DEAR MISS MANNERS: When having guests over for dinner, I am unable to find a gracious way to refuse alcohol to those who will be driving. I generally don’t give it as an option when asking what they would like to drink, but they often request a glass of wine nonetheless.
It’s not that I associate with lushes and felons, but I personally would prefer not to serve any alcohol to a designated driver.
GENTLE READER: One need not have lost a friend to a drunk-driving accident to have an appreciation for the possible consequences of sending guests home intoxicated. But your question -- how to prevent the worst from happening without being rude -- is a reasonable one.
Those who have lost someone close may protest that manners are irrelevant. To them, Miss Manners, who believes that manners are always relevant, points out that a polite solution is more likely to be effective -- not just today but in the future -- in which you have not, through abandoning manners, lost a friendship.
What you cannot do is to offer alcohol to some guests and not others. It is both rude and, as you have discovered, ineffective. Rude, because you are publicly questioning a guest’s judgment before he has done anything wrong. Ineffective, because your guest is likely to take offense, which may make him less amenable to guidance now and socializing in future.
The time to assess the situation is when the guest is preparing to walk out the door. If you are uncertain of a departing guest’s condition, ask, “Are you OK to drive?” Follow up on an answer that is positive but does not allay your concerns. Someone who is visibly impaired has forfeited the right to be treated as a sober adult. You can appeal to any accompanying person, call a cab, confiscate keys -- or all three.
Miss Manners acknowledges that this solution does not address the drinking itself, which is why, if that is your real concern, she offers a second solution: Don’t serve alcohol to any of your guests. Should they request it, you should mention that you don’t have any, and suggest other drinks.