–a mid-level person in my profession makes significantly less than someone at a similar level in another field, who might also have access to an expense account.
One of our members often arranges for a dinner out at a restaurant after our meetings, only inviting some people and often choosing an expensive restaurant. I feel this is exclusionary in both respects — if I’m invited, often I decline because I don’t want to spend $50+ on dinner with people I’ve already just spent a couple of hours with (and don’t really want to socialize more with). I don’t make six figures like some of our members, nor am I able to expense it. And I feel bad that he’s only choosing to invite some people–it creates a sense of cliqueishness that I don’t like when a subgroup is going off together afterwards to an obviously pre-arranged dinner. After our last meeting, there was one newer member who hadn’t been invited and clearly seemed a little hurt. I hate that!
How can I approach this with him? Or should I not bring it up? The situation is a bit complicated because he’s actually my boss’s partner, so I want to be careful not to offend him (my boss is not a member of this group). If I bring it up, it seems like my options are either to suggest that he choose a more affordable restaurant, or ask that he stop the practice altogether. I don’t feel I can ask him to invite everyone who attends the meetings, because of the size of the group–or maybe I should, and the logistics that he’d have to get involved in might naturally put an end to it. I’m also not officially “in charge” of the group so it might seem like I’m overstepping a bit.
I’m sure that he’s thinking of the dinners as not officially connected with the group, and that therefore it’s reasonable for him to just invite whoever he feels like inviting … and he’s not thinking about the fact that it’s coming across to others as an after-party that they’re being excluded from. You’d probably be doing him and others a favor if you pointed that out, and then he can decide from there what he wants to do with that knowledge.
As a group member and especially as the person currently in charge of organizing the meetings, you have standing to say something like, “Bob, I’ve noticed that sometimes people who aren’t invited to the dinners you organize after our meeting seem hurt not to be included. I don’t know if it’s feasible to invite everyone, or to have the dinners on a different night than our meetings, but I feel a little bad that people associate the dinners with our meetings and are feeling left out.”
The cost issue is trickier. If these were official group dinners, I think you’d actually be obligated to point out that the cost of entry should be lower. The fact that they’re not official changes the calculation there some, but if you weren’t already bringing up the point about excluding people, I think it would be fine to say “hey, some people who are invited to these, including me, don’t go because the restaurants you pick tend to be pricey — would you be open to going to less expensive places?” But it might be tough to tackle all of this in the same conversation, because it could end up coming across as more like “I want to totally revamp this non-official and completely optional thing that you’re doing.”
However, I think you could also just get the cost message across in the moment next time he invites you to a dinner, by saying, “I’d love to join you, but that place is out of my budget. But I’d love to come next time if you’re up for going less fancy.”
And assuming that Bob is not known for being overly-sensitive and reactionary, I wouldn’t too much about the fact that he’s your boss’s partner. What you’ll be saying here is reasonable and friendly — you’re not criticizing him, just pointing out some information that he might not realize and might appreciate having.