a member of our professional group is making people feel excluded

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.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 185 comments… read them below }

  1. BananaPants*

    It’s not an official group activity, it sounds like a social gathering planned on the participants’ own time. This guy wants to have dinner with some of his friends and colleagues, at a restaurant that they choose. So they have a clique – is it affecting their participation in the group meetings, or not? They don’t have to include everyone just to be nice – these are grown adults, not schoolchildren who get disappointed when a classmate doesn’t invite everyone to a birthday party.

    If you want group dinners including everyone to be a thing, then organize them. Otherwise I’d stay away from dictating other members’ social calendars.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I totally get that perspective. I think, though, that if it’s impacting the dynamics of the group, it’s reasonable to at least let him know about it, and he can decide what he wants to do from there (which could be nothing).

      1. Jerzy*

        Agreed. It’s good to let him know it’s making some people feel uncomfortable/left out, and if he chooses to change how he does things based on that, great. If not, it’s no big deal, but at least OP knows she did something to address what is likely just someone not understanding how their actions are being perceived.

    2. Roscoe*

      I agree with that. I guess it depends on how many people are invited vs. not invited. But I mean if there was this event, and then there were 5 people who have known each other for years and decide to go to dinner, I mean there is nothing wrong with that. I do think the basis on who is invited does really make a difference here. If they are close friends outside of the group, but because of work and family don’t really get to see each other much, it makes total sense. If he is just picking the “high rollers” in the group, that is a bit different.

      1. AMT*

        The ratio of people invited vs. not invited sounds important to me, too. Is this a group of 5 good friends out of 20? Or is it more like 15 out of 20 (e.g. some people seem to be specifically excluded)?

      2. NewDoc*

        I like the standard children’s birthday party rule for things like this — either invite less than half the class (group, etc) or invite everyone, but not in between.

        1. olives*

          Wow, I’d never heard this laid out so simply before! That’s a really reasonable rule that I’m going to have to reflect on a bit.

        2. Roscoe*

          Here’s what I don’t like about that logic. There are plenty of good reasons one kid may not like another kid (or 3). I don’t now that it means the kid HAS to invite them to the party. Hell, maybe that kid makes fun of him in class. Maybe they just don’t get along. So while I agree that it would be rude to discuss it in front of people not invited, I don’t think it means you ever should HAVE to invite someone to your special day because they happen to be in the same class.

          Could you imagine there being 5 people who work together. 3 of them are good friends outside of work. One person gets married and invites 2 of their co-workers in the group, and not the others. Then those people get all mad? That would be absurd.

          1. Rana*

            Well, in the case of children, that’s when you choose to “invite less than half the class” so it doesn’t seem like you’re deliberately singling out one child (even if that’s your actual motivation). That’s a pretty cruel thing to do to a kid, even if your own kid hates them.

            It’s also not unlike how, when you’re restricting numbers for something like a wedding, you get less pushback if you decide to exclude all cousins (including Terrible Cousin Fred) than if you invite all of them except Terrible Cousin Fred.

            1. Roscoe*

              I get what you are saying, but some kids are just jerks. If my son really does like everyone except little Jonny and his 2 sidekicks, I’m not going to make him invite them to a party. Not that I’m trying to punish other kids, but its also good for kids to understand that their bad behavior has consequences.

              And as far as a wedding, why would you exclude all your cousins because of one bad one? I don’t get this whole logic of having to consider EVERYONE else’s feelings on your day because they are bad people.

              1. Klem*

                Really have to disagree with this. Kids will all talk about the fun they had at the party the next time they’re all together – at school. In front of the one or two or three kids who were excluded. That’s pretty harsh. I volunteered weekly at my son’s elementary school years ago and saw it happen more than once. If you could have seen their faces, you’d never exclude anyone again.

                1. Roscoe*

                  Thats very fair. And I guess for me it does depend on the age of the kids. Younger kids, I agree with you. After a certain point, I guess to me it would depend on WHY they are being excluded. If they are over 10, where they know better, and they are just being little a-holes to my kid, I’d have no problem with it. If they are younger than 10, then I’d say you shouldn’t exclude them.

          2. Maria Polinsky*

            In the case of the kids I love this guideline. Please be mindful that sometimes bullies behave the way they do because they are excluded or lacking attention. They may behave quite differently in a party situaton that may in fact make a tense relationship easier down the road. I realize this is about adults but as a parent this comment bothered me.

            To the question itself I believe it does depend on if it is 5 out of 20, if it’s longtime friends etc. In that instance I would kindly tell the newcomer that sometimes small groups do that and it’s not an official activity or meant to be exusionary. It could be this newcomer was more confused than hurt. (Is this an official activity or not?) If he wants to build a relationship with this person or others, encourage him to invite a member or two to coffee or lunch. That’s kind of the point of belonging to a professional organization. Just make sure everyone feels welcome and included with maximum networking time while at the official part.

      3. Green*

        Picking just the “high rollers” in the group might actually make business sense, though, depending on the group. There are a lot of industry orgs in which the reps from the largest companies get together before or after, etc.

    3. NK*

      While I agree that adults can do whatever social activities with whoever they want on their own time, I think that it’s rude to talk about plans in front of someone when they are not invited, regardless of age. This group is clearly not being too discreet about their plans if others are aware that they’re not included. I think it depends a little on the ratio of invited to not-invited people as well; 4 people out of 20 who go to dinner will stand out much less than 6 out of 10, for instance.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I think that it’s rude to talk about plans in front of someone when they are not invited, regardless of age. This group is clearly not being too discreet about their plans if others are aware that they’re not included.


      2. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

        Yes, it’s rude, but is it really in the LW’s purview to police social etiquette? I’m leaning toward no.

        1. Jerzy*

          I don’t see it as policing, as much as just pointing something out to someone who may not have noticed it’s causing some feathers to be ruffled. If he noticed and doesn’t care, then OP should drop it, but I think it’s a kindness to gently point it out.

        2. Bleu*

          It’s gross, and it’s associated with the LW’s event now, so, yes, (And in business, people do notice what this cad is doing; I assure you LW is not the only one put off).

      3. MsChandandlerBong*

        Yes, exactly. A bunch of my friends planned a trip to Seneca Lake; my husband and I were the only ones who weren’t invited. We got together to play poker one night, and all everyone could talk about was what time they were going to leave for Seneca, what kind of food they were going to bring, and who was in charge of bringing the snacks/toilet paper/utensils/paper products. It was the rudest thing ever, and it was also hurtful.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Agreed. Ugh.

            It’s one thing to invite you and then talk about it a little bit if you were unable to go (though I wouldn’t yammer on for hours if you were present). It’s something else again to make plans right in front of someone you’ve excluded.

        1. Evie*

          Oh I’ve had something like that happen and it was astoundingly in-nice. The thing was I knew my (very very close!) friend had done this holiday thing with other people and I tried to be mature “of course, she can invite who ever she likes – and she’s known so-and-so for a long time (tho not as long as me) and that might be the special thing she does with those other two. Grow up Evie”, ad succeeded quite well until she had this whole I depth conversation about how she was inviting whole gaggle of New Friends up and the potential social issues which might ensue. Being party to that was so painful. “Oh, everyone else in your friendship group gets to do the thing ….except me….and I get to help you with your guest list. Lovely. “

        2. AnonyMoose*

          Did you ever ask why you weren’t invited? Perhaps it was just a simple oversight. (eg ‘wait, didn’t YOU invited Mr and Mrs Bong?’, ‘no, YOU were supposed to invite Chandler and Monica, I was inviting Phoebe!’, etc etc).

