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Declining a dinner invite tactfully

Bit of background.

We have a friend - let's call him Dave, who celebrates his birthday every year by inviting his friends to join him in a fine dining experience. Well, when I say invite, he pays for his dinner and his "guests" pay for theirs plus a share of the drinks.

My OH and I get an invite most years - but it is normally about two weeks before the event, so I have a strong suspicion that we are after thoughts when others have dropped out.

Every year we have come up with a plausible excuse, but to be truthful for us the rule of diminishing returns applies. We just can't spend what would be the price of a new iPad on one meal/evening out. Plus neither my OH or I are big drinkers, so we tend to end up overpaying our share.

So with the birthday date being the end of November, we are expecting that email in the next few weeks.

Question is - should we just come up with another excuse or be honest and say that we can't justify £400 plus for a evening out. It is not that we can't afford it, we just prefer to spend our money on other things.

If honesty is best - can I have some wording suggestions please.

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  1. I don't think anything more than "I appreciate the invitation, but we won't be able to make it" is necessary. You shouldn't have to explain yourself no matter what your reasons are.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Kontxesi

      I agree. Learn with power of "no" without explanation.

      1. re: Janet from Richmond

        + 3 [It's a lesson (the power of "no") I'm getting better at executing.]

        1. re: pinehurst

          +4!! I'm recently getting better at it, too. It's very freeing.

        2. re: Janet from Richmond

          Agreed - for a lot of people, when you give an explanation, it seems to mean to them that you can be convinced otherwise. Which is not really what you want in this case.

        3. "We can't make it" usually works.

          7 Replies
          1. re: beevod

            Think I would be offended if someone just said "sorry, we can't make it". And I would actually quite like to celebrate this friend's birthday with him - just not at a place I don't see as good VFM.

            1. re: PhilipS

              Then, this is more of a "you" problem than a problem with your friend, right?

              Sometimes our friends are not perfect, but we like them -- and like their company -- nonetheless.

              It's like with everything in life -- sometimes you just have to take the bad with the good, as long as the good is worth taking the bad for.

              1. re: PhilipS

                This is a bit of a contradictory message. If you indeed wanted to celebrate his birthday with him, the "Value for the money" bit wouldn't come into the picture, would it? The birthday comes just once a year, after all.

                Why would you be offended by the "Sorry, we can't make it?"

                1. re: pinehurst

                  I don't see it that way. One can sincerely wish to celebrate but not in such a grand manner.
                  OP, I would just say you can't make it on that date due to another commitment, but you would love to get together soon (at your place, for lunch at x place, or drinks as suggested below - whatever suits you). And since you are extending an invitation on your terms, you should pay the total bill IMHO.
                  Oh and FTR - I used to regularly host an open-house style birthday party for my young kid (but with alcohol, good food, etc). There were certain people who could never make it. I never asked why. I did assume they were not interested in such an event (kid's bday party! crowded, lots of kids, not a lot of quality time to catch up) and was not offended in the least. I would much rather get a gracious no than no RSVP at all or worse, resentful attendance.

                  1. re: julesrules

                    I agree with you, but am not sure that OP "sincerely" wanted to celebrate "Dave's" birthday. If OP had, he would have suggested a low-key alternative (or low cost alternative) that you and other posters have suggested.

                  2. re: PhilipS

                    Seems like you're putting too much thought into your friends actions and his response... "strong suspicion that we are after thoughts ..." and the feeling that you would be offended without a good made up excuse. One reason you may not be getting the invite immediately is that you two usually come up with an excuse not to go every previous year.

                    Maybe we're just not as polite here in the USA, but most people here would accept "Sorry, we can't make it."

                    If you want to celebrate your friend birthday, you can add, "Sorry. We can't make it that day, but allow us to take you out on xxx."

                2. You don't need to give an excuse. Just politely say that you won't be able to make it.

                  1. I whole heartedly agree with you. You can specific the reason why you cannot make it (i.e.: the cost). Or you can simply say "Sorry, I won't able to make it" as many have suggested. If your friend ask why, then you can tell him why. In other words, let him decide if he wants to find out. This way you don't have to come up any excuses. Sometime excuses (especially the bad and obvious ones) make the other person feels worse. For one, the person may think of worse reasons. He may think you dislike him or that you dislike his friends or something worse. A truthful reason is often less hurtful -- like the one you have.

                    Like Dave C said, maybe we Americans (aka U.S. Americans -- for those who are following another thread) are less polite.

                    1. I like just saying "I'm sorry we can't make it" but you'd like to take him out for drinks (pick a place you can/want to afford so if it segues into dinner you have no problem) at a later date.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Linda VH

                        That's what I would say. No reason to give an explanation. If he asks for one OP can either lie or tell the truth.

                          1. re: Linda VH

                            Exactly the right response, thank you for the invitation, but we just can't make it. I hope we cab di something else with you out sometimes soon.

                            You certainly can't suggest that he change his birthday plans to something else. You either accept an invitation to a group event or reject it. if it were just the 3 or 4 of you it might be different.

                          2. If, according to your post, you're "afterthoughts," then you especially should have no trouble opting out.

                            1. Agree w/ beevod. If, in fact, you're B-Listers, not only Dave not likely to be offended, but as B-Listers, why worry if he is?

                              1. I'm outnumbered here, but since this is a friend whose company you do enjoy but you just don't want to participate in this particular outing, I would be honest. It's not that hard to do once you do it a couple of times, and when it's someone you care about, I find it to be a better policy.

