I really see this as two separate issues: organizing your own birthday dinner at a restaurant and check splitting craziness.
The situation described in the article could have occurred at a "let's all meet up at Chez Fancy for dinner" event - regardless of whether or not it was for a specific occasion.
I agree, but I think the difference here is manyfold:
- for a b'day dinner, you don't get to pick all the dinner's participants. So you can't refuse to spend time w/ the sorts of people who stick you w/ the check.
- when the dinner participants are for a third-party guest of honor, they will likely include several people you don't know well at all--and people nowadays are really lousy as making conversation w/ people they don't know, so even if YOU are able & willing, they likely aren't.
- because the dinner participants aren't your own circle of friends, there isn't any "over time" for things to wash out in.
-for a b'day dinner, you may not feel that you can say "no" without hurting their feelings, or you may really want to send the "you matter to me" message that comes with attending; the pressure to go is higher.
Well, most of the time when I go out to dinner, I don't pick all of the participants. It's generally, one person says, "we should get a group together to go X" and then a bunch of people get added to the group. Even if I'm the one to start the ball rolling, it's generally pretty open invite. Of course, the types of places we go are not the sort where it would be easy to rack up a $150+/person bill without someone passing out drunk.
I'm really bad at making conversation with strangers in general, but I actually do better when meeting them in a group setting, like a mutual friends birthday - because we have something in common. I'm also a great listener (even though I'm not the best talker), so I've never had a problem in these situations, even if there are many people I don't know. They are certainly easier times to get through than weddings, because I feel less out of my element.
I agree on your 3rd point, which is why I think it is particularly important for these types of things to be everyone pays for what they order, instead of everyone pays for 1/(#of participants) of the bill. If someone wants to offer to pay for more, that's fine. But the "oh we should just split it evenly" should *never* come from some one who would be getting a discount from this approach - because it's basically asking someone to cover your meal.
On your fourth point, I get that some people feel this way, but I sort of think it's their own fault. There are plenty of ways to say "no" without saying "I don't care". One of those is of course not getting upset when people can't/don't attend your gatherings. Another is immediately suggesting a private celebration. ("Sorry, I won't be able to attend your dinner at Chez Fancy, but I'd love to take you out for dessert at Awesome Chocolate Place to celebrate your birthday. I'm free Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday night of this week if any of those work for you") Or remembering to call (instead of just a facebook wall message), or even sending a card in the mail. I've never had a huge issue with declining invites because I'm either not close enough to be involved in the planning/scheduling, so I can beg off on a "previous commitment", or I am close enough to be honest about why I can't attend.