A Thanksgiving 'Cover Charge' Is A Thing, And We Have Questions

by Rita Templeton
Originally Published: 
Anfisa Kameneva / Getty Images

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is not for the faint of heart, nor the habitual burner of gravy and baked goods. It’s a massive undertaking (yuuuge!), and the more people you host, the more complicated it becomes.

From planning to prepping to plating, it can be stressful for even the most seasoned cook. Not to mention super-pricey — a turkey alone can cost close to fifty bucks, and when you factor in side dishes and desserts and beverages (especially alcohol, which is sometimes a necessity to handle so much togetherness), you can easily fork over three figures for one meal.

In light of this fact, some families have decided to implement an actual charge for Thanksgiving dinner — you pay a rate for your plate, kind of like a restaurant — and it’s been the subject of a heated social media debate lately. People just can’t seem to wrap their heads around giving or accepting money for a family gathering. It would be like your grandma giving you milk and cookies and then holding out her palm for a donation: freaking weird.

But then again, some are rationalizing that it’s actually pretty damn practical, and they’ve got some valid points.

On one hand, paying for Thanksgiving seems petty; it’s a holiday devoted to gratitude and the company of family, not to nickel-and-diming each attendee. Charging your guests seems to be contrary to the entire purpose of the dinner, which is to share a feast with the people who are important to you — “share” being the operative word.

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a labor of love, something you do to show your family and friends how grateful you are to have them in your life, and the principle of charging them for that feels tacky and wrong to most of us. If someone wanted to pay for Thanksgiving dinner, they’d go out to eat (though it may be worth it to avoid listening to bigoted Uncle Artie spewing his half-drunk opinions on race relations, or Grandma’s sordid recounting of Grandpa’s colonoscopy).

On the other hand, though, the cover charge is appealing. If you don’t contribute something, you’re seen as a mooch — so every year, you go through the hassle of deciding what to bring, throwing elbows, and mad side-eye at the crowd of holiday shoppers at the grocery store, cooking something without ruining it, getting it to your destination without it ending up on the floorboard of your car. When you think about it like that, simply slipping your host a twenty sounds like a much more preferable option

And when you’re the one hosting, you might be able to enjoy it more knowing that you don’t have to foot the entire budget-busting bill.

For some, a side dish is payment enough. Potluck style. Others want their palms greased with more than gravy.

As with anything, there are pros and cons. But mostly, there are questions. So many questions. Like, is the dinner all-you-can-eat? What if you want to leave and come back — is there a reentry fee? Do you have to wear a wristband proving you’ve paid up? Is a doggy bag of leftovers extra? Do kids get a discounted rate since you know all they’re gonna eat is a few bites of a dinner roll? If you pay, are you also expected to help clean up, or is exemption part of the price?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with helping out your Turkey Day host. In fact, that should be a given. But if you’re opposed to the idea of literally paying them, it doesn’t have to involve cold, hard cash. Pitch in a side dish, bring a bottle of wine, show up with a stack of napkins and cups, offer help and stay for the cleanup.

If you’re on the other side of the fence and would prefer to pay instead, just slip a few bills onto the kitchen counter with a note or something.

Or maybe there’s a happy middle ground: If you’re hosting and you don’t want to demand payment, you could set up an optional donation box somewhere visible and hope somebody feeds it a few bills while they’re feeding their faces? If you end up with some extra moolah, sweet; if not, at least you tried, and you spared your family some awkwardness. (Twenty bucks says you’ll have better luck with the donation box if it’s strategically placed beside the alcohol. Just sayin’.)

So sound off: Is charging for Thanksgiving dinner petty or practical?

This article was originally published on