I will never understand The Birthday Dinner. It is without question one of the most confusing social engagement in the world. No part of The Birthday Dinner logically makes sense. I can't think of a stranger way than inviting an eclectic, disparate group of friends to sit at a long table and eat food I've never tried to celebrate my birth.
My biggest confusion is usually over the role of the birthday girl (95 percent of birthday dinners I've been to have been women). Studies show for 88 percent of the meal she is sitting down, yet is dressed to the nines and at the end takes pictures. I will never understand that. For the entire dinner no one sees what you have on and then a 10-15 minute rush at the end when everyone is paying their bill and trying to leave. I suggest taking pictures beforehand to cut down on the frenetic nature at the end of the dinner.
What I've learned about the birthday dinner is it is best to eat beforehand. More often than not I've ended up at restaurants that I cannot pronounce in addition to a menu without prices on it. That's scary. Anytime a menu doesn't list the price next to each item, they assume money is not an object to you and the staggering bill at the end of dinner will not faze you. So eat beforehand before you end up with a 40 dollar soup. I also advise be intoxicated (not embarrassingly but just a nice glaze) upon arrival, as there's a decent chance you'll be sitting next to someone you've never met before and have to engage in small talk. I am pitiful at small talk. Actually to clarify I'm pitiful at adult small talk. I can write a dissertation on the greatness of Batman but actual adult conversations like 401ks, mortgages, family usually end with me grunting and nonsensical smiling and nodding. So a little bit of your own personal vices to soothe the nerves never hurt anyone.
Another tip that I have learned involves the gift. The safest bet is a gift card, i.e. money. Money will never fail. But if you do take the leap and actually buy a gift, put it in a gift bag and line it with that thin, gift paper that's kind of like paper mache. That stuff has worked wonders for me over the years. Stuff the bag with the paper and put the gift all the way at the bottom.
Of course this is all purely my opinion. I'm also the same person who considers bang bang shrimp a delicacy and Golden Corral fine dining, so I might be completely and utterly wrong about The Birthday Dinner but I keep getting invited to them so my method may just work.