        3. Theluggage*

          In that situation, do manners ever allow one to ask, sincerely, quietly, without hostility, why one wasn’t invited? Or say, lightly and upbeat, “that sounds like so much fun, I’d love to go if you ever plan something like that again”

    4. neverjaunty*

      I think the OP’s point is that this guy may not understand he’s signaling to others that there is a clique.

    5. Artemesia*

      People who flounce off with that smug ‘I’m in the in group’ look after the official meeting create bad feelings in those left out. How could it be otherwise? Would you organize your own special little party from people invited to someone else’s party e.g. you and 6 people leave together perhaps a little early from a dinner party to go get drinks somewhere making a visible kerfuffle as you leave?

      Of course he ‘has a right’ to do this, whatever that means. But it is socially tone deaf especially from a professional group. And it only is a problem because people are noticing and thus it is not being done discreetly.

  2. Cat*

    It’s also possible he’s assuming everyone is expensing it. It’s easy to forget some workplaces don’t.

    1. OP*

      This has come up in the past with this group–before I was involved. The group used to hold their meetings at the expensive restaurants, until someone apparently had the realization that not everyone was able to expense it. The member who organizes the dinners has been around since those days, and I think part of the dinner thing has to do with nostalgia for those days. It kind of comes across as “let’s go back to the good old days before we included people who make less money,” and that’s not something I’m comfortable with.

      1. neverjaunty*

        The more you talk about this guy, the more I kind of want him to be shot out of a cannon. I mean, seriously, if he wants to go to Chez Pricey with a few close friends, he can do that without announcing it to the whole group.

      2. MK*

        Really? Because to me it comes across as “An event that was basically a relaxed dinner with friendly colleagues and some sop talk has transformed to a dry professional meeting where more and more people I have never seen before in my life take part. Hey, why not arrange something after the meeting is over, so that I can catch up with my friends?”. You said yourself the guy is not a jerk; why do you attribute this thinking to him? It’s natural to miss the dinners; it doesn’t mean that he regrets or resents giving them up for the good of the whole.

        1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

          It’s probably more nuanced than “100% a jerk” or “100% not a jerk.” Even those of us who are pretty reliably not-jerks can have jerkish impulses mingle with our good intentions. My money’s on the organizer not realizing how it’s coming across—not wanting to hurt anybody, but very possibly feeling nostalgic for the “old days” when they didn’t have to accommodate the lower earners.

  3. fposte*

    Alison, what do you think of secondary plans in a situation like that? I know the OP has said she’s just plain not interested in the socializing, so this isn’t likely to solve things for her. But if she was okay with socializing, it might work for her just to say to the room that she’s off for a budget dinner at Tasty McCheaper’s and anybody interested would be welcome to join her. The sticky bit for me is that you don’t want it to look like a counterinsurgency since there’s a prearranged event at the same time, but I see it happen all the time after day-long group meetings that one crowd goes pricey and one crowd goes cheap.

    1. OP*

      That could possibly work, although I think it would have to come across as being super-casual and not pre-arranged, in order to avoid giving him the counterinsurgency impression, ie. “I think Fergus and I are just going to grab a quick burger instead–anyone else want to come?” I also like Alison’s suggestion of just saying something like, “I’d love to but it’s a bit spendy for me this month.”

    2. Chinook*

      I actually did something like this at our annual meeting in Banff. We met throughout the day and then had a dinner in a restaurant. The usual event afterwards was to go bar hopping and do karaoke to the wee hours, something which I had no desire to do. So, instead, I asked if anyone wanted to go the hot springs (and pointed out that they rented swimsuits). A colleague and I went and my boss was disappointed the next day that she hadn’t heard about our activity as she would have preferred that too. Honestly, we were probably better rested (and our backs a lot looser for another day in uncomfortable chairs) than the partiers.

        1. Al Lo*

          The Banff hot springs in that kind of weather are awesome and frosty. We used to go quite often when I was a kid, but I went for the first time in years last spring — my husband doesn’t like swimming or other watery activities, so I end up skipping out on hot tubs/pools/oceans when I’m with just him. We were in Banff with my side of the family, so I went with my two little nephews (and some boring adults) instead. This month has definitely had the kind of weather where I just want to go soak in hot water and warm up from the inside out.

  4. Temperance*

    My advice is pretty different than Alison’s on this. I’m an attorney, and this is incredibly common in my field, and not a big deal. I would say nothing and do nothing about this, because it can make you look petty. If people are feeling excluded, they should angle for an invite or plan their own gathering.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Also an attorney, and yes, it is very common, but sometimes it is a big deal. When it’s Wakeen inviting Jane and Fergus to have dinner later because they’re all law school alumni or work on cases together, that’s one thing. It’s not so good when it is exclusionary – like a bunch of older male attorneys who just so happen to hang out together and never manage to invite their female colleagues. Or, more applicable to situations like the OP’s, when somebody invites the people they already know and doesn’t invite the new person from a different firm, which leads to that new person mentally crossing them off their networking list.

      1. Green*

        I disagree that sometimes it *is* a big deal, in favor of “and rarely” it is a big deal. I don’t think it’s a problem for the OP to resolve, though, if it’s just biglaw lawyers going out after dinner and not inviting small law firm lawyers. Is it rude? Potentially, depending on whether they’re discreet or not and how many people aren’t invited. Is it exclusionary in a manner that OP needs to extend their role of “meeting organizer” into trying to “resolve” this? Not at all. (I’d argue that if it was race or gender based it would be important to intervene in some way.)

        1. neverjaunty*

          As OP has posted in comments elsewhere, the guy isn’t discreet about it at all, and she’s the organizer of the greater meeting, so yes, he’s being rude, and yes, she should say something to him about it.

          I respectfully disagree with you that this kind of behavior is ‘rare’, speaking as someone who’s in a pretty male-dominated wing of the profession.

          1. Green*

            After the meeting as people are gathering things up and saying goodbye he occasionally asks if someone is still coming.

            The behavior (of a subgroup of 6-8 having dinner when the larger group is too big to be accommodated for an informal get-together at most restaurants) isn’t rare; the behavior is common in plenty of professional circumstances. The problem is when the behavior is exclusionary specifically to underrepresented groups. (And, sidebar, if there are dinners you want to go to because you think it would be helpful to your career, just ask the person who organizes the dinners out to coffee or dinner.)

          2. Girasol*

            Discretion counts. My boss had a circle of fellows who reported to him who he golfed with. That might be a little off-putting but hey, we thought, a guy has a right to have friends. Then he started holding team-building sessions for his buddies on the golf course on company time, pointedly leaving the women and the new hire – their peers – at work. The golf buddies started sneering in staff meeting at how clueless those left behind were because they didn’t know the information that the boss had only discussed on the course. An event that had been a circle of friends became exclusionary just from the lack of discretion.

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      I used to travel extensively for work and it was very common for a small group of us to get dinner and/or drink together after a large meeting. I can understand the point of view that this may have made others feel left out, but I honestly don’t see anything wrong with a group that enjoys spending time together to do so. The other option would be not spend time together, because I doubt anyone wants to make arrangements for a large group dinner (dealing with which restaurant, reservations and RSVPs) when they just want some down time with colleagues.

      That said, it is rude to talk about it in front of others not invited. If this were me, that is how I would approach this situation, let the person know that when they talk about their plans in front of others it can cause hurt feelings.

