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    Miss Conduct

    Dinner with the overorderer

    How to get a free-spending restaurant companion to rein it in. Plus, a host who doesn’t have great chairs for guests.

    Illustration by Lucy Truman

    Whenever we go out to dinner with a large group, a friend begins ordering extras such as wine and appetizers without anyone’s input. I know he thinks he’s being gracious and helpful, but I begin to feel anxious as I add up the bill. Money isn’t an issue for him and his wife, but it is for us, and other people have mentioned his habit to me. Is there anything I can say?

    L.O. / Lexington

    Of course there is. Forget that money is an issue and pretend instead that you are a wealthy philanthropist with a deep philosophical opposition to gluttony and wasting food. Does that help?

    The next time you go out with Bob Bigspender, you bring up the subject of “extras” before the server comes. It sounds as though your strategy has been to hope that if you don’t mention appetizers, he’ll forget they exist. But he won’t. Someone needs to get out ahead of him and frame the discussion, and the frame should be one of mingled economy of soul and generosity of spirit. “Who wants wine? Would it be cheaper to get a bottle, or does everyone want something different?” If Bob suggests more appetizers, muse aloud, “Hmm, if we’re getting that many apps, I might just get a salad for the main course.” When the dessert menus appear, be the first to suggest “Six forks over one torte.” If Bob still starts ordering like Mr. Creosote in that Monty Python sketch, you and the rest of your friends will be justified in (softly) shouting him down.



    > In my small but comfortable studio apartment I keep very nice folding chairs for guests. Unfortunately, some of my friends and family are obese and cannot safely or comfortably use them. I have returned invitations to their homes with offers of “my treat” at restaurants, but they have hinted at wanting to visit my home. Please tell me how can I be sensitive in my reply.

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    L.J.S. / Boston

    Even your non-folding chairs wouldn’t seat your friends adequately? Because you could sit in the folding chair yourself and let your guests have the sturdier furniture. There wouldn’t be an awkward moment if you directed them where to sit, if that’s what you’re fearing. Hosts do that all the time.

    It’s a fact of social life that urban apartments can be as quirky and inconvenient as the human body itself, which means not every apartment can accommodate every body. The cat lady may never be able to entertain her allergic cousin; the grandson with the walk-up and the granddad with the walker must meet on neutral (and level) ground.

    However, you don’t have to have guests over for an entire evening of dinner and board games. Why not invite them over for a look-see and a drink before you head elsewhere? Show them around — I realize a studio doesn’t provide much in the way of a walking tour, but you can point out conversation pieces, pictures of family, books you’ve read recently, and so on. Put on a little show-and-tell routine so they’ll feel they’ve had an intimate, informative experience. Some folks might be more comfortable than you’d expected (it’s hard to predict how your own body is going to behave sometimes, let alone the bodies of others), and those who aren’t won’t hint around for another invitation.

    Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m.