DEAR MISS MANNERS: We invited another couple to join us at a popular annual concert for which we had been given tickets. The invitation did not include dinner because of other commitments we had already made.
They wanted to go to their favorite restaurant before the performance, and offered to meet us at the concert. However, we had been looking forward to enjoying their company while driving to and from the event. After a couple of phone calls, they finally agreed to accept our original invitation, but demonstrated their disappointment with long faces and strained conversation. They did acknowledge that they enjoyed the performance.
This is the first time we've ever had the terms and conditions of an invitation negotiated, and we're still struggling to find a meaningful response. What should we have said or done? Would it have been bad manners to rescind the invitation and tell them that we looked forward to enjoying their company on another occasion that we would all find convenient and satisfying?
It will be incredibly hard not to be snarky, but we will refrain. We promise.
GENTLE READER: It will come as no surprise to her Gentle Readers that Miss Manners is in favor of clear invitations and against guests' negotiating the terms thereof.
The host is required to provide a time and place, as well as any pertinent details (e.g., the inclusion of the guest's ex-husband). The guest is usually barred from adding more mouths to feed.
But understanding on both sides is sometimes necessary, particularly when the terms of the invitation are unusual -- as this one was. Evening events generally involve dinner and do not specify transportation.
The proper sequence should therefore have been as follows.
Guest: "That sounds wonderful. I'm so sorry you're not available for dinner -- we'd love to catch up. Should we just meet at the concert?"
Host: "It is too bad about dinner; Zach has a company obligation that we couldn't get out of. But we were hoping you would join us for the drive so that we would have more time together."
Guest, option 1: "Terrific! We'd love to."
Guest, option 2: "Unfortunately, that's going to make the timing tight for us. Would you mind if we just met you at the concert and we can do dinner another time?"
Host: "That would be lovely."