DEAR MISS MANNERS: What terminology is recommended to invite someone to join you for a meal at a restaurant at their own expense -- i.e., not a hosted meal, but just a get-together?
GENTLE READER: Aha! A dangerous problem.
With the decline of dinner parties at home, restaurants have become a common place for people not only to meet, but also to entertain. Friendship-threatening misunderstandings arise when those who were asked out don’t know which it is.
The confusion is among three similar social situations, two of them legitimate. One is when friends agree to meet at a restaurant, paying their own way. The second is when people entertain guests in a restaurant rather than in their own homes.
Then there are those who believe that they can entertain guests without expense. Typically, it is a celebration for themselves or their families -- a birthday, an anniversary, even a wedding reception -- to which they invite others while expecting what they falsely call their “guests” to pay. Furthermore, these are often surprise parties, in that the attendees are surprised to find out that they are supposed to pay.
Miss Manners continues to be surprised when Gentle Readers tell her that they can’t afford to entertain in a certain restaurant -- but don’t stop there. They seem to expect her to tell them how to do this anyway, instead of finding something that they can afford.
She reserves her sympathy for people who pay their bills, whether those that they incur as hosts, or from going out with other people. And apparently the conventional forms are not working, which is why there has to be clearer wordage.
As you expect your friends to pay their own way, you are not really inviting them, but only making a suggestion. You should say, “Let’s meet for dinner,” and, if you suggest a restaurant, add “or wherever you would like to go” because they should have a say about preferences in food and price level. (She would ban the term “Dutch treat,” as this is neither Dutch nor a treat.)
Those who use the verb “to invite” and the noun “guests” are expected to pay for the entertainment they provide. If they don’t, Miss Manners assures them that the attendees feel cheated.