  5. Anonymous Educator*

    I get the OP’s concerns, but I don’t think boss’s partner is going to be down with picking a less expensive restaurant, picking up the tab for everyone, or including everyone. I don’t think he’ll even be down for having it the next day.

    Since it’s not official, he’s probably thinking “Oh, good. I get to see so-and-so, so-and-so, and so-and-so at this event. Let’s all get dinner together afterwards.” He isn’t thinking “This dinner is an extension of the event itself, so I should be inclusive of everyone.”

    If it were actually part of the event itself, I think inclusivity would be paramount. Since it seems to be his own little clique, that’s just how it is. I’d leave it alone.

    The only objection I might have is if the boss’s partner made a big hoopla about it and talked loudly with the other dinner attendees at the event about their post-event dinner. Frankly, if he’s discreet enough about it, there isn’t any reason for others to feel left out.

    Perhaps I’m not understanding the situation fully…

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      Well, since OP mentioned a new member of the group looking hurt about it, I assumed that meant that they were not being very discreet about it. While it is separate, if they are talking about it at the meeting it might not be so apparent that it is a separate thing, especially to new members.
      Personally, I would just ask boss’s partner not to discuss it at the event so much, as it might give new people the wrong idea about whether it was truly related or not.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, that’s what I see as the real issue. If there’s a lot of “Hey, you going to that dinner after? I’ll see you there. Ha ha ha!” very loudly during the event, I can see how that can make people who have no idea what this dinner is feel left out.

        1. OP*

          Yes, this is generally what happens. As the event is wrapping up, people are saying their goodbyes, etc., the person starts saying to the people he has pre-invited to the dinner, “You’re still coming to dinner, right?” and so on. He doesn’t often say to other people, “Hey, some of us are going to dinner, would you like to come?” I don’t think the guy’s a jerk, I think the problem is he makes a reservation for a certain number of people ahead of time. So if he’s made a reservation for 8 he probably feels like he can’t include others at the last minute. It’s more thoughtlessness than anything else, but the impression he gives is of being exclusionary.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yeah, that’s still jerky, even if he’s just being clueless. Grown-ass adults who have mastered the basics of networking understand you don’t do this. Especially if the issue is that he asked ahead of time for a reservation for X people. “Hey, I’m ignoring you because I didn’t think to invite you in the first place and can’t be bothered to change it now”? Bro, that is not how you get people to think of you first when they get a hot referral or need co-counsel on an important issue.

          2. OfficePrincess*

            He seems to have step 1 – make the initial arrangements discreetly away from the group – down, which is good. It’s just step 2 – keep your mouth shut in front of people you aren’t inviting – that he seems to struggle with. That was a lesson I remember learning in kindergarten, if you’re not inviting the whole class, don’t get all excited and talk about it in front of the people you didn’t invite.

            1. OP*

              Yes, totally. I certainly don’t expect him to start making big private-room dinner reservations for 20 people after each meeting. But yeah, he doesn’t send out an e-mail to the whole group saying, “If you want to get dinner after next week’s meeting, let me know by Friday.” So he’s aware that he’s excluding, for sure. In fact, I used to send out the confirming details for the meeting to those who said they could come by using BCC (because sometimes people use reply all indiscriminately and I hate that), and this person actually asked me once if I could either send him a list of names of people who were planning to attend or not do BCC, because he wanted to know who he could invite for dinner. So I stopped doing BCC because of that but now I kind of wish I hadn’t.

              1. CAinUK*

                THIS might change my stance completely. I was going to agree with those saying “adults can do what they want and this is a normal part of networking” IF this guy already knew these dinner invitees.

                But his asking for a list of attendees to see who he can invite to his dinner club? Blech. If it’s always the same 6-8 ppl and he just wants to see who is going before making a dinner RSVP – fine, but he can do that by just asking his clique about their plans seperately. So this leads me to think he is scanning your attendee list and targeting new people to “poach” for his own, separate networking.

                Which IS rude.

                1. Ultraviolet*

                  Yeah, this might be my tipping point from acceptable networking to subverting the primary networking meeting. I find this whole situation pretty tricky though. I agree with Alison’s advice anyway.

          3. Green*

            Eh, casually mentioning it as everyone is leaving and saying goodbye isn’t really making it a focus of the group. It’s nice to be invited, but this happens all the time in professional situations (including industry groups, conferences, etc.), not being invited is something most professionals can handle without taking offense unless it is specifically exclusionary (i.e., invite everyone but Jane), and it isn’t behavior that the meeting organizer needs to intervene in on (especially not if it’s your boss’s partner…).

          4. Artemesia*

            during my career I went to many professional meetings where the whole group was about 400 or so and my subgroup would be in the 30s or 40s or so of members. It was common to organize dinner groups of 6 to 10 since we were from institutions around the country and it was a chance to see friends and catch up and a rare chance at that. Still:
            A. you didn’t blab about later plans in front of people not included.
            B. people still were hurt to be excluded when they heard about groups getting together.

            1. Green*

              He asks someone — after the meeting, as they’re packing up — if they’re still planning on joining him for dinner. That is regular conversation, not a group of your gal pals talking about a wedding you’re not invited to.

              The (B) part is a bit puzzling to me. I don’t expect anyone to be my social organizer at a conference or professional meeting. If I want to eat dinner with people (plenty of times I’d rather just go back to my hotel), I say “Do you have plans for dinner? ::we were planning on going to steakhouse across the street:: Oh, do you have room for one more?” These are all adults.

          5. BananaPants*

            Sorry, OP, I just don’t see this as an exclusionary behavior. The meeting’s wrapped up, people are getting their things together to leave, and he’s asking his friends if they’re still meeting afterwards. It’s a reasonable thing to do and it doesn’t seem excessive.

            I’m part of a professional organization and attend chapter meetings regularly. There are groups of other women who go often out for drinks or dinner after meetings. I know this because they’ll say to their friends, “Hey, Jane and Belinda – are we still on for dinner?” as we all gather up coats and bags and head for the door. I haven’t been invited out with them, but that doesn’t mean I feel unwelcome in the chapter or like my participation isn’t valued- it just means that they have circles of friends that I (and other members) aren’t a part of. It’s no biggie. They’re allowed to have social interactions with other members outside of official meetings/events, get-togethers that don’t have to include the entire membership of the group.

      2. Devil's Avocado*

        But the new member LOOKED hurt – that’s a lot to read into a look! They didn’t even approach the organizer and ask, or otherwise express a problem with it, they just looked hurt (which could be a misreading on the OP’s part – maybe they were tired, or eager to get home, or reacting to a weird text, or heck, maybe they were constipated. Who knows!) I don’t think it’s worth bringing up with the boss’ partner based on the facial expression of a single person. This is a common enough thing that the OP risks looking out of touch by raising it.

    2. Dan*

      This is my take. I’m not a meeting and event planner, and I HATE planning large group outings. Quite frankly, I’m only able to talk to those in my immediate vicinity, not at the other end of the table. Since planning large group activities is a pain, not fun, and I don’t get that much out of it, I’m likely to plan something small… like whoever I can grab that will fit at a table for 6. I do like “fancy”, and if my small group does as well, then that’s what we’re doing.

      If someone were to complain that I’m being exclusionary, I’d say that I probably was, although it was unintentional. I would cordially invite that person to plan a large group dinner, and good luck finding a place that keeps “everybody” happy.

  6. Oryx*

    Yeah, I’m on Team Not a Big Deal. It’s not an official dinner, it’s a social gathering of some of the attendees after the official event is over for the day. It the meeting organizer wants a full group dinner as part of the event, then an official dinner needs to be organized as part of the event. (But, even then, this group may still go off on their own anyway. Happens at conferences all the time.)

