Etiquette Hell

Hostesses With The Mostest => Entertaining and Hospitality => Topic started by: Venus193 on January 05, 2010, 11:18:52 AM

Title: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Venus193 on January 05, 2010, 11:18:52 AM
Formal Dinner Parties (please correct me if I'm wrong about anything)

1.  Invite guests at least two weeks in advance so they can plan accordingly.   
2.  The invitation style should reflect the formality of the occasion ("Mr & Mrs Jones request the pleasure of your company" etc)
3.  Advise them regarding directions, parking issues, public transport instructions (including car services), and smoking rules upon acceptance.
4.  Keep any allergies (like nuts), religious rules, and/or medical issues in mind when planning the menu.
5.  Be sure the bathroom is clean and you have adequate bathroom tissue, soap, and hand towels.  If your cats' litter box is there, be sure it is clean.
6.  Keep pets in the spare bedroom if necessary; most will flee the activity anyway.
7.  Messy food is undesirable when guests will be formally dressed.  Refrain from serving anything on the bone or in the shell or long pasta, especially if there is any red (tomato) sauce involved.
8.  Choose foods that require minimum attention once they meet the heat so that you spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.
9.  Don't skimp when shopping for groceries and drinks.  Purchase bags of ice if your freezer doesn't make enough at once. 
10.  Ideally, you are not doing the cooking or serving.  If you are, do as much food preparation as possible in advance.  You must not be cleaning, trimming, chopping, marinating, or mixing as your guests begin arriving.
11.  The bar (if applicable):  Don't be obsessed with having every mixed drink ingredient; creating a cocktail theme works well and provides adequate variety.  If wine is being served at dinner be sure each wine matches the course it accompanies.
12.  Have hors d'oeuvres and canapes ready before the guests begin arriving.
13.  A moratorium must be called on computer use or television during the gathering.  Background music, however, is usually desirable.*
14.  Wear relatively comfortable shoes if you are retrieving anything from the kitchen.
15.  The table must be set prior to the guests' arrival.  Cloth napkins are mandatory and one should own at least two full sets in case back-ups are needed.
16.  Any decorative centerpieces on the table should not be so tall as to obstruct anyone's view when seated.  If the centerpieces are overlarge, they should be removed prior to the serving of the food.
17.  If any guests do not know each other, introduce them before they are seated at the table.
18.  Guests are to be kept out of the kitchen so they do not see garbage or unwashed dishes. 
19.  Do not hold dinner for more than 15 minutes for a latecomer.  Latecomers will begin with the course being served upon their arrival so as not to disrupt the meal and the flow of the occasion.
20.  Direct the coversation toward topics of general interest.  Now is not the time for the three most controversial subjects (politics, religion, money).
21.  Enjoy yourself!

*Is classical or chamber music mandatory or is jazz acceptable?
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: camlan on January 05, 2010, 11:28:31 AM

4.  Keep any allergies (like nuts), religious rules, and/or medical issues in mind when planning the menu.


*Is classical or chamber music mandatory or is jazz acceptable?

I'd change #4 to "Ask about any allergies, religious rules and/or medical issues upon acceptance. I believe it is correct for the host to ask this, but less correct for the guest to offer the info unprompted? Can anyone verify this?

As for background music, I'd say anything that will not take center stage and/or prove a hinderance to conversation would be fine. Heavy metal, not so much. Irish jigs, ditto. But Irish harp music would be fine, as would jazz or pop. A lot depends on the volume. But, for me, background music is a option, not a necessity.

A truly formal dinner table will have place cards, or the host will tell people where to sit as they approach the table. The seating will have been planned so as to place an outgoing, talkative person next to a shy person who needs drawing out, and to prevent two people who always argue politics whenever they meet from sitting next to each other. The old standard used to be male|female|male|female, but I think that requirement is dying away. Used to give hostesses nightmares, though, coming up with equal numbers of male and female guests.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: kdbug on January 05, 2010, 11:43:15 AM
Wow, that is a lot to remember. I have never been to (or hosted) this type of dinner party but I wouldn't mind the experience.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Venus193 on January 05, 2010, 11:58:24 AM
I have never hosted a formal dinner, although I have attended a few.  I am unsure how things should be served if a person doesn't have servers for the occasion, so I am going to guess that there should be two serving platters/tureens per dish, one for each end of the table.

