A depressed economy followed by the national crisis somehow led to the discovery that it is possible to consume an entire meal at home, sitting down at a real table as if one were dining out. Some have thought of using this as a way to entertain friends.
Naturally, this is confusing to people who have come to believe that restaurant manners are the last word in sophistication, but never bothered with how to eat at home, let alone at someone else's. Whatever grace and dexterity they learned in order to elicit favorable judgments from the hired help at restaurants would be wasted on their families, they figured.
Restaurant manners are actually a spin-off from those that are supposed to be used privately, not the other way around, Miss Manners is afraid, and it is the private ones that are of a higher standard. No restaurant, no matter how fancy, can get away from the compromises that must be made because of the unpredictable and commercial nature of the business.
Miss Manners is prepared to help people make the transition by addressing some of the most common problems for those who are asked to go to their friends' houses to eat, rather than to meet them somewhere.
Q: How do I make a reservation, or is that necessary?
A: It is necessary, but you can't. You have to wait for them to call you.
Q: That's awfully exclusive, isn't it? But what if I don't know how many will be in my party?
A: It isn't your party. Only people who are asked by name can attend.
Q: How late can I cancel without a penalty?
A: Once you accept, you can never cancel.
Q: What do you mean, never? Suppose I change my mind? Suppose I get run over by a truck?
A: If you change your mind after accepting, you still have to go. It's true that you can arrange to be excused by being run over by a truck, but then you have to send a letter of apology, preferably accompanied by flowers.
Q: Is there a dress code?
A: Yes, and no one will tell you what it is. Inquiries will bring such non-guidance as "Oh, it doesn't matter" or "Just be comfortable," and the word "casual" has as many possible meanings as the number of people who so casually toss it in for every occasion.
Q: If I show up on time, will I be seated right away, or might I be told to get a drink until my table is ready?
A: You must show up on time, but you will still be given a drink elsewhere before being taken to the table.
Q: Is it all right to let them know after I arrive what I want to eat, or is it necessary to order in advance?
A: There is a fixed menu, no substitutes and no choices.
Q: Suppose I don't like it?
A: OK, there is a choice: Take it or leave it.
Q: I'm very particular about wine. Can I bring my own?
A: You can bring it and hand it over, but you may never see it again. It will be considered a present, and is not likely to be served unless it happens to go with the menu and you have brought enough for everyone.
Q: How do I settle the bill?
A: By being charming and grateful and issuing a return invitation.
Q: Except for that, it's free?
A: Not of the need to be polite.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When entering my Episcopal Church, we have traditionally knelt in silent prayer and kept quiet before the service starts. Recently it sounds more like a cocktail party than a sanctuary.
A whispered "good morning" I can accept, but I was recently subjected to details ranging from what was cooking at home to a thoroughly explicit medical report of the innards of the man behind me, plus his home improvement project.
This seems to be happening all over the country. At my niece's church, ballet performances are part of the service. A friend hears business contracts all but signed, sealed and delivered while waiting to worship.
Good Lord, deliver us.
GENTLE READER: First, He is going to have to get the churchgoers' attention. Miss Manners would think that the clergy might feel obliged to point out to those who consider their churches to be social, entertainment and business centers that occasionally someone does go there to pray.