Q. We moved recently and new neighbours invited us to join them for dinner at a nearby restaurant. I planned to offer a contribution — perhaps to pay the cost of our meals — but no explicit arrangement was made beforehand. Our friends began by ordering champagne for themselves, while we confined ourselves to glasses of wine. One of them had turbot, which was twice as expensive as any other main course. Without consulting us, they ordered successively two bottles of Chassagne Montrachet. The bill when it came revealed that these had cost £62 each, and the total came to about £350.
I produced my card, which was laid beside theirs on the table, and I was asked to agree to splitting the whole cost down the middle. I complied, while resenting what seemed like an imposition. We’d like to be on good terms with them and able to meet them for a meal from time to time but I’m concerned with the ethics of what happened. Was it a difference of expectations or are they just bad-mannered?
— Name and address withheld
A. After teenagehood, behaviour of this kind is more likely to signal grand assumptions than a bid to make co-diners subsidise you. You can sidestep it by avoiding restaurants and inviting the neighbours to dine at your house. By so doing you may even recoup what you overpaid. Should they come empty-handed (drinks wise), present an unopened bottle of serviceable but cheap plonk and inquire whether this will be all right as you have just remembered they have discerning palates. No doubt they will nip next door and return with one, perhaps two, bottles of something similar to Chassagne Montrachet.