We were caught in an awkward situation. At a new restaurant, we ended up with the owners joining us for dinner. (We have friends in common.) We could not pay for a thing. For professional reasons, I cannot be in this position. For future reference, what could I have done?
–Compromised in Los Angeles
These are sticky situations, but a couple of ideas come to mind.
First, explain your situation and why it is essential that you must pay your own bill. Perhaps get into why in your culture or work this must be done even if it seems not very courteous.
If that isn’t accepted, ask your hosts if you could have the pleasure of thanking them for their hospitality by offering them wine for the meal. Order wines close to the cost of your dinners. This graciously signals you didn’t expect to be a guest and do not wish to be beholden.
Either way, leave a generous tip since the waiter isn’t offering you gratis service.
Hopefully this helps.