How to Ask Anyone Out for Any Occasion

Manners must adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world.
- Philip dormer Stanhope
Earl of Chesterfield

Whether it is a business lunch or a romantic dinner, increase your social savvy by knowing the guidelines of how to ask someone to join you for a meal.

As you may have suspected, it is all in the asking. “Let's get together!” Few words can create instant etiquette anxiety as quickly as extending an invitation. Welcome to the wonderful world of hosting. Relax, hosting a meal can be an easy and elegant way to entertain your guest. Below are some tips to ensure a good impression.

Be Prepared ~ Do your research prior to extending any invitation. Find a restaurant that is appropriate for the particular person. Some factors to consider are location, cuisine, atmosphere, price and privacy. Many restaurants will fax you their menus for review. Whenever possible, you should visit the restaurant in advance.

Be Clear ~ Make sure your guest understands you are extending an invitation. It is best to phrase your invitation as clearly as possible. “Michael, I would like to take you to lunch on Tuesday.” Or, “Sophia, it would be an honor if you would be my guest for lunch Saturday afternoon.”

Be Considerate ~ Offer your guest a choice of restaurants. You may not know his/her time or dietary constraints. Doing so will allow your guest to choose based upon their preference and ensure they are looking forward to your time together.

Be Sure ~ The day before or the morning of your meal together, call both the restaurant and the guest to confirm the logistics. If you or your guest will be driving, you should ask about valet parking or the nearest parking area. (This can be especially important in downtown Boston.)

Be Early ~ For a social date, arrive to pick up your guest a few minutes early to allow yourself time to gather your thoughts. But wait to ring the doorbell until the agreed upon hour. For business occasions, arrive at the restaurant approximately 20 minutes before you expect your guest. Doing so will allow you time to review the menu, meet the staff and check the location of your table. If you are hosting more than one guest, you should also consider the seating arrangement in advance.

Be Gracious ~ Give your guest hints as to how many courses, or the house specialty, before ordering. “The asparagus tip ravioli appetizer is just divine.” “Be sure to leave room for dessert, the pastry chef here is truly an artist.”

Be Entertaining ~ As the host, it is up to you to direct the conversation. Be sure to have a few conversational topics prepared in advance. Current events, the latest best-selling novel, or comments on the local sports teams are all appropriate topics to begin conversations. For business, it is standard American practice to dive into business conversation after the appetizers or after about 10 minutes of general conversation.

Be Mannerly ~ Good table manners are essential to good relationships. If you have proper manners, your guest will pay attention to what you are saying. If you have poor table manners, your guest will have a hard time remembering anything else!

Be Discreet ~ Arrange for the bill in advance. Leave your credit card with the maître d' along with instructions. You can sign the bill at the end of the meal. Some of the finer restaurants will run your card and then mail you the receipt. However you decide to handle the bill, it is best to settle it alone. As the host, make sure to include the coat-check or parking for your guest too.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I went out on a blind date with a guy who was nice enough, but definitely not my type. What do I do if he calls again for another date?

A: In general, my recommendation is to give each possible suitor a second chance. This second chance has two benefits. First, most people are nervous and not quite themselves on the first date. And, as a single person, the more active your social-life the better your chances of finding someone who you would like to date.

However, if the person in question was intolerable and you can not imagine trying to sit through another date, you should do so in the kindest way possible. “It was so nice of you to ask me to dinner on Saturday. No thank you.” Beware of the white lies. Do not tell the person you are busy because they might counter with other time to get together. If you are not interested, keep the conversation short and cordial.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I have an acquaintance I am interested in asking out. We have many acquaintances in common, so I want to do it in such a way that I can save face if he is not interested in me. Any suggestions?

A: Absolutely! You should use the information you know about this gentleman to plan a date in which he would be interested. Suppose one of his favorite authors was holding a book signing at a local bookstore. You would call him with a very specific offer such as “David, Steven King is holding a book signing next Sunday. Would you like to go to the book signing and then to brunch with me? My treat.”

You can gauge his interest in you based upon the response. “Sure, I would love to go.” - is a very positive sign. “Thank you for asking, but I am busy on Sunday. Can we get together another time?”- is also a positive sign. “No thank you.” – would indicate he is not interested.

A word of caution, should you choose to have friend act as a go-between, pick a friend who understands discretion. You would not want the gentleman in question to feel as if he is the main character in a middle-school soap opera.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ As a woman in business, when I host a male client, they often will not let me pay for the meal. What can I do?

A: This is a common dilemma when social and business etiquette rules collide. The best way to handle this situation is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. If you are hosting the meal, arrange how the bill will be paid in advance. This way your guest will not have the opportunity to usurp the bill. (See the “Be Discreet” tip above.)