    I’m also wondering how many people are being included v. excluded. Without hard numbers like 2 out of 10 people are being excluded it’s difficult to really say how much this is changing the dynamics of the group.

    1. OP*

      I would say it’s half the group or more that’s being excluded from dinner. He will arrange for 6-8 people to have dinner afterwards and there might be as many as 20 at the meeting. I agree that it’s not part of the official meeting, but like Alison said, it gives the impression that there’s an “afterparty.” Some of the excluded people probably don’t even care, but we’re trying to recruit newer members and it’s those people I worry about getting the wrong impression of the group–I don’t want them to think there’s cliquishness, and that you don’t get invited to the “afterparty” unless you’ve known everyone there for years, or have money to spend on an expensive dinner, etc.

      1. LQ*

        I think that the group trying to recruit newer members is a big deal here. Especially if he is part of the we need more people move, it can be just letting him know how it is perceived, or finding a way to be more inclusive. But if you have a group that needs new members, then it does very much matter that you have something, even that is just perceived as exclusive. It can be all these other things people are saying, but if you want new people, some times you have to reach out to those new people and show them they are welcome. That matters a great deal, unless you are only looking to recruit people who don’t care, or who will get themselves an invite (both of which are possible, but are subsets of people who are smaller than the whole of people who might want to be included in your group).

        1. AMG*

          This, and it just isn’t a professionally savvy thing to do. Who knows where today’s up-and-coming will be the Executive High Roller, and remember how badly Bob bruised his/her ego? Aside from that, it’s just plain rude.

          1. Green*

            I am on Team Not A Big Deal, and I can’t imagine any of the executives I know having bruised egos if more than half the group wasn’t invited and a handful of people planned to get dinner afterward.

            1. Devil's Avocado*

              Agree. This is so normal in my experience that I can’t possibly imagine any of the professionals I’ve worked with being offended by it.

            2. AMG*

              Then I know some exceptionally sensitive or arrogant execs. Actually not that surprising. It’s still rude regardless.

      2. Roscoe*

        You know, I’m still kind of torn on this. Its a big enough percent of the general group that it does seem like a clique, but its also people who have known each other a long time. I mean, I think that opposed to telling them they shouldn’t do it, maybe just suggest that they don’t blatantly discuss at as everyone is leaving. As an adult, I hate being told that I have to invite people to anything in my leisure time. I also think there are certain things that, if I’m coming across rude, that I’d at least like to know.

        1. OP*

          I’d like to think this would be more the latter (him wanting to know if he’s coming across as being rude) than the former (him feeling like he’s being told who to invite to his dinners). Alison gave some good advice on this in her reply and others have, too. In other aspects of life I’ve been trying to follow the rule that my response to someone else’s rudeness doesn’t make me the rude one, and I’d like to apply that in this situation. Interestingly, though, some of the responses here have made me question whether or not he *is* being rude, or if I’m just overly sensitive about it.

          1. Roscoe*

            Honestly, without knowing exactly how it goes down its hard to say. If he just mentions it casually to people as they are leaving and others are in ear shot, I don’t know if I’d call it rude. If he is saying at that the table as soon as the meeting is adjourned, then yeah. But I really wouldn’t sweat it myself if I saw that, because I know that people have relationships outside of the group.

          2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I think some of your sensitivity comes from your position.

            I just came off two years as the membership VP of my city’s professional organization, so you have my sympathy. I felt like I spent a good deal of time pushing the long-term members to at least go say “hello” to the new members before grabbing their drinks and hiding in the back.

            We did an anonymous survey and some of the comments about board and long-term members behavior were heartbreaking, but it did help me shape conversations around perception. I.e. “a first-time guest doesn’t understand that this monthly meeting is the only time you see Fergus, which is why you are huddled in a corner catching up.”

            1. AMG*

              This, for pity’s sake. It’s a networking event, so go network. I hate to sound judgmental, but this isn’t something you should have to explain to an adult and a professional. Bob should get it fairly quickly.

          3. neverjaunty*

            When you start asking yourself “am I being overly sensitive” about something, unless you are an unusually touchy person in general, the answer is almost certainly “No, and the person I’m addressing/asking about it are trying to make me feel terrible for being bothered by this.”

            1. RKB*

              I disagree. If you’re asking the question on your own, it may be self awareness. And sometimes, yes, people are overreacting and the reactions of others can help dictate that (especially in the subjective view of deviance from the norm.)

              It is helpful to be able to realize you may be overreacting and beneficial to find yourself aware of these situations. To write it off as emotional manipulation most of the time could be detrimental to how people perceive you and even your own mental health.

              When I think “am I overreacting?” It’s because I most definitely am. I know when to stand by my own judgement and when it is to be questioned.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I disagree. When I hear “am I overreacting” from people, it’s usually because they’ve been gaslighted to hell and back and are starting to question their own judgment.

            2. Green*

              Or there are two completely different schools of thought on this, and a good number of people on this board don’t seem to have a problem with people casually getting together outside of the meeting we all attended. I think you’re really projecting a bit here. The OP’s target hasn’t tried to make her feel terrible (because she hasn’t addressed it with him), and she asked an advice blog for advice and people are trying to let her know that this is absolutely a professional norm in a lot of industries and that many people just view it as Not A Problem. I think that’s relevant information to consider if you’re deciding whether you as an individual should address something with your boss’s partner. I don’t think the OP should feel terrible about being concerned for others’ feelings and budgets; I do think OP is potentially overreacting by thinking that this is a problem that needs to be solved (by her) rather than a mild irritant.

  7. Weekday Warrior*

    I’ve seen this dynamic play out at conferences, workshops, meetings on-site and off-site. While it seems reasonable to think that social rules prevail after the event and sub-groups can do as they please, the close proximity to a work or professional activity creates the clique feeling. I hate to recreate high school so try to make sure that any group I hang with afterwards is as welcoming and open as possible. Are some people more fun/interesting/cool than others? Sure, but exclude not lest you be excluded by an even cooler group. :)
    I have to admit I did participate in a group that purposely excluded a senior exec from dinner plans because a number of her direct and suffering reports begged the group not to invite her…

    1. Weekday Warrior*

      To clarify, I think the OP should follow Alison’s advice and then let it alone. But if/when we have organizing power ourselves, the kindness of a welcoming attitude goes a long way professionally and personally.

    2. MK*

      I have zero problem with being excluded from groups that aren’t interested in socialising with me; and life is too short to spent time with people you don’t want to know or who don’t want to know you.

  8. kristinyc*

    I’m in a similar professional group that meets monthly – we usually do a happy hour afterwards. Not everyone attends, but it’s fun and casual. Maybe OP could suggest planning one after an upcoming meeting, and inviting everyone (and mention it to the colleague first, “Hey, I thought it would be fun to organize a happy hour for group members after our next meeting so that everyone can continue the conversation/get to know each other.” Maybe someone in the group has a business that would be willing to sponsor it!

    1. Temperance*

      Wouldn’t that be really stepping on this man’s toes, though? I think if she wanted to invite some of the newbies out for drinks/dinner that could be really nice, but scheduling an “inclusive” event at the same time as the “exclusive” dinner sends a message.

      1. LQ*

        I totally don’t get this comment. I feel like it doesn’t make any sense with the thing you said below either. If the Org decides, hey, we should be more inclusive and one of the things we should do is have a social hour at a reasonably priced place after the meeting. How would that be stepping on Bob’s toes unless Bob is doing a group sponsored thing? If he wanted to do a post, post party with only expensive drinks, or go someplace else and do an exclusive thing he could absolutely still do that.

