Dinner Party Etiquette - What you should know about it

formal service

Dinner party etiquette is not really about knowing every detail of which fork to use. True etiquette is more than knowing what the "rules" are.

As all the etiquette books stress, the heart of true etiquette is making other people comfortable.

But we also want to feel that we are sophisticated enough to know the basic rules of dinner party etiquette. Whether hosting or a guest, you feel more at ease if you know what the rules are. You may choose to modify or break them at times, but that is different from not knowing the rules.

Quickly review dinner party etiquette on this page
This dinner party etiquette page gathers together various tips and guidelines from etiquette books, websites and other pages on this site. By skimming through this page, you can quickly review some key social conventions for being a guest or hostess at a dinner party.

If you are the host or hostess, it’s good if you know the rules. You would never correct your guests, but sometimes they might be watching you for a lead on appropriate dinner party etiquette. If you are a guest, you will feel more comfortable if you can manoeuvre your way smoothly through the manners minefield.

So hang on to your top hat as we run through those key social conventions for good dinner party etiquette.

We’ll start with the dinner party etiquette of greeting and welcoming arriving guests.

Dinner party etiquette of welcoming guests
Hosts and hostesses, try to go to the door for each guest. If you can’t make it and someone else answers the door, make sure to seek the guest out and personally welcome him or her into your home as soon as you can.

How long to wait for overdue guests. Usually there will be about half an hour to an hour between arrival and dinner. If a guest still hasn’t arrived, there is no need to delay dinner more than fifteen minutes unless you wish, and the dinner won’t be spoiled. But not much longer, your other guests deserve to be fed on time.

When the latecomers arrive, just invite them to join you at the table at whatever course you are at. There is no need to rush out to the kitchen and get them a first course if everyone is on the main course. Introducing guests. If you have invited people who don’t know everyone, plan ahead for an introduction that leaves guests a “conversational hook” to let them start chatting. For example, “This is Joe, he has just moved to our neighborhood this year.” If your community is like most, that should get the real estate talk going!

An introduction that gives guests a natural conversational lead-in makes you more comfortable too. If you have to slip away to the kitchen, you know that you have started the ball rolling between guests.

What to do with hostess or host gifts. People often bring hostess gifts of wine, flowers or chocolates to dinner parties. Be ready to receive the gifts graciously if they do.

This means planning ahead for a vase and scissors in case you need to put flowers in water. You should also have a candy or chocolates dish at hand in case you want to set out the chocolates.

Should you serve the wine that people bring as a hostess gift? It’s your call. The wine your guest brings is a gift, so strictly speaking it is up to you whether to serve it or not. Sometimes guests bring bottles that simply don’t go with what you are serving. You can try thanking your guest and saying that you will enjoy their wine the next time you cook (name a suitable dish).

But sometimes there is more than the outer shell of dinner party etiquette involved. Sometimes you will sense that courtesy and sensitivity to the guest’s wishes are better guides than being a stickler for the wine guidelines. If your guest will be offended, or is anxious to try the wine he or she brought, you can Dinner party etiquette at the table.
Seating guests. Plan in advance where you want people to sit at the dinner table. Waving your hand and saying sit anywhere usually makes people feel awkward. Better to give them a place.

It is customary to separate couples at the table.

Don’t place things on the table like keys, purses or other items. Tuck them under your chair if you need them by.

Guests, of course you have turned off your cell phones, haven’t you?

Using the tableware. For using the dishes, remember the rule. Eat from the left, drink from the right. That means your bread plate or salad plate will be the one on your left.

The first utensils used are on the outside, and then guests can “work their way” in. Wine glasses are used the same way. If there is more than one per place setting, the glass to be used first will be on outside right of the glasses. The water glass is placed above the knife.

Dinner party eating etiquette. Unless told otherwise, wait until everyone is seated and served before starting to eat. Often a host or hostess will tell people to go ahead, in this case feel free to do so.

Try to pace your eating so that you don’t race to the finish line before others are halfway through. If you are a slow eater, try to speed up a bit on this occasion so you don’t hold everyone up.

It’s customary to break your roll into pieces and butter than cut and buttered all at once.

Did your mother always tell you to keep your elbows off the table? Well, try to keep them off when you are eating. It’s not so important these days when you are just talking.

Unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. When you are finished, place it loosely on the table, not on the plate.Don’t get upset if you spill something. Accidents happen, and this is a dinner party with friends. Just fix it and don’t keep on apologizing. After the main course is finished, all the dishes and condiments for that course should be removed. This includes salt and pepper and butter. After dessert, dishes may stay on the table while the company talks together and drinks coffee or tea.

Serving tea or coffee signifies that the formal part of the evening is over. Guests may now feel free to leave, or linger if the host or hostess encourages them to do so.

These are the key conventions and dinner party etiquette you will need to get through a dinner party comfortably. If you do break a social rule, remember, you are with friends. They will probably still be friends afterwards. They may even have made a small social gaffe themselves!

Enjoy a trip to dinner party etiquette of the past with this vintage etiquette blog

Vintage instructions from Emily Post in 1922 (and other sources) about giving dinner parties. Advice from a more gracious time.

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