By Quentin Fottrell
I’ve been thinking a lot about the cost of living, and how house prices, rent and food prices contribute to how we socialize with friends. I am a longtime reader of your column, and I took note of one a few years ago about how the $1 tip is dead . As a result, I always give $2 or more to a coat attendant or a bar man. Today, I have a similarly-themed question.
With sky-high inflation, is it still acceptable to arrive at a friend’s house for dinner with just one bottle of wine? I ask because on a recent visit to these neighbors a friend of theirs arrived with two bottles of champagne, three different cheeses and flowers. I was holding a two-year-old bottle of red wine from my small “cellar” (kitchen cupboard).
I am blessed to have neighbors who water my plants when I am away — and vice versa — and sometimes invite us over for drinks if they have out-of-town visitors. I am a retiree, 67, and I am happy to be on anybody’s guest list, if I’m being honest. I value their friendship, and I look forward to meeting new people at their home. Retirement can get pretty lonely .
I also try to return the favor, but I don’t know as many people in our town as these friendly neighbors, and they are all couples who appear to have very little time between their second homes, golf clubs, tennis clubs and their own groups of friends. I lead a simple life. I have a cat, and a family who live out of state, and some college friends scattered across the country.
Maybe I’m being insecure or worrying unnecessarily, but I hate to be cheap. Am I a cheapskate?
A Wine Loving, $2 Tipper
Dear Wine Lover,
Given that you don’t attend a lot of dinner parties in your neighborhood, it’s understandable that you may feel sensitive about whether you are bringing enough of your “A Game” to the party, or simply, bringing enough wine. Inflation is not cooling down at a rate that appears to satisfy the U.S. Federal Reserve or Wall Street analysts. It rose 8.2% in September, slightly down from 8.3% in August, but that figure does not bode well for anything close to a significant cooling in October.
When we put such a high value on something — a job interview, a first date, new friends, good neighbors — it can bring out our insecurities, and put unnecessary pressure on us to perform when all we have to do is ask questions, listen to what others say, and be engaged. We all have feelings of self doubt, and they ebb and flow over time. Even the most confident and ebullient dinner-party guest may harbor doubts about their scintillating conversation or the quality of their wine.
Whether or not you decide to bring an extra bottle depends on the lavishness of the culinary production, and your relationship with the friend.
As lifestyle magazine Real Simple pointed out earlier this year in helping readers entertain on budgets of all sizes, $100 will get you “olives for guests to munch on when they arrive, and an arugula salad with goat cheese, walnuts and pomegranate seeds for a first course; stuffed Cornish hens with parsley potatoes and green beans is the main course; with lemon pound cake for dessert. (And there’s a bottle of pinot noir, too!)”
In that case, you could bring a decent bottle of wine — not the cheapest on the shelf — and a chunk of Stilton, or some flowers.
For $25, hosts could cook a mushroom risotto and give each of their guests a lone glass of wine, supplemented by guests bringing bottles of their own. But what well-mannered host wants to risk running out of beverages? Or telling their guests that — sorry, folks — one glass of wine is your limit? That’s tantamount to flashing the light on and off, like they do in an Irish pub, and telling the startled guests, “Have you no home to go because I’ve got a bed to go to!”
In this scenario, one bottle is fine, and the knowledge that the host may have more dinners if they keep within their budget. I would rather go to a modest dinner with an interesting and lively host than an extravagant dinner party with a bunch of bores who insist on telling you their opinions on everything from politics to petty gossip.
If you’re cooking for four people, and providing alcohol and starters and a dessert, and you’re not Gordon Ramsey or Julia Child, you may — like me — cut some corners on the preparation. So you may end up spending even more. The biggest treat when a guest walks through your door is when they are smiling, showing their obvious pleasure at being there.
If it’s your first time in their home, it’s always a great start to the evening to arrive with wine and flowers. I sometimes also pick up a book that I love on the way. It’s nice to share literature that inspires or moves you. Nor does it have to be a new book. You can choose one from your library. Homes are full of books that have been read just once that are crying out to be read again, and again — and by a new pair of eyes each time.
If you are a regular visitor — the kind of pal with which you watch TV together and have each other around a few times a month — one bottle of wine is fine, or even the offer of a salad or dessert as an alternative, especially if it’s midweek and neither of you wish to wake up with a heavy head.
If you want to show your appreciation for landing on your neighbor’s guest list, and you don’t get that many invitations, making a little extra effort will keep you on the top of their list, especially given the rise in the cost of food. (Grocery prices just had their largest price hike since 1979. Extreme heat, supply-chain issues, among other issues, all impacted prices. Some items rose by as much as 40% )
Your other issue can hit you at any time of life, but retirement can be a particularly vulnerable time. Loneliness can creep up on you. It can happen when you are surrounded by people, but don’t feel like you are welcomed by and/or truly connected to them. It is an epidemic in rural areas , and it is also prevalent in big cities where people are living on top of each other.
Sometimes, lonely people turn to Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite META +1.98% and other social media — and while that provides a connection to the world, it can also be the emotional equivalent of empty calories. You have retired in a place far from familiar faces, your routine is gone and you are naturally rebuilding your social life. Group socializing (walking clubs, bridge meetings, local retirement groups, online MeetUps ) and being of service to others (volunteering at a local soup kitchen etc.) can all help.
Being on a strict budget adds more pressure. People are cutting back. S ales at retailers fell flat in September , a sign that the economy may slow in the coming months as consumers pull back on spending in the face of 40-year high inflation and the end of pandemic-era government stimulus programs. Retail sales, a major part of consumer spending, are closely watched as a sign of the mindset and financial health of consumers. They rose 8.2% on the year.
Not everyone can afford to bring two bottles of wine and a selection of cheese to dinner, but we can all bring the best version of ourselves: showing our appreciation for our host’s table and food, asking questions, sharing ideas, avoiding complaining about everything that’s wrong with the world (save that for Twitter TWTR or, even better, therapy), and making sure that anyone who may seem ill-at-ease is taken care of.
A kind word, a thank-you note and thoughtful gift, however small, can go further than a second bottle of a pricey Pinot Noir, even in an era of rising prices.
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