Dinner parties are fun affairs. They are the perfect events for us ladies to dress up, meet new people, practice our manners, have great conversations, and eat wonderful food. So, let’s discuss our responsibilities at such events.
Just like hostesses have a responsibility to their guests, so do guests have a responsibility to their hostesses.
1.. Always be on time. That is the most important duty of a guest at a formal dinner. The key words here are: on time.
Do not arrive 30 minutes early. By arriving early, you take away time from your hostess to finish arranging herself and/or her home as well as to attend to any problem that may have risen at the last minute.
Do not arrive 45 minutes late. By arriving too late, you will put your hostess in the annoying situation of delaying her dinner, diminishing the taste and quality of her food.
2.. Never bring another guest who has not been invited. If you want to bring someone, you absolutely must ask permission from your hostess several days before the dinner. Even then, do not expect your hostess to accept your guest.
Formal dinners are hosted at dining room tables that sit a specific number of people. If your hostess has already sent out her invitations, there may be no room for your guest. So, under no reason should you ever bring a guest without telling your hostess.
3.. The minute you arrive, your first task is to greet your hostess. You should not speak to anyone else before your hostess. This is showing your hostess respect and appreciation for the beautiful evening she is about to provide you.
4.. Always bring a gift for the hostess. Never bring a personal gift like soap or perfume. Instead bring gifts for the home, like a bottle of wine, a box of fancy chocolates, a bouquet of non-romantic flowers, or a coffee table book. The minute you arrive, you should hand the gift to your hostess. Consider this gift a gesture of gratitude.
5.. Do not arrive to a dinner wearing many layers of clothing that must be removed and left in the hall or hall closet. For example, do not wear a coat, a blazer, a cardigan, and two scarves. You do not want to take up half of the coat closet with your clothing. Plus, you don’t want to hold up a line or have people watch you disrobe in an odd manner.
6.. Be ready to carry light conversation before entering the dining room. Though light, still try to sound genuine and interesting. You don’t want to sit quietly in the corner, forcing the hostess to spend extra time entertaining you. Plus, it is uncomfortable for everyone to watch you looking like a wallflower. It is your duty as a guest to learn the art of small talk.
7.. When conversing in the receiving room, do not drink so much you get drunk. If you do not tolerate alcohol well, eat a small meal before you arrive like a few slices of bread. Then eat some of the hors d’oeuvre being offered in the receiving room. It is your responsibility to avoid getting drunk before the dinner has even begun.
8.. When walking to the dining room with your designated partner or escort, you should strive to find something to say to him. If you are not a great conversationalist, plan things to say during this walk. Your words should be light and pleasant, putting your escort at ease before even reaching the table.
9.. Wherever your host, hostess, or the butler directs you to sit at the dinner table, this is where you should sit. Do not trade chairs. Do not drag a chair to sit next to a friend. Do not complain about the seating arrangement. Do not frown or show displeasure. You should not want your neighbor to think you don’t want to sit next to him or her. Sit where you are directed to sit with a smile or pleasant nod.
10.. For each course being served, wait for everyone to be served before eating. Not only is it rude to eat before everyone, it will also mess up the conversation flow.
The best time to converse at a dinner table is when everyone is waiting for everyone to be served. At this time, everyone can speak freely without concern of speaking with food in their mouths or of preventing their neighbor from eating.
11.. Always contribute to the conversation at the table. Don’t be the sour face who continuously ends a conversation prematurely or who refuses to contribute positive words. Each guest is responsible for adding cheer to the atmosphere of a dinner.
While conversing at the dining room table, please be aware of these three rules.
A) Do not begin personal conversations. You are responsible for beginning and maintaining conversations that anyone can join in. Personal conversations not only alienate strangers, they also may reveal information inappropriate for a dinner and may even turn into arguments. This is one of the reasons why some hostesses will not seat a husband and wife next to each other at the dining table.
B) Do not ask too many questions. If you pester your neighbor with multiple questions, you will prevent him from eating.
C) Do not ask questions that require long replies. If you pressure your neighbor into giving a long explanation, he will be unable to eat his food at the speed of everyone else. This will not only allow his food to get cold, it will also hold up a multiple course dinner, forcing diners and servers to wait for him to finish his course.
Whenever you are about to ask a question, ask yourself first, if you have given your neighbor enough to time to eat, in peace. Have you given him time to chew and swallow so that he is not forced to talk with his mouth full of food? Have you given him time to savor the meal and the moment? It is your responsibility as the guest to learn when to talk and when to remain silent.
12.. Do not speak with a loud voice. Speaking at the dinner table with a loud voice is especially distracting. If all heads suddenly turn to look at you, know you are speaking or laughing too loud.
Speaking loudly also unconsciously forces others to speak as loud as you in order to be heard. So pay attention to your voice. Speak in a quiet and gentle way. Let your voice flow gracefully to the ears of your neighbors.
13.. Always appear calm and collected. You never want to appear uncomfortable, like you don’t belong. It’d be just as uncomfortable for other guests and the hostess to see you this way.
Do not bang your silverware on the table. Do not slam your hand down on the table. Do not drum your fingers on the table. Do not swing your wine glass around. Be graceful at all times.
14. Eat slowly, but not too slow. Gage the speed others are eating. You do not want to finish much ahead of everyone. This will have you talking too much while others are trying to eat. Also do not finish much after others. Remember there may be many courses to be served. You don’t want to hold up the line, allowing the food to get cold and lengthening the dinner.
15.. Eat quietly and with care. Do not slurp your soup. Do not chump on your food with your mouth open. Do not speak with food in your mouth. Always avoid any behavior that will end with you spitting food into your neighbor’s face, or worse, onto his food.
16.. Do not drink your wine down in one or two swallows. Wine should be savored, slowly enjoyed. So, don’t gulp it down like juice. And definitely, do not drink so much you get drunk.
17.. Yes, you can say thank you to the server for serving you. Never be uncomfortable with showing appreciation for a service provided to you. But when you say thank you, say it quietly. You do not want to bring too much attention onto yourself or onto the server.
18.. After the final course is eaten, each lady should be ready for the hostess to give the signal to rise from the table. If you are the guest of honor, the lady the host had escorted into the dining room, the lady sitting at the host’s right hand, or the lady of highest ranking – you should pay special attention to the hostess at this point. According to proper etiquette, it is at this point the hostess signals to the lady of highest ranking it is time to leave the dining room.
19.. Wait at least 30 minutes before taking your leave after exiting the dining room. You do not want to eat and run. If the hostess has prepared a concert after dinner, you can excuse yourself before the concert starts. It is better to do it before the concert, versus during. But the best thing would be to leave after the concert.
20.. Before leaving, make sure to say thank you to your hostess. Say how delicious the food was and what a great time you had. You can follow up the next day with a “thank you” call or card.
Please remember to always show appreciation. Even if the dinner was horrible, recognize that someone was generous and kind enough to invite you into their home and entertain you. You have been blessed.
Ladies! We are excited to say, we now have a tutorial available for designing and hosting professional and society dinners. It is an intensive level course created by family and friends of diplomats and seasoned hostesses. To learn more, click here.
“Society hostesses are not born. They are made.”