Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have opened my own pet-sitting business, and my first meeting with potential clients is nearly always inside their homes. These homes are often professionally cleaned and opulently decorated, but I'm frequently invited inside with a "So sorry about the mess."

There never is the slightest mess, and since it seems bad business to reply with a bluff, "Oh, you should see my place" to a person I'm hoping will trust me in their home with their beloved pets, I'm at a loss for an appropriate and gracious response. What is the most polite response to this "apology"?

GENTLE READER: Transparent as such apologies are, they have become commonplace, and you are, as you rightly recognize, in no position to argue.

Miss Manners presumes that when asked how you are by prospective employers, you neglect to mention the cold you are suffering from, the dog that threw up on your shoes, and the flat tire that you will have to deal with after the interview. She advises you to adopt a similar level of forthrightness in this case, protesting that the house is a marvel.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Five of us formed a performing ensemble and have developed a successful reputation for the group. Two of the members have vocal issues (pitch and tone quality), are not investing the rehearsal time necessary to keep us all moving forward, and are not contributing to the workload of keeping the group organized and prepared for performances and workshops.

Because the group was formed with an agreement to use a basis of consensus, can three of us ask the other two to leave the group so we three can continue to build on the reputation and groundwork we all laid together? Or should we three step away and invest in forming a new group?

GENTLE READER: Without a show of hands, Miss Manners does not know whether you agreed to make group decisions unanimously or by (general) consensus. Since you hold a majority, the latter would be easier than the former, which is not to say that it will be easy.

Whether your group is professional, amateur or something in between, you are giving performances, and it therefore is reasonable to adopt professional manners. The group should meet so that the three more serious members can propose clear, specific -- and more stringent -- guidelines for participation.

If you cannot reach consensus, you still have the less pleasant alternative of disbanding the group and, when advertising the new ensemble, making mention of "former members of" the original group.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I would like to host some friends of ours in the near future. However, there is a problem with our bathroom plumbing, and as a result the bathroom sink does not have hot water.

We cannot afford to get it fixed right now. Is it necessary to get it fixed before we have guests? If not, should we put a sign in the bathroom explaining?

GENTLE READER: What -- that it would be unwise to attempt to take a bath in the sink?

Providing cold water for hand-washing does not strike Miss Manners as a breach of hospitality that calls for warnings.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)