                                You asked for wording suggestions. I'd say something along the lines of, Dave, I really am glad you want us to share your birthday, but can I be honest with you? Going to Your Expensive Restaurant is (just not our thing) (more than we [can spend] [feel comfortable spending]). If you ever decide to celebrate somewhere else, we'd love to join you. How about if we take you out to Our Fun Place instead?

                                Going this route accomplishes two things. It establishes that you consider Dave a true friend and want to celebrate his birthday, but it also likely removes you from future invitations to these birthday celebrations so you no longer have to come up with excuses.

                                For casual acquaintances, I agree with the other posters, a simple "sorry, we can't make it" is fine, but with family or close friends, I prefer being open and honest. Experience has taught me that not only does it make me feel better, the other person always appreciates the honesty.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: lisavf

                                  I completely agree with lisafv. This is a great answer and I think a very mature approach!

                                  1. re: lisavf

                                    <I'm outnumbered here>

                                    I don't think you are outnumbered here.

                                    1. re: lisavf

                                      Lisavf - that is perfect - thank you so much. I hate not being honest and fell that the "sorry, can't make it" is a bit rude - especially as we have used this several years' running.

                                      This friend is seriously wealthy - so blowing £400 on a meal out for him and his wife is of no consequence and while we could afford it, we prefer to spend our money on something more tangible.

                                      1. re: PhilipS

                                        I do think it's great you're going to tell him the why, I don't have a problem with that at all. However, for discussion's sake, I think the point I was trying to make above obliquely, with my tale of people who turn down my invites, is that I don't see "sorry I can't make it" as dishonest. It's code, or perhaps a social nicety of sorts, that covers a range of possibilities including "I don't want to make it". I don't take it literally and I don't need to know if they really have a conflict.

                                        1. re: PhilipS

                                          If he is seriously wealthy, why does he expect guests to pay to celebrate his birthday? Sorry to be dense, but I don't get it.

                                          1. re: pinehurst

                                            Because he is seriously wealthy - LOL. To be honest he is a great bloke - but not overly generous. I have put this down to him not wanting to be taken advantage of because of his wealth, but I get your point, sometimes it wouldn't hurt.

                                        2. re: lisavf

                                          I'm a big fan of honesty, too. Not only do you insure you don't hurt Dave's feelings by blowing him off w/ no explanation, you might actually be doing others a favor. Dave may be blissfully clueless that other people can't spend that and either tone it down next year or pick up the tab.

                                        3. Feels like you are conflicted. On the one hand, you said you want to celebrate with him, but its a matter of cost. But then you raise the point that you feel as if you're on the B-list.

                                          I do think that typically, if its a good friend and you can't make a special event, it's nice to offer a reason.

                                          1. Um, there are myriad ways to decline a dinner tactfully.

                                            The Emily Post universal widget is: I regret to say it will not be possible. No explanation; no invitation to negotiate. It is Very Polite, the soul of tactfulness. The inviter is forbidden by good manners to probe further (though, of course, that won't stop the not-so-well-mannered.) Unfortunately, too many people these days are tempted to overthink things.

                                            You can send a gift commensurate with your means if you wish (IF you wish). You can also make other arrangements (again, your option).

                                            1. As long as there isn't any caretaker,martyr,victim.megalomania,co-dependency going on in your friendship then the truth would be easy on both of your emotions.

                                              1. Personally, I'd be offended by being "invited" to a "party" to which I'm supposed to pick up the tab not only for myself, but for a percentage of wine that I didn't drink (in your case).

                                                To this "rude American", when you invite someone to a party, it means that the person issuing the invitation is offering to pay...but not only is he not going to pay, but he wants you to splash out so he and the others can drink whatever they want (and I'm betting it's not water....)

                                                Therefore I would have no problem saying "Sorry, it's not possible" -- if you're a fill-in afterthought to a pricey tribute to the guy's ego....you shouldn't be too worried about turning him down.

                                                1. I would email back a simple" no, w are sorry but we can't make it." However, if you have declined year after year, he will of course begin to wonder why you never go. If he really is a close friend, I would tell him that high end dinners out with lots of drinks aren't a comfortable environment for you and spouse, but you would love to celebrate his b'day with him by inviting him for a meal at your home or for a lunch at your expense at a place you choose. If this person is simply a casual acquaintance, just a simple "no" is fine. We used to give a big holiday party every year and each year the same couple failed to either attend or to even RSVP. They were casual acquaintances and we weren't too bothered, although even a quick "sorry, we can't attend " email would have been polite.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Kat

                                                    I hate when people don't bother to RSVP. The only time I don't is for these various Tupperware like parties where they invite all 100 people on their Favebook friend list. I am annoyed and therefore do not RSVP.

                                                    My SO refuses to RSVP to anything and most things I don't find out about until later. So far there have been at least two family reunion picnics, a wedding a someone from church that we did not know-fishing for gifts maybe?, and his father's widow's marriage withf whom he has nothing to do.

                                                  2. Being "seriously wealthy" is something I doubt I will ever have to worry about:-). But if I was seriously wealthy I would not invite friends out to an expensive dinner to celebrate MY birthday and expect them to pay their own way and then some. That is just plain tacky in my book. As far as I'm concerned, you don't owe him an explanation as to "why" you can't make it.

                                                    1. The "we can't make it" is obviously a bit of a fib isn't it? I mean it's not like you can't make it it's that you don't want to make it. I'm guessing your friend knows this. I'd suggest you send him a email saying "We won'tt be attending this year. Have a great party. Let's get together soon." That is a more honest approach IMO. If your 'friend' asks why just say "it's personal". If he still won't let it go tell him it's none of his business. If he still won't let it go tell him to piss off.