Good point about the seating arrangements.

I have only ever experienced chamber music at such things, so I'm not sure what else is correct.

Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Akka on January 07, 2010, 04:38:29 AM
16b. The centerpiece flowers / candles should not have a powerful smell, because it interfears with the smell of food / drinks

also (and this goes for every dinner party - but is especially important for a formal one where guests are extra nicely dressed / groomed)

-  Make time for yourself to have a shower, change into nice clothes and fix hair / make up (if applicable) before your guests come. Do your best not to look tired

-  Courses should arrive plated or you or a helper should serve the guests, following  the appropriate etiquette. After serving, food should be left on a side table (not on the main table) or returned to the kitchen.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Lisbeth on January 08, 2010, 11:22:49 AM
A truly formal dinner table will have place cards, or the host will tell people where to sit as they approach the table. The seating will have been planned so as to place an outgoing, talkative person next to a shy person who needs drawing out, and to prevent two people who always argue politics whenever they meet from sitting next to each other. The old standard used to be male|female|male|female, but I think that requirement is dying away. Used to give hostesses nightmares, though, coming up with equal numbers of male and female guests.

The formal standard seating arrangement also requires that social units not be seated next to each other.  Miss Manners' reason is that they tell the same jokes and stories differently; I think it also helps by requiring them to keep their domestic disagreements private and to refrain from talking exclusively to each other or engaging in scrabble at the table if they are not seated together.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Venus193 on January 08, 2010, 11:30:28 AM
Ah, the sideboard!  Now I know why I always wanted one.

Social units separated is also an excellent point. 
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Lisbeth on January 08, 2010, 11:45:10 AM
To add to 13:  Cell phones and electronic devices should not be answered or used during dinner.  One should either not be "on call" or should leave the table to take emergency calls.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Venus193 on January 08, 2010, 01:40:43 PM
Yes, yes, yes!
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Lillie82 on January 23, 2010, 12:12:40 PM

19.  Do not hold dinner for more than 15 minutes for a latecomer.  Latecomers will begin with the course being served upon their arrival so as not to disrupt the meal and the flow of the occasion.

Any variations on this rule when the latecomer is/are the guest(s) of honor, or somehow significant to "the flow of the occasion"? This happened to me recently with a function I was involved in hosting in connection with my job. It was a dinner to introduce some international visitors to some members of our community - and said visitors showed up an hour after our specified start time. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, because we were at a restaurant where they put out hors d'oeuvres before serving dinner. I was actually pretty full by the time they served the main course. On the other hand, some people from local political offices were on tight schedules and had to leave early.

Is that not really the kind of function we're talking about here?

20.  Direct the coversation toward topics of general interest.  Now is not the time for the three most controversial subjects (politics, religion, money).
21.  Enjoy yourself!

*Is classical or chamber music mandatory or is jazz acceptable?
[/quote]
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Venus193 on January 25, 2010, 06:18:01 AM
I would hope that any guest of honor would inform the host(ess) about lateness.  Emergencies happen.

However, since your question included the word "international", it provokes the following question:

When punctuality is regarded differently by the cultures of the individuals in question, whose should prevail? 
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Lisbeth on January 25, 2010, 04:50:08 PM
I think the hosts' punctuality should prevail.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Venus193 on January 25, 2010, 08:26:05 PM
I agree.  There is serious time management involved in preparing dinner and that should be respected.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: purple_alicorn on February 16, 2010, 05:06:13 AM
I think the hosts' punctuality should prevail.

I disagree slightly, in that I think that the culture of the majority of members should prevail. Ie: if the guests all work on one time scale (say 7pm actually means 8sih) and the hosts are the only ones to work on the other (7pm means get there at 6.55pm as not to be late), the majority should rule - or at least the hosts should understand that for their guests to get there at 7pm they should invite them at 6.

In an ideal world, of course, all guests would have the same understanding of time  ;)
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Lisbeth on February 16, 2010, 12:28:34 PM
I think the hosts' punctuality should prevail.

I disagree slightly, in that I think that the culture of the majority of members should prevail. Ie: if the guests all work on one time scale (say 7pm actually means 8sih) and the hosts are the only ones to work on the other (7pm means get there at 6.55pm as not to be late), the majority should rule - or at least the hosts should understand that for their guests to get there at 7pm they should invite them at 6.

