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?
GENTLE READER: 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.