DEAR MISS MANNERS: We contribute to a performing-arts series, and as a result we're occasionally invited to "thank-you" or donor recognition events. The latest was an invitation to a recognition black-tie dinner at a cost to guests of $75 per person. With a tuxedo rental, this comes to about $200 a couple to be "thanked."
This is no small sum to us.
I realize that nonprofits may do "benefit" events where a high ticket price is actually a contribution, but our invitation makes clear that this is not the case. Is this an accepted practice that I've simply never encountered? I don't expect a fancy recognition dinner anyway -- it wouldn't be charity if I did. But I thought hosts were expected to provide for occasions within their means rather than asking guests to finance more lavish events. Aside from benefits, shouldn't nonprofit groups follow the same guideline?
The real question is how to respond. For the actual RSVP, obviously we can simply decline, and an explanation isn't required. But what might I say to an offhand inquiry of why we're not coming? And if I had an opportunity to make a gentle suggestion against this sort of event, how might I phrase it?
GENTLE READER: It is indeed common for charities to think that the way to thank their donors is to give them another opportunity to give. Now that they are required to write letters of acknowledgement for tax purposes, these inevitably contain less thanks than suggestions of going on to the next "level" of giving.
It is as if your nephew thanked you for giving him a bicycle by suggesting that next you should give him a motorcycle -- or that perhaps you would like to become a grand patron and give him a car. In regard to the dinner, it would be like his thanking you by making a restaurant reservation so you can treat yourself to a big dinner.
Miss Manners agrees that you should simply decline to assume the costs of the organization's thanking you. Should an opportunity present itself for you to discuss the matter, you could protest, "Oh, I want my charitable contributions to help others; I'm not going to spend it on congratulating myself."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Please advise me on proper manners when eating lunch at a restaurant with business associates. I am a picky eater and often order an entree with several condiments left off. If my order is served incorrectly, I send it back until it's correct. Also, I often avoid eating the side dishes.
This feels unprofessional and often attracts comments from my colleagues. Am I being rude? Should I instead request that we go to restaurants where I like a larger percentage of the food?
GENTLE READER: Rude? No. Restaurants sell food as ordered, and if the order is not filled correctly, you may certainly send it back. What you choose not to eat should not be a matter of concern to others.
Had you asked Miss Manners whether you are being annoying, the answer would not be so reassuring. When people go out to eat together, they are not charmed to have to listen to endless negotiations over the food. Suggesting another restaurant, or finding something simple that you can eat without elaborate alterations, would be tactful.