        Worrying about what Bob has scheduled when scheduling a post session happy hour kind of makes Bob’s schedule an Official Org thing. If it isn’t an Official Org thing then it doesn’t matter. And when else would you have group happy hour that is inclusive than after the event?

        1. Temperance*

          If you know that Bob regularly invites Jim, Sue, Carol, and Ted to dinner, you planning something for the exact same time will come off as petty, especially if you are trying to assert that these dinners are wrong/cliquey/etc. The LW already established that she dislikes that they go to an expensive restaurant and doesn’t want to spend her money that way (which is fine!), but if she a.) talks to Bob about how these dinners are too exclusive and then b.) plans her own thing at the same time and invites everyone, it can be seen as rude to Bob and arguably just as exclusionary (because Bob and his friends already do their thing, and now it’s an Official Group Activity at the same time).

          I work in an industry with a defined hierarchy, and doing something like this would just not go over well. Inviting a few people/newbies out, great. Trying to preempt an established event with senior people, including your boss’s partner … no.

          1. LQ*

            But what I don’t get is then how is that established event not an official group event? I feel like the point at which you can’t do an official group thing because there is a thing with group members happening means that other thing is an official group thing.

            When else would you plan it? It kind of seems like you are saying this group can’t have an Official Group Happy Hour because it might interfere with Bob’s personal life. Maybe I’ve just never been in an industry like yours but it seems very odd that you aren’t allowed to have an official group happy hour after the official group meeting (to me that is super common) because Bob’s got dibs on that hour.

          2. Kate M*

            Yeah, that’s totally like saying that since Bob is hanging out with his friends at this time, then nobody else can hang out. I don’t get that. I think it would probably be a good idea to start a happy hour after the meetings and invite everyone. If Bob and his friends want to still do their dinner thing, they can. But you might find that some of Bob’s friends really want to get to know the new people, and this would be an excuse for them to opt out of the dinner. If it’s truly a social thing, Bob can have dinner with his friends another time.

            1. aebhel*

              This. You can have it one way or the other, but not both. If Bob’s dinners are just friendly things, then there’s no issue with scheduling a group happy hour at the same time. If they’re group events, then he needs to make them accessible to everyone. ‘Bob and his friends have plans, so nobody else can hang out’ is ridiculous.

  9. Dan*

    In the general sense, we as a society are sort of split between “the bigger the group, the more fun it is” and “I hate big groups, keep it small, or I’m going home and reading my book.” Both these positions have their own merits, but you aren’t likely to find somebody from one group planning an event for the other type and enjoying it.

    I’ll grab a handful of friends (or pre arrange it) and someone else will say, “why didn’t you plan something for everybody?” Answer: Because I didn’t want to. “You’re leaving people out.” Yeah, I know, it’s nothing personal. Big group events just aren’t my thing, sorry.

        1. Undercover for this*

          I actually turned down an invitation to go to a tropical Carribean island with some really, really nice people this spring. They are all so nice, but a week is a loooooooong time to be trapped in a social situation with a big group of people, no matter how nice they are.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      This. I absolutely hate it when a particular work friend asks me to join what I think is going to be a small group for dinner at a conference, and it turns out she spends the day rounding up people to join us (introvert vs extravert dynamic at its finest).

      However, under these circumstances, I think the perfect solution is upthread, for the LW to invite everyone, especially newcomers, to a happy hour/less expensive dinner.

    2. neverjaunty*

      I’m also a small group kind of person, but I know better than to announce to the entire large group that me and my buddies are going to go off to a spendy restaurant without them.

  10. HM in Atlanta*

    I’ve never been part of a professional org/conference or even an in-company event where this did not happen. This is just real life. If the OP wants to offer a more inclusive option, she should do that. The only reason she should talk to her boss partner is if this secondary group is interfering with the activities of the professional group.

  11. MK*

    I also think it would be inappropriate for the OP to interfere in this. If 5 people out of 20 go out for dinner after the meeting, they are not “excluding” anyone from it, they are just going their own way after they are done with a professional obligation. And if it’s obvious that it was pre-arranged, it should also be obvious that it has nothing to do with the group and it’s a social thing between some people.

    And it’s worse if she isn’t really interested in the socialising herself, but tries to manage how others do it. If she was up for going often, it would be fine to suggest issuing a more general invitation and also mentioning the cost issue, but doing the same thing for outings you won’t even go to. Maybe I am over-sensitive, but I would feel I was being lectured by an elementary school teacher, if I was told my making plans to go to dinner with friends was excluding others.

    Frankly, I think it would be best for the OP to handle the new member who was hurt (if that’s actually the case and not the OP projecting her discomfort) and others like them. Make sure you convey that these dinners are a private thing for some group members who are also personal friends with each other and nothing to do with the meeting. I would think that if the OP as the orginizer doesn’t go, that would make it pretty clear.

    1. LQ*

      Ok if I was a brand new member of a group and someone came up to me and said, “Hey, I saw you looked a little sad for a second when Joe mentioned he was going to dinner with Jack, but it’s a private thing because they are friends and it has nothing to do with the meeting.” I would never come back because that’s super weird. I think there may be a way to do this more gently but I cannot come up with a way to say, “Oh that’s just a private thing” that doesn’t come across really weird.

      1. MK*

        I wasn’t suggesting that the OP talk to this specific person at all; but as the organizer, she could get the point across that this is a group of friends going their way, not an after-meeting thing.

        1. LQ*

          But how do you do that? The only thing I can think of is having an alternate group-sponsored thing after hours which would clearly indicate the thing Joe and Jack are doing is just buddies not a sponsored thing.

          1. MK*

            One way that comes to mind is casually mention that the people who go to dinner are personal friends, if true. “Oh, they have known each other since they started out in the same company in the year X, but they don’t see each other often now that they work for different employers”. Or ” Bob and his pals have a semi-regular friends’ night out after our meetings”.

            1. LQ*

              But doesn’t that loop back to the not talking about things people aren’t invited to in front of them politeness thing that was mentioned earlier.

              I can see if 4 people are standing around and Bob says to Jack, hey you coming to dinner? And Jack goes yup. Then Suzy says, “one of what you said thing” to Joe. But that seems like you’d always have to be right there to catch it in the moment. You can’t just bring that up later can you?

              It would be easy enough if Joe actually asked Suzy about it as well to say that I suppose.

              1. MK*

                I think you can quite easily bring it up whenever you want, even before the subject of dinner comes up, if you chat with a new member about the group in general.

            2. Colette*

              It’s not the OP’s job to track how he knows the people he’s inviting or to speculate on why they’re invited, though. And what if the truth is “they make more money than you?” That’s not going to make the group seem inviting.

              1. MK*

                OK, maybe it’s the fact that my field has a strict hierarchy, but that would actually make total sense to me. People who are at different points in their careers belonging to the same group is a great thing, but it doesn’t mean we have to preserve some fiction of equality to be considered inviting; forced socialising with people you cannot be relaxed around isn’t helping either.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Or maybe Mister Manners could do that, instead of expecting OP to do the emotional labor of smoothing over feathers ruffled by his lack of discretion? Why is it her job to explain his behavior?

      2. Green*

        Or OP could just ask the new members if they have plans and would like to grab dinner somewhere casual with her and X (another long-time member).

