- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 14, 2006

My husband and I would like to treat my in-laws to a nice dinner out the next time they come to visit, but I already know what’s going to happen. No matter what we say, when the check arrives, a tug-of-war will ensue and they will insist on paying. We appreciate their generosity, but we would like to reciprocate every once in a while without causing a scene that could ruin the evening and leave everyone feeling hurt. Is there a tactful way we can pick up the check?

A: Yes, and it shouldn’t be terribly difficult. The next time you make arrangements to dine out with your in-laws, cheerily inform them in advance that it is “your treat” and then make prior arrangements to ensure you receive the bill when it comes time to pay.

“This situation occurs all the time at Cafe Milano,” prominent D.C. restaurateur Franco Nuschese says. “We have diners speak to the maitre d’ beforehand on how to handle a tab that they alone wish to pay.”

Another solution, he adds, is to “discreetly take your waiter aside and tell him or her to slip you the bill directly rather than putting it in the middle of the table for anyone to pick up.”

Better yet, give the restaurant your credit card information in advance and ask that no bill be presented while your group remains at table.

If your in-laws seem upset by the fait accompli, you always can suggest — with lots of love and smiles — that they can reciprocate the next time around.

Q: I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t like how most of it tastes, and it actually upsets my stomach. When I politely decline at a dinner or party, I often get odd looks or questions that I don’t feel I should have answer. I once was asked if I was a dry alcoholic. I’m not. How can I best deflect any trouble in the future?

A: First of all, why worry about the odd looks? Don’t be so self-conscious if someone notices that you don’t care to drink alcoholic beverages. Verbal comments about your teetotaler status are, however, a different matter since they are out of bounds under the universal rule that one does not make unsolicited “personal remarks,” especially to strangers.

If you get unwelcome questions about your abstinence, there are several ways to handle the situation without addressing the subject, which is, after all, none of anyone’s business. A long pause accompanied by a withering stare while abruptly changing the subject to a completely different topic usually suffices to end the matter there and then.

Of course, you can always reply with a question of your own. Something on the order of “Why do you want to know?” or “Why would you ask that question?” will let your would-be inquisitor know the topic of conversation they have attempted to initiate is unwelcome. Even better: Now it’s their turn to extricate themselves from an uncomfortable situation. Let them squirm instead of doing so yourself.

A related note: If you want to indicate that you do not wish to drink wine at a seated dinner, do not turn your glass upside down at your place. Merely place your fingertips on the edge of the glass as your host, waiter or wine steward approaches, bottle in hand. This is the universally understood signal that you do not care to be served a particular beverage.

Address your questions on etiquette and protocol to Kevin Chaffee, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington DC 20002 or send e-mail to civilities@washington times.com.

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