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.