    2. OP*

      From my perspective, I have a duty as the meeting organizer to make sure that people feel comfortable belonging to the group. I don’t think I personally need to attend the dinners that this person organizes in order to be able to give some input into how they are presented to the group. Because they happen right after the meetings, are mentioned during the meetings, and only include people who are at the meetings, they are de facto extensions of the meetings, in a sense. If other members don’t feel like they’re being fully included in the group because of how these dinners are associated with the meetings, then that’s on me to resolve.

      1. Temperance*

        I respectfully disagree with you, with the exception of your last line. I do not think that you need to put the kibosh on these dinners, which seems to be your ultimate goal. Why not work on making sure new members feel included at the meetings and make an effort to get to know them (maybe by arranging a small get together after the meetings), rather than giving credit to the assertion that Bob is excluding people? I know that it probably depends on your individual industry, but this is pretty common in mine, and not seen as offensive or exclusionary.

      2. MK*

        Well, I can’t say I really see why you think that. The only part that is remotely your business if the fact that they are being talked about during the meetings; what the participants do after they leave is their affair. If you really believe it is making new members feel uncomfortable, at most you might give the guy a hint that he should be more discreet and not talk about his plans at the meeting.

      3. Oryx*

        Okay, so here’s where I’m stuck with this. I can see why you want to make sure everyone feels comfortable belonging to the group yet instead of organizing your own dinner that actually IS affiliated with the group, you’d prefer to just dictate a private social dinner arranged by someone who just happens to be part of the group. A private social dinner that you don’t really seem to care about personally.

        If you’re the meeting organizer and want to create a welcoming feeling, then organize something. Or encourage those who have been excluded (a group that seems to be larger than the “clique”) to just go after dinner somewhere themselves?

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          This is what I struggle with as well. It seems that the OP does not want to have formal group dinners and also wants to dictate who attends personal dinners that include folks from the group.

        2. OP*

          I don’t want to dictate who the person invites to dinner at all–that’s not my place. Nor can I tell him, you can’t do these dinners any more. I guess it’s more a question of hoping that they can somehow become more distinct from the meetings. It’s an awkward situation that maybe I’m over-reacting about, but was hoping for some feedback.

        3. Just Another Techie*

          A private social dinner that all the queen bees gab about in front of the lowly peasants who aren’t invited, but are part of the group and presumably expected to contribute to the organization.

          1. Devil's Avocado*

            I’m not sure that is a fair reading of the situation. Elsewhere the OP said it casually gets mentioned after the meeting when everyone is saying goodbye. That’s a lot different than what you are describing here.

            There a multiple people here saying these types of gatherings are common in their industry, as it is in mine. Honestly, if I heard colleagues discussing plans to get together after a conference I wouldn’t bat an eye. And I certainly wouldn’t think of them as “queen bees” lording it over the “peasants”.

            1. Green*

              And it gets mentioned in the utilitarian sense — “Are you still planning on dinner tonight?” This doesn’t seem like gloating to the peasants.

              If there was a dinner I really wanted to go to that was mentioned in front of me, I’d ask if they mind if I joined them. If there was someone who said something that made me think they felt left out, I’d probably just ask them if they wanted to grab something. Otherwise, I’m usually relieved to just go home or back to my hotel room.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Yike. Then you put them in the position of either telling you bluntly that you’re excluded, or inviting you when they’d rather not. This is the entire reason you don’t invite people to a thing in front of non-invitees.

                1. Green*

                  Here’s what that looks like in practice.
                  “Absolutely; I think Jane is ducking out, so we have an open seat at the table.”
                  “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t think we can add anyone to our reservations. Next time!”
                  “No worries! I’ll grab dinner on the way home.”

                  This is a professional event, not mean girls in high school. If you do much work travel, professional associations, industry events or conference-going, you learn that this is just an absolutely normal thing. I’ve been on both sides of this. Most people don’t care, but if they don’t want you to go, those people are usually capable of giving a face-saving excuse that isn’t “No. We don’t like you.”

                2. Green*

                  (For what it’s worth, you’ve mentioned that you’ve been on the not-fun side of this experience as a woman in a male-dominated area of law. I’m also a woman in a male-dominated area of law and have had success getting recognized and included by acting more like pleasant, confident, assertive men do. And this part about saying, “Oh, mind if I join you?” is something I see men do all the time.)

      4. TowerofJoy*

        It’s a little rude that they come up at the meetings, but everything else about this is entirely normal. I hang out with people at work, right after work with only people from work, but not everyone from work. I don’t consider it a de facto extension of my work day. I consider it hanging out with my friends who also happen to be my coworkers who I can conveniently see after work because we’re all already there.

        Is something else happening at these dinners? Are decisions being made? Are policies being set? Are people being excluded to a skewed extent because they are a minority? female? I would focus on that if thats whats happening. If this is truly a “work friends getting dinner after a meeting” I don’t think there is an issue with that.

          1. Ineloquent*

            Nope, I don’t think so. Adults shouldn’t police other adult’s social lives, particularly when they are not actually in a position of responsibility over the other person.

        1. Kate M*

          I hang out with a few people from work too. BUT, if I were to mention us going out for drinks after work in front of any other coworkers, it would always be with a “feel free to join!” disclaimer. If I want something where it’s just certain friends, I don’t mention it in front of others. If we talk about it in front of other coworkers, it should be open to all. I mean, if another coworker hears us talking about drinks at a certain bar and they say they love that place, I’m not going to be like, “cool, but you can’t come, it’s private, sorry.”

          1. TowerofJoy*

            Well yes, because you’re not rude. Boss’s partner is a rude jerk, no doubt, but that’s not what I was taking issue with. My issue was with the “de facto extension of” part. I think that’s a stretch.

      5. Ineloquent*

        Sounds to me that as the meeting organizer, your best bet for group happiness and cohesion is to arrange a official but optional group meal in an affordable place that Guy and his friends can opt out of for their own private shindig. Policing this guy’s social life isn’t the appropriate way to go about this.

        You should also attend this dinner to make it clear that it’s official even if you’re sick to death of everyone. It’d be your duty as the host.

        1. NK*

          I tend to agree with this. While his behavior is rude and I don’t think it would be out of line to gently point out that it may harm efforts to get new members on board, I think the easiest and most diplomatic way to handle it is to organize a standing after-meeting event. Since the meeting organizer position is rotating, OP wouldn’t be obligated to attend beyond her term as organizer if she doesn’t wish to.

      6. Artemesia*

        Having dinner after a meeting seems like a natural thing. Organizing or encouraging someone else to organize a low cost option and let people know they are welcome to join the group at the pizza place or whatever seems like a good idea regardless of the more exclusive parties. You could even mention it to Bigshot as in ‘I have been hearing from people who feel excluded by not being invited to parties they are hearing about at the meeting. I thought we might institute a regular dinner at Chez Cheapo or Pizza Wallow so that people not in your group might get together and socialize after the meetings. ‘

        1. Green*

          That’s manufacturing a problem though; she hasn’t been hearing from people who feel excluded. She saw someone she thought “looked” hurt. It would probably be better to be honest: “I’m worried that some of the new members we are trying to recruit may feel excluded when they hear about your dinner. What do you think?”

      7. BananaPants*

        Your business is what happens during meetings, not outside of them. He can make dinner plans with whoever he likes, including other members of this professional group, and they can pick a restaurant with a price point that suits them. He doesn’t have some sort of obligation to make a social gathering more inclusive of people who he may not know well or particularly want to spend time with, or to choose a more affordable restaurant.

        I think it’s reasonable to expect that this guy would tone down the talk about the dinner during the meeting, because that’s rude. Beyond that, I’d let this thing go and focus on making the actual group meetings more welcoming and inclusive.

