Miss Manners: I treated my friend to lunch but she insisted on ordering the least expensive dish. Is there a graceful way to handle this?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I took a friend out for a nice lunch to thank her for supporting me through a hard time. At the restaurant, she looked through the entire menu and picked the least expensive dish.

I encouraged her to order whatever she wanted, including any appetizers, but she seemed too shy. I was raised to spend less than the person treating you, so I assumed that she was taught the same.

Finally, I told her that I planned to order the most expensive thing on the menu, which convinced her that she could get what she actually wanted.

Unfortunately, I didn’t want the food I ended up with! I’d happily do this again to put a guest at ease, but it feels silly to spend extra money on food I like less.

I hope that Miss Manners has a more graceful way to assure my guests that they don’t need to mind my budget.

GENTLE READER: Oh, the irony: not ordering what you want in order to convince your guest to order what she wants. It is indeed a conundrum.

Miss Manners’ true answer is that a polite host refrains from monitoring their guests’ choices, even if they have suspicions about their motivation.


But if saying, “Please, this is my treat and my way to thank you for your generosity. Order whatever you like” does not work the first time, get yourself a fancy drink or appetizer and hope your guest will feel free to join you.

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: While vacationing, my husband and I took an organized, nine-hour tour with a reputable tour company. The 16-seat bus on which we traveled was completely full with other tourists.

After our first hourlong stop, we all boarded the bus again, and my husband and I sat in different seats than we had originally. Many of the other passengers had left a personal item like an umbrella on their original seat, so we did not sit in any of those “taken” spots. A few other passengers chastised us for shuffling the original seating and “taking” their seats.

Did we do something wrong? These seats are all equally priced and not assigned. Should we have stayed in our original seats over the course of the daylong tour? Should passengers leave personal items in their spots to stake their claim to them all day?

GENTLE READER: There is a curious human condition that causes people to get surprisingly proprietary about spaces they have occupied for a relatively short amount of time. This is such a case, and Miss Manners recommends abiding by its social contract -- absurd as it may seem.

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We’ve been invited to a “catered dinner party” where the attendees have been asked to cover their portion of the catering cost. This is clearly stated in the invitation, which is appreciated.

Still, we have never been invited to someone’s home for dinner and asked to pay for part of the cost. Is this common?

GENTLE READER: Yes. But it is usually called a restaurant.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to