Q. At a recent social event my wife and I were lucky enough to be guests of a dear friend who had also asked some dozen others. We started the evening as a party in a bar and, as 7.15 p.m. approached and we got ready to leave, I noticed that none of our party, mostly women, had offered to help to pay for their drinks, so I was left to pick up the tab, which came to £79. Interestingly, no one bothered to say thank you, as they had already walked off unthinkingly. My wife and I had had a glass of wine and a beer between us. I would appreciate some advice on how to avoid a similar situation in future.
—Name and address withheld
A. This was a classic case of involuntary sponging. It could have been that the dozen other guests believed the dear friend was covering the bar bill as well as the event tickets. More likely, however, they knew full well she wasn’t, but their intuition, or paydar, informed them that you, as the most obvious alpha male present, would settle up. Putting their heads in the sand was by far the easiest option. Anyone who volunteered to contribute would automatically compel the rest to follow suit. Thus would ensue an unseemly student-style scrabble for cash and probably some unpopularity for the volunteer. Anyone thanking you would be admitting to the scale of your largesse. To avoid this scenario in future, quietly explain to the barman on arrival that, once your full party is assembled, you will have to leave in a hurry. Therefore request that he extracts payments for each order as he delivers them so you can make a swift departure when you need to.