    3. Devil's Avocado*

      I heartily agree with you here. It sounds like the person hosting these dinners is senior to the OP. Frankly I think it would come across as presumptuous and maybe even a bit tone deaf to try to dictate how these dinners happen, the price point of the restaurant and who gets invited.

      In my current role I coordinate very similar groups and these things happen organically all the time. It would look really out of touch if I tried to jump in and organize a dinner that I was not invited to and did not plan to attend. I vote let it go, OP.

  12. CADMonkey007*

    It gets annoying real fast when, in order to do anything, you have to invite everyone, all the time.

    1. esra*

      In a group of friends, yea. In a small professional org? I think they can swing either an open invitation, or a quieter invite.

      1. Green*

        I actually think in a group of friends people are much more likely to have their feelings hurt than in a professional environment.

        1. esra*

          It’s definitely more tactful if you don’t loudly talk about things people aren’t invited to, but it’s more casual in a group of friends. What I was getting at in my above comment is that the standards of behaviour are different in a professional org.

    2. OfficePrincess*

      No one’s saying he has to invite everyone. The consensus is that he just needs to be discreet about it, hence Alison’s advice that she pull him aside and let him know how this is being perceived.

      I’m in a community choir and some of us are closer than others. Occasionally we get together afterwards, but we don’t talk about it during rehearsal. What normally happens is a few of us stay to clean up and then someone groans about not wanting to go home to make dinner and then someone else points out that [restaurant] is right up the street. Anyone who is there and interested is welcome, but since most of the group bolts out the door as soon as the clock hits our finish time, it’s always the same 4-5 of us cleaning up and the same 4-5 of us going out. We also schedule potlucks after every 3-4 rehearsals that are planned in advance open invitation to anyone to help make sure everyone feels included. Everyone knows about the potlucks, but only the people invited know if we’re going out.

      1. KR*

        This. I also think it would be kind to go to the newest member and give her the scoop so they know it’s nothing personal.

      2. CADMonkey007*

        This is OP’s boss’ partner, and although he is being rude I just can’t see correcting this guys etiquette going over well. If its a matter of simply “not feeling left out,” why doesn’t OP offer the open invitation to go out to dinner to a fairly inexpensive place. It can be as simple as “I’m thinking of going to the Thai place on the corner for dinner, anyone care to join?”

        1. neverjaunty*

          “Hey, sorry Fergus was rude, but I’ll take you out to dinner so you don’t feel bad about it”? I don’t think that’s much of a solution.

          Pointing out to this guy that he could approach the situation differently is not correcting his etiquette, given that what he’s doing (excluding new people) is in direct conflict with OP’s job (making new people feel welcome and included).

          1. Green*

            Would you really do that with your boss’s partner though? I try not to give people advice that I wouldn’t actually do myself.

            1. Rebel Yellow*

              Assuming that he’s a generally decent human being and not a known asshole, I totally would. And if he’s a known asshole, I wouldn’t, but because of that not because he’s the boss’s partner. Bosses are just people with different job responsibilities. You can talk to them. Reasonable people will not find that inapproriate to do (if you are polite).

    3. Just Another Techie*

      I know, it’s just SO AWFUL when my coworkers ask that I observe bare minimum standards of social decency and not make a big production in front of them out of the super special exclusive events that they just aren’t cool enough to be invited to. I mean, GOSH, don’t they realize that talking about the cool stuff I do in front of people I would never invite to chill with me and my pals is, like, half the POINT of these exclusive outings anyway. Geez!

      1. Green*

        This isn’t a coworker. This is a person with some role in a professional or industry organization who wants to say something to the boss’s partner, who also appears to be senior to OP. And the “big production” is — as people are saying their goodbyes — the OP’s boss’s partner says “Hey, are you still coming to dinner?”

        Realistically, it would take a pretty high rudeness level for me to feel like saying something to my boss’s partner was professional.

        1. CADMonkey007*

          Exactly, thank you. Sure, it’s polite to offer an open invitation but I don’t think a private get together is as taboo as everyone is making it out to be. This is dinner we’re taking about, not some super exclusive club. And yes, there should be polite discretion but, goodness, it doesn’t have to be a secret, certainly adults can handle the fact that not everyone gets invited to everything.

          My question to OP is, how friendly is this guy to new members during the meeting? If he just hangs with his buddies in addition to this dinner afterwards, then perhaps OP has grounds to discuss.

          1. Green*

            It’s a combination of both. I think the risk-benefit of (even politely) calling out your boss’s partner when there are alternate ways of resolving what is a pretty minor problem (mild rudeness) would lead me to choose one of the alternate ways of resolving it. Realistically, I can’t imagine approaching a boss’s partner to explain their rudeness to them unless it was a very serious issue (clear racism/sexism/aggressive berating behavior).

  13. legowhiz*

    First of all, if a group of people who can afford/expense it want to go out to dinner on their own, that is their right to do so. No one has to take into account that the restaurant may be expensive. Some people can afford it, others cannot. If I could not afford it, I would not go. I would not expect people to change their plans because of me. I would see if there are others who may want to go to a less expensive place. If I was not invited, but wanted to go to the expensive dinner, I would approach whoever is organizing and ask them if I could go. It would then be their decision if they wanted me there or not. I am an adult, not a ten year old. I would not get upset if they declined. Respectfully, the OP is interjecting herself into someone else’s occasion, and I do not think she should get involved. We are all adults, not children!

    1. Liane*

      Yes, these are adults–but adults are presumed to have learned **as children** that you Do Not Talk about events in front of people who aren’t invited.

      1. legowhiz*

        The question the OP had was should she intervene in someone else’s social event because someone had their feelings hurt. No. She should not. Would you really get all bent out of shape because people who may have known each other for possibly years want to go to dinner after an association meeting, and you did not get invited?

        1. esra*

          If I was new to the association, and half the people there were talking loudly about an event just for them, each time we all got together? Yea, that would kind of suck. At the very least, I’d feel like it was pretty cliquey.

          1. Green*

            That’s not what happened here though. He asks if people are still going to dinner after the event as people are leaving, and it’s much less than half the group.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              As people are packing up to leave, is how I read it, which is still part of the meeting space, everywhere I’ve worked (I mean, you wouldn’t start swearing (in a formal workplace), or pull out a hipflask as the meeting’s packing up, or ask someone on a date etc etcetc?)

              1. Green*

                This isn’t work (it’s a professional organization, with norms that may or may not be the same as your workplace) and it’s not clearly inappropriate behavior. I’m much more likely to have several drinks at a professional organization event than I am at a work party, for instance.

  14. the_scientist*

    This is an interesting question to me because I volunteer with a para-professional organization that is really struggling to recruit and retain new members in part due to the cliquish “old boys club” atmosphere some long-time members clearly want to preserve and also because of the high cost associated with membership.

    By advertising or talking about these dinners at the meetings, this guy is de facto making them an extension of these meetings, in my opinion. It would be one thing to discreetly arrange a dinner beforehand and then, also discreetly, wait outside for fellow group members to head off to dinner. I’m not saying he has to open up the dinners to everyone, I’m just saying that he needs to create a perceived separation between “networking meeting” and “dinner with friends” or whatever he’s calling this, so that distinction is either more visible to other group members, or he needs to keep the dinners away from meetings all together so that only the people who are invited know about them.

