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20-40-60 Etiquette: Friends for dinner

Reader wonders why dinner invitations are declined. [Thinkstock photo]

Reader wonders why dinner invitations are declined. [Thinkstock photo]

QUESTION: I love to entertain, but I have noticed lately that many of my friends have declined my invitations to come over for dinner. Should I ask them why they cannot come? It hurts my feelings when they say no.

CALLIE'S ANSWER: Maybe they don't like your cooking. Only kidding! People live busy lives. Next time, give out a few dates and see what date works best for most.

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: I take everything like this personally, but that doesn't mean you should. Sometimes it's more about someone's schedule than anything else. When they decline your invitation, you could say that you would like to get together and is there a better way to do so? Maybe they could get together for lunch more easily than dinner, or that they can get together on a week night more easily than a weekend. Or maybe you have entertained them a lot and they feel guilty they haven't reciprocated because entertaining is hard work. I don't know. It sounds like you do need some answers, but tread lightly. Approach it with the idea that you'd like to see your friends, and be flexible about how and when that can happen and what you might serve.

HELEN'S ANSWER: Try not to take it personally when your friends cannot come. They may really be busy and cannot add another thing to their schedules.

Communicate to them that the time is flexible and that so is your menu (in case they are dieting or have food allergies.) Maybe a weekend brunch is in order, as you can plan it for earlier in the day. Just be sure to talk with your guests and get a feeling for their hectic lives.

GUEST'S ANSWER: Christina Nihira, community volunteer: Hosting friends over for a meal is a lovely gesture. Given our busy schedules, it's nice to share quality time and of course, tasty food.

The first thing that comes to mind with your question is reflecting on your cooking skills. Most people expect dinner to go beyond frozen, store-bought lasagna and soggy salad. Examine your culinary abilities and put those taste buds to work. Maybe you need to add a little more sugar and spice to the mix. The internet offers a plethora of menu ideas, recipes plus preparation advice.

Another thought is a lack of sensitivity to diet. Your friends may be high maintenance and eat only foods associated with the latest dining craze. Can you say Poke? These days, the chef needs to be more attuned to guests' dietary needs (i.e. no carbs, gluten-free, peanut or shellfish allergies, for example). Perhaps the dishes you have prepared in the past conflict with their requirements. Discuss the menu when you extend the invitation.

Evenings also may be difficult for some people. Try hosting a weekend brunch or meet for a midweek lunch date at a fun restaurant.

It's hard not to personalize your feelings when you feel rebuffed. The rejection could have absolutely nothing to do with you. Have an honest conversation.

Writer C. JoyBell C. noted, “Life is a bowl of cherries. Some cherries are rotten while others are good; it's your job to throw out the rotten ones and forget about them while you enjoy eating the ones that are good!”

Bon Appetit.

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email