Poor positioning will ruin the whole thing
Perhaps the most ridiculous part about birthday dinners is that the person you actually came to celebrate will ultimately be the one with whom you spend the least amount of time. So where you sit at this dinner all of a sudden becomes as important as the lab partner you picked in freshman biology. (You were stuck with that dude all semester, and this dinner will feel about that long.)
Even if you do manage to nab the middle -- which means at the very least the appetizers will be front and center -- you’ll still only catch a glimpse of the host; if you’re lucky, he or she may even wave at you while you’re served hearty helpings of small talk about how much whatever-the-hell-his-name-is loves their new job.
In other words, both birthday dinners and capture the flag are big on quality time with everyone on the team except its star -- i.e., the birthday dinner host and one who actually captures the flag.
You'll get pulled in, despite your best efforts not to
I have a scar on my forearm from Emily Kirkman*. We were doing a “pull-over,” a controversial capture-the-flag move that is banned in some schools, likely due to the permanent disfigurement that can ensue.
How it works: you and someone from the opposite team face-off right over the territory line, and each tries to pull the other over to their side. Whoever wins gets to personally escort the defeated party to jail, and feel fucking great about themselves.
The pull-over here is considerably less physical (excluding the instances in which I've been literally dragged to dinner), but still just as real. The “territory line” is your conscience. You want to just RSVP with a fat "Will not be attending" -- you’re short on cash, that restaurant is absurdly overpriced, and you refuse to feel bad about it. You’re an adult!
But then someone, possibly even yourself, reminds you that this person helped you nab that promotion, and always comes to your birthday party (markedly not at a restaurant), because they're such a good friend, and you know if this was reversed (writer’s note: it wouldn’t be) they’d be there in a second. Or, if your friend is Dave Infante -- who ironically hates birthdays -- you’re simply driven to attend by pure, unadulterated fear. Whatever the reason, before you know it, your grip slips, and you’re in enemy territory.
Welcome to jail, son.