Can We Play It By Ear?

I invited a friend and her family to come over for a family night.  Bond fire,  flashlight tag with the kids, S’Mores etc.  It was going to be a casual and relaxing evening to visit and enjoy the Fall.   Her reply to me was pleasant  but contingent on another individual.  She had invited a friend for dinner the same night but hadn’t heard back.  Finally, when she did get a response, two days before the dinner was to take place, the person asked if they could play it by ear.  My friend relayed the response to me.  I was not offended because I knew my friend was very uncomfortable telling me.  I was shocked to know that someone else had put her in this position.

My friend is an excellent host and her husband is equally as gracious.  She is a fantastic cook and her home is warm and inviting.  When she invites you to her home, it is going to be a wonderful meal with great company.  I was stunned to hear that she was expected to wait to shop, plan, organize, clean, set up and cook because someone could not commit.  This person’s response makes you wonder if they were waiting for a better offer.  Were they waiting on another plan? What could socially justify a response like “can we play it by ear” for a dinner invitation?

Regardless of the situation, it is better to decline an invitation if you are not able to commit in a timely manner.  Playing anything by ear when it comes to an invitation is “unacceptable” even if the host is ordering pizza.  The last thing in the world a host or hostess wants to have happen is to run out of food.  It demonstrates poor planning on their part.  If you show up unexpectedly, we are now cutting portion sizes to accommodate your appearance.

It is very difficult and expensive to entertain today.  If you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation to someone’s home, they are planning on going to a good amount of trouble and effort for you.  The least you can do is respond in a reason amount of time and attend promptly.

Colleen Harding is a certified etiquette and protocol instructor and the founder of the Cleveland School of Etiquette and Corporate Protocol. Programs and packages available for children and businesses.