Dear Mary

Dear Mary: how can I avoid splitting the bill?

19 March 2022

9:00 AM

19 March 2022

9:00 AM

Q. These days I am on a tight budget while many of my friends are still able to spend freely. Often when I meet someone for lunch or dinner they eat and drink far more than I do (I am careful to eat only what I can afford) yet they still presume I will be up for splitting the bill down the middle. They are not doing this out of meanness – just not thinking about how broke I am compared to in the past. I live in dread of quibbling. What do you suggest?

— F.J., London SW6

A. Wait till the bill arrives, then pre-empt the presumption by pleasantly asking the waiter, ‘Oh, would you mind telling me how much I owe? That will save me the trouble of working it out for myself.’

Q. At Christmas I gave my parents-in-law a present of four very expensive tickets to go to the ballet at Sadler’s Wells. I put them inside a card, which I thought they would realise meant we were going with them – but I didn’t explain it properly, and I now think they have asked two friends to go with them instead. What do I do?

— W.E., Shalbourne, Wilts

A. Gain clarity by conscripting a third party to ring your mother-in-law for a chat. During this she can naturally enthuse about spring and other forthcoming pleasures before adding, ‘And I understand you are going to the ballet with your son and daughter-in-law? They told me the other day they are so looking forward to it.’ Should there have been a misunderstanding, your mother-in-law can swiftly disinvite her guests without even mentioning it to you. In this way you sidestep the need to bear the awkward news yourself.

Q. My husband’s elderly uncle has moved in nearby. Since builders are in his house, he often comes to us for supper. We love having him but he feels uncomfortable about not being able to have us back. He has offered to take us out but we do not want the faff of arranging babysitters etc that is involved in going to a restaurant. His cook is on furlough till the building works are done so he has started cooking for the first time in his life – one-pot dishes, fish pie, shepherd’s pie and so on, which he brings over to us in an oven dish ready to heat and serve. ‘I’ll do supper,’ he insists when the arrangement is made. We don’t want to reduce his self-esteem since he is at a low ebb, but these mixtures are quite inedible. What do you recommend?

— Name and address withheld

A. Next time he is due to come to you, find out what mixture he has prepared and then go out and buy the Cook or Charlie Bigham version. Swap it all around in the kitchen, say it may look different as you have added your own topping, and simply serve that instead. He will be none the wiser.

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