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

Locate Stinky Litter Boxes as Far From Guests as Possible

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I hosted a large event a couple of months ago, the food was catered, but I supplied the liquor, including two very expensive bottles of brandy, with the proviso that I would take home the remaining liquor at the end of the evening. I spoke to the hired bartenders before the guests arrived to confirm this.

At the end of the evening, after most of the guests had left, I went to the bar to assist the bartenders in packing up the liquor, and was surprised to find that both bottles of brandy were missing. The bartenders told me that they had not been emptied by the guests. The manager of the facility, which has excellent surveillance cameras, pulled the video of the bar area, and it showed that one of my dearest friends had taken both bottles. How do I -- or should I -- address this with my now soon-to-be-former "friend"?

GENTLE READER: Your sticky-fingered friend clearly does not share your (or Miss Manners') ideas about polite behavior. But you do have one thing in common: You are both in possession of guilty information, even if you, unlike your friend, have nothing with which to wash away the unpleasant taste left by such knowledge.

Commercial establishments routinely, and often understandably, install surveillance equipment, sometimes to protect their patrons and always to protect themselves. But your spying on your friends -- even your guilty ones -- is not polite.

How, then, to correct the problem without admitting your own, lesser, transgression? Your first option is to admit the knowledge, but obfuscate how you came by it. "The establishment tells me you saved the brandies for me. Thank you so much! When can I come by to pick them up?"

Being more confrontational, this approach is more likely to go wrong, particularly if your friend has already disposed of the incriminating evidence. A gentler approach is to talk fondly of the party to your friend at the next social event, mentioning that your only disappointment was that the bartender told you that someone helped themselves to the bottles that you were hoping to share with your guests. This is unlikely to get your brandy back, but it may ruin the thief's day.