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Who pays for dinner?

I have some friends who live in San Francisco and I always try to get with them when I’m in town on business. Since they cooked dinner at their house last time (beef stew, and I’m a vegetarian, but never mind that) I suggested meeting at my hotel and eating in the hip restaurant there. When the check came, I suggested we split it. Now they’re not talking to me. Maybe I got too loud that night or maybe it was the thing about the bill. What can I do to restore the relationship? — Dain in Austin, Texas
Aunt Dandelion answers:
You certainly have gotten yourself into a stew! A prime cause of social awkwardness is inadequate communication, and that is at the root of your recent problems.
  • Vegetarians and anyone with special dietary needs should make their situation known to the host or hostess as soon as an invitation involving a meal is issued. They may not be able to cater to your needs, in which case you could bring your own fruitarian delights or whatever you can eat, then join the rest of the company at the table without anyone making a big deal out of it. Or assure your hosts that you will be able to eat the bread, salad, vegetables and dessert, and ask them not to go to any extra trouble for you.
  • When you invited these friends to partake with you in the restaurant on your next visit, they were not wrong to assume that you were hosting them in return for their former hospitality. Therefore to suggest splitting the bill at the end of the meal came as a bit of a shock to them. No doubt this is the reason for the current coolness in your relationship. In future, remember that “the one who invites, pays” unless an alternate arrangement is agreed upon before the meal begins.
In terms of restoring the relationship, this is a good time for you to dig deep and send them a lovely gift by mail. Enclose a note that says something like, “Enjoyed seeing you in San Francisco. Next time the meal is on me!” Your friends will surely be looking forward to seeing you again after this proof of your contrition and good will.

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