Q. I socialise in Shropshire every weekend and regularly give dinners which end at 2 a.m., but it’s a different matter in London, where I have to leave the house by six every morning. My problem is that I owe dinner to a lot of people, but I now baulk at how late they will stay, since no matter how heavily I hint, people seem to stay beyond midnight every time. Even if I invite them to come for an ‘early dinner’ at 7 p.m, they are still there at midnight. These are mainly neighbours or fellow parents from my son’s school, i.e. not lifelong buddies of the sort you could just usher out of the door if you were too tired to stay up any longer. Is there a tactful way to ensure people will leave early, ideally by 10.30 on a week night, without causing offence?
— R.F., London SW4
A. Bear in mind that many people wrongly assume they are being good guests by staying late at a dinner party — they think it shows that the party is going well. You have to do more than just say you are having an ‘early dinner’. Declare at the outset: ‘I’d love to have you to dinner but I have to be in bed by 10.30 every night and I don’t suppose you would want to come at seven and leave at 10.30, would you?’ Most people will say they would absolutely love to obey such a diktat, and when 10.30 comes round and you pleasantly show them the door they cannot be offended. You will find they stream out asserting that they are going to start issuing similar diktats themselves.
Q. I invited my regular hairdresser to my wedding and booked her in to do my hair on the day. In the meantime, I have met another hairdresser who would be far better at doing the ‘wedding hair’. I just cannot think of how to break the news without hurting my first hairdresser’s feelings.
— Name and address withheld
A. Explain to Hairdresser One that your husband-to-be has turned out to be far more vain than you realised and has become really anxious about how his hair is going to look on the day. Would she consider being in charge of his hair instead of yours? You are prepared to forfeit your rights as long as you can depend on her reassuring presence on the day. When she says she can do both of you, reveal a secondary complication. A family member with whom you have a tricky emotional history has pushily booked and paid for a wedding hairdresser for you, not realising you had already booked your own favourite. Say the anxiety about offending people is ruining the wedding run-up. What does she suggest? She is bound to say, ‘Well, I’ll do your husband’s hair instead then and keep an eye on the wedding hairdresser doing yours. Don’t you worry about anything. You just enjoy your day.’ In this way she will not feel stupid when people ask her how she knows you and whether she has done your hair that day.