DEAR MISS MANNERS: All right, I admit it -- the world has changed. I understand that almost nobody sits down and writes out traditional, formal invitations to parties, dinners, dances and the like -- the kind of invitation that most people associate with weddings and embassy balls, but written out by hand rather than engraved or printed.
Having said that, my wife and I are hosting a dinner, and we would like to send formal invitations to our friends. Please tell me how I might word such an invitation to our home.
Should I use titles even though these are good friends? (Mr. and Mrs. George Washington request the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. John Adams' company for dinner....) Or would our full names suffice? (George and Martha Washington request the pleasure of John and Abigail Adams' company for dinner....)
May we say "for dinner" and let everyone infer that they'll get cocktails and chat, too? Or should we say "for cocktails and dinner" so that they don't pack their own bottle of wine?
GENTLE READER: Even though Miss Manners considers the formal dinner party just about the finest recreational activity we have (not counting the afternoon nap, with which it combines perfectly), you worry her.
Are you, in fact, giving a formal dinner? If so, are you inviting people you assume would enjoy this, whether because of their experience or their openness to new experience? If not, it would be pretentious and silly to attempt it.
The beauty of this form is that it is a set piece, its formal details --invitations, timing, clothes, food, service -- intended as a flattering frame for the participants. You don't mess with those details to make it seem -- well, less formal. Honorifics are always used, and the request is for the guests' company "at dinner" (not "for" dinner; the roast is for dinner, as old-fashioned wags were wont to say). "Dinner" is understood to include drinks, talk, and, for that matter, bathroom privileges, so you need not spell these out.
If you are simply giving a decorous dinner party, not one of high formality, a less formal invitation, but no less charming, should be issued. This is written in the first person: "We would be delighted if you could come to dinner..." with your names, minus honorifics, at the bottom.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it appropriate for a party to walk out of a restaurant without paying when the service has been terrible and the guests have had to wait for their entrees for over 90 minutes?
There could not have been more than 20 people in the restaurant! Upon leaving, we looked for the hostess or a cashier, but to no avail.
GENTLE READER: Did you miss hearing the fire alarm?
As you know how long the food took, Miss Manners assumes that you stayed until it arrived and consumed it. In that case, you owe the restaurant the cost of the food. An optional extra would be the reason that the experience cost them your good will.