Dear Etiquetteer: Often I like to meet a friend or a co-worker after work for a drink at a bar someplace. I think of meeting someone "for a drink" as just that, a drink, and then we move on to whatever other evening commitments we have. But I seem to be the only one who thinks this. Invariably the other person will suggest that we "get something," and what usually happens is dinner, either burgers at the bar or getting a table for a full meal. I love spending time with these people - otherwise I wouldn't ask them or go with them - but the time, and sometimes the money, is more than I have to invest. How can I set the expectation that dinner isn't in my plans, but a drink is? I don't want to seem unfriendly.
As is often the case in barrooms, 50% of the solution is recognizing the problem. For this particular problem, however, the other 50% of the solution is outside the barroom. Set the expectation when you invite your friend or colleague, before you are anywhere near the Bar of Your Choice, that really, this is just for a drink because you can only stay for an hour. Really. Because of the "other evening commitments" to which you refer. And if you don't have any, make some or fake some. It's not necessary to say what your plans are, even when pressed. Cultivate an air of mystery, rather like that of Madame Heloise d'Arcy Beaumont in O. Henry's delightful "Transients in Arcadia," of whom it was said "There was an untraceable rumor in the Hotel Lotus that Madame was a cosmopolite, and that she was pulling with her slender white hands certain strings between the nations in the favor of Russia."
You'll also have to keep from caving into your buddy's suggestion for refreshments. "No, thank you" is more powerful than you know - and if it's more powerful than you are, you can add "I already have plans for dinner." Do not respond, as Ina Claire did in The Greeks Had a Word for Them, "Don't speak of food while I'm drinking my dinner!"