    This sort of thing becomes especially problematic if this is a field where diversity is an issue, because if I attend a networking meeting and then hear a bunch of older, white men talk about getting dinner after the meeting to “continue their discussion” or whatever, it starts to look to me like they might be only inviting people who look like them, so they can perpetuate their “old boys club”. Which is what is happening in the organization that I volunteer with- there’s a clear resistance to new people and new ideas, and the leadership of this organization have made it very clear (without actually stating so outright) that they’re not interested in hearing what people who aren’t part of their clique have to say.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I posted above about the survey we did for my professional organization and it was so heartbreaking to read the comments, but yet explained exactly why we were seeing a decline in membership and struggling to retain new members.

      People felt like there was a “cool kids” clique and that they were excluded from a lot of the “real networking.” Since it was anonymous, we couldn’t necessarily come out and say that Wakeen, Fergus, and Jaimie all going to dinner (and loudly announcing their plans to the table) wasn’t really networking, but was because they happened to be friends.

      I had to approach it with our board as a perception issue rather than an ettiquette issue.

      1. the_scientist*

        I think you said it perfectly- the TL;DR is that this is a perception issue, not so much an etiquette issue.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Yes, this.

        And I’m not really buying that there’s an iron wall between ‘just hanging out as friends’ and ‘networking’ for people who share the same organization.

        1. Roscoe*

          I think depending on how they started hanging out as friends it could be. For example, if they all went to college together, or knew each other before the group was formed, its definitely different than if they just were the richest guys in the room

          1. neverjaunty*

            And they’re socializing as part of the group as well as through how they know each other. That’s how networking works.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              But they’re not, though – upthread, the OP said the dinner organiser wants to know who is coming, so they can choose who to invite – and invited her at one point too. This idea that “it’s just good chums” seems to be a reach, to me.

    2. Green*

      I distinguished this upthread earlier, but I would make much more of an effort to intervene if there was a perception that this was an issue related to (even unintentional) exclusion against women or racial/ethnic minorities.

  15. KR*

    I want to look at this from the perspective of what if the newer member of the group wrote in to AAM.

    Dear Alison, I just joined a professional group. It’s going great and the person who organizes the meetings is very nice and friendly. However, after the meetings anywhere from a quarter to half of the membership goes out to eat. I’m not sure if these dinners are a part of the professional organization because not everyone seemed to be going. I am kind of put off because I feel like I should have been invited! Help me!

    We would probably all be telling the OP to ask someone what the scoop was with these dinners and that if it wasn’t an event put on by the professional group then they shouldn’t feel put off. So my advice to the actual OP is to let the person know who organizes these dinners that talking about it during the meetings might sound exclusionary but don’t push the issue and if they spy anyone feeling put off at not being invited, to tell them that it’s nothing personal to them.

    1. Kate M*

      Of course it’s probably not personal. But I’ve volunteered at an organization before where most of the volunteers would go out for drinks after volunteering. They had all known each other for a long time and were good friends. I didn’t take it personally when I wasn’t invited, but it did make it harder to make myself a part of the group. They were very cliquish, although very nice, but it made me feel like I was never really “in” the group. I think quite a few volunteers felt this way. It was usually that core group of volunteers, and then a few more that would come and go, including me when I finally stopped volunteering about a year later (partly for scheduling reasons, but if I had felt more connected to the group, I might have found a way to make it work). It sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the core group felt that since they were the core group, they had more in common and would hang out after, which would make it harder to become a part of the core group. It’s not wrong to do that necessarily, but I think it did have an impact on the organization, i.e. if you hadn’t been there for 5+ years, it was harder to fit in, so you invested less and were more likely to leave. So it is a real consideration when dealing with organizations like this.

  16. Development professional*

    Any reason why this can’t be turned into a “dine around” as is done at some conferences? The group is offered 3 or 4 (or 7 or 8, whatever makes sense for the size of the convening) restaurants where groups will go afterwards, with an informal leader for each one. People split off into whichever group they want to be in based on whatever they care about, or can just go home. It doesn’t have to be super organized. Just say, “tell Bob if you want to go to Denny’s, and tell Fergus if you want to go to Pierre’s, so we can get a headcount.”

    Fergus and his friends can still go the fancy place, and others can go where they feel more comfortable. Of course, Fergus may find a few new people in his group, and *gasp* a few of his friends might defect to the cheaper options. But at least it’s a softer landing for shaking up the group dynamics.

    1. OP*

      Good idea–I will definitely think about how I might incorporate that into the planning of a future meeting!

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Another spin on this would be to invite everyone to dinner if they don’t already have dinner plans and go to a specific affordable place. That way, people who already have plans (like the boss’s partner) can process that as “Oh, I already have plans”; people who don’t have plans but are introverts and need alone-recharging time after spending the whole event with you all can go off alone; and then people who might otherwise feel left out can say “Oh, cool… yes, let’s go to that tapas place [or whatever place]!”

      1. Artemesia*

        This is what I was trying to suggest above — it is a good idea to have informal socializing and networking time after the meeting — so institutionalize an inclusive event at an affordable place for those ‘who don’t have plans.’

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I like this a lot. Since you would be looking at a group of 12-14 people most places would be able to accommodate that easily.

  17. Not So NewReader*

    Another idea would be to ask him.
    “Bob, I have a quandary. I was asked by a newbie why they were not invited to dinner and I was kind of stuck on what to say. I told them X but if this happens again, what would you like me to tell them?”

    It’s a start, an opening to the larger conversation at any rate.

    I am wondering if Bob wants to increase membership or if he is wondering why more people do not attend? If that is the case, then there might be an opening there to mention that it is awkward for some people when they find out they are not invited to dinner. Then point out that it could be resolved by [offer several solutions].

    I tend to feel the need to help everyone feel included, myself. But I do realize that not everyone works on that same basis, for many reasons. Does the group have bylaws or other formal documents? Maybe reviewing these would give you clues as to the overall direction the group wants to take. This in turn could help you process this inclusiveness question. For example, you read the written goals of the group then you might see that not everyone would think those goals are important enough to join the group. And in turn you would be less concerned about how inclusive the group is.

    As an aside, I am also wondering why your boss does not attend. Maybe it’s obvious- kids, other commitments or maybe there is a underlying reason that he is not involved in the group.

  18. ComputerGeek*

    I must be missing something.

    “I don’t want to hang out with these people more than just the meeting. I don’t want to spend money having dinner with them.”

    “I want them to stop having dinner even though I don’t want to be any part of it.”

    This can’t be a sane interpretation, but it’s the gist of what I keep reading in the original post. Can somebody please help me understand what I’m missing?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      It’s more like, “I don’t want to go, but I’m worried other people are feeling left out.”

  19. Editor*

    I read more than half the comments but not all of them, but I can see both sides of this issue and won’t belabor it any more.

    I wonder if the OP could talk to some of the more long-term members about the desire to increase the size and possibly the diversity of the group and discuss various ideas. As part of this discussion, float the idea of having an afterparty, such as a happy hour, once a quarter. If this event is planned well in advance, the dinner folks can have dinner after the happy hour or just go to happy hour instead. They have plenty of notice, and it gives everyone a chance to mingle, particularly if you can get the dinner folks to commit (in advance) to attending happy hour.

    In addition, a quarterly social event doesn’t overburden other members financially or socially, so people who are introverted can pace themselves to attend if they wish.

    And… schedule the quarterly gatherings so there isn’t one between mid-November and New Year’s. You don’t want to end up getting the group into having to have a holiday party, and having a holiday event is just burdensome because it often raises expectations about how the food should be better than at other times or how people should dress up or any number of other holiday pitfalls in addition to the high potential for scheduling conflicts.

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