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Miss Manners: Can we invite friends to dinner without covering the bill?

Dear Miss Manners: When I was raised, I was taught that the person who issued the invitation was the person who paid the bill. When I was dating, if I asked a young lady out for a movie or a meal, I expected to pay. Since being married, if my wife and I ask a friend or another couple out to a show or a meal, we pay for the tickets or the food.

Now, however, everything seems so expensive that if we want to meet another couple for dinner or even lunch, it can cost well over $100. Is there a polite way to ask friends to join us for a meal out where people pay for themselves?

This is a widespread problem now, because some people entertain in restaurants instead of their homes, and some just meet friends in restaurants, expecting them to pay for themselves. (And, Miss Manners is sorry to report, there are also some who act as if they are the hosts, then stick their so-called guests with the bill.)

The trouble is that the invitations sound the same as the suggestions: “Would you like to go to dinner with us at Le Gourmet?” could be either one. That makes for some unpleasant surprises, probably more often than pleasant ones. Miss Manners has advised saying, “We’d like to invite you to dinner” rather than asking, “Would you like to meet for dinner?” but realizes that the distinction is probably too subtle to register.

Especially with people whom you have treated in the past, you will have to be explicit. If they have been reciprocating, it could be as easy as saying, “Why don’t we just start splitting the bills each time?” If not, you will be delivering one of those unpleasant surprises by asking for separate checks when you are seated.

Dear Miss Manners: Sometimes it’s helpful to understand why I’m being asked or told to do something. While I wouldn’t hesitate to bluntly ask “Why?” of anyone 14 or younger, I wouldn’t dream of asking a supervisor.

Asking “Why?” in response to a doctor to whom I’ve gone for help feels uncomfortable for reasons I can’t quite grasp. Can you sort this for me, and perhaps provide a way to request more information that will work in most (if not all) situations?

The trick here is to say an enthusiastic “Sure!” before asking. As these instructions are coming from your supervisor or your doctor, Miss Manners understands that you don’t want to seem to issue a challenge to their necessity.

After that reassuring declaration of compliance, you could ask your supervisor, “What is our goal here?” — leaving it open for you to suggest another way of reaching it. Or ask your doctor what benefits are expected.

Dear Miss Manners: Is it rude to compliment a complete stranger on their hair — for instance, its texture, color or styling? I sometimes come across someone whose hair is particularly lovely, and I would like to let them know but don’t want to be rude or crass.

Of course you are wondering how it could possibly be wrong to say something nice. Miss Manners is sorry to say that unfortunately, it sometimes can be.

It could seem threatening to have one’s looks appraised, even favorably, by a stranger. It would undermine a person’s professional demeanor to have attention called to personal appearance.

So while personal compliments are charming, it is best to confine them to people you know.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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