In an ideal world, of course, all guests would have the same understanding of time  ;)

I agree with your last line, and if the majority of the people the hosts are inviting come from one culture, presumably the hosts would incorporate that in their invitation.

In the absence of that, though, the hosts are the ones who make the decisions about the timing because they are the ones offering their home and provisions to the guests, who are free to decline the invitation if it is not feasible for them to arrive on time per the hosts' punctuality.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: C0mputerGeek on February 16, 2010, 12:38:50 PM
The OP makes me quite nostalgic. I have posted before that my grandmother had a formal dinner party at least once a year.

When I was old enough, I was hired to serve at them. It's how I began learning to throw them. Yes, formal dinner parties require a staggering amount of preparation.

It's not just the meal, which has to be planned to adequately serve people with a variety of food restrictions, but also the place cards and the seating and the cocktails and the hors d'oeuvres. Grandma also made sure she had someone look out for her more reticent guests so that they would have someone to talk to and not be left out.

I am not sure what was my grandmother's preference and what was actually etiquette, but I would add:
1. Have someone at the door to greet the guests and take coats/purses.
2. During the cocktail portion of the evening, be sure they servers give every guest a chance to sample all of the hors d'oeuvres. Make sure one has an adequate supply of mixers for the cocktails
3. Check plates, glasses, and silverware in advance to ensure there are no cracked or chipped pieces and that there is a adequate supply (read: matched set) for each table.
4. Check, double check, and triple check the seating arrangements as well as the head of each table (note: my grandmother had 3 large tables she used and could seat up to 30 people at her formal dinner parties). It is crucial to select a table head that will look after everyone at the table and make sure each guest is drawn into a conversation.
5. Once a dish has been served, place it on the sideboard so that the guests can get themselves another serving should they so choose.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Wordgeek on February 16, 2010, 08:47:27 PM
The punctuality issue is interesting.  If I'm having a dinner and tell people to come at 6, the Canadians generally show up within 5 minutes before or after.  The British come within 10 minutes but never before the stated hour.  The Americans show up en masse at 6.30.  One American friend told me it was rude to show up less than 20 minutes late.



Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Venus193 on February 20, 2010, 11:20:15 AM
I'm fanatical about punctuality.  I think it is rude to waste time out of other people's lives. 

As to dinner parties at any level of formality, it is rude to force the hostess to delay serving as it will compromise the quality of the food.  A former CEO of mine was a favorite child and there was a story that her mother ruined Christmas dinners for years delaying them until her arrival.  Which often didn't happen.  No wonder her siblings hated her.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Shoo on February 20, 2010, 11:22:49 AM
If I'm invited to something at 6, I arrive at 6!  We shouldn't be guessing what our hosts mean when they give us a time.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: QueenofAllThings on July 09, 2010, 03:44:11 PM
When at table, the host/hostess should have ready an interesting topic should the conversation falter or should bean-dipping be necessary. One of our favorites is "Name the best American (country of choice) rock band/movie/novel" - everyone will have a different opinion, but, unlike politics or religion, it generally stays genial - and often gets absolutely hilarious.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: sparksals on November 04, 2012, 11:33:23 PM
Out dogs are part of the family.  Just like children, they do not get locked in a room.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: AuntieA on December 16, 2012, 01:26:44 AM
Resurrecting this to add:

If you are doing the serving, remember to serve the ladies before the gentlemen (but the GOH, if there is one, is served first of all, regardless of gender)

You serve from the left, clear plates from the right.

I've been at many semi-formal dinners at my mother's, and a couple of formal lunches/dinners for the presenting of awards/medals.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: Library Dragon on February 15, 2013, 07:05:28 PM
Let me resurrect this to beg and plead the host/hostess not seat spouses/BG-GF/partners next to each other.  You may need some smiles and "How fun this will be" comments.  It's a dinner party, not a date.

My grand-dog means the world the world means the world to me, but my guest with with a pathological fear of dogs will take priority at my dinner party.  I invited the guest and have an obligation to the guest.
Title: Re: The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties
Post by: gellchom on December 30, 2014, 10:29:15 PM
Resurrecting this to add:

If you are doing the serving, remember to serve the ladies before the gentlemen (but the GOH, if there is one, is served first of all, regardless of gender)

You serve from the left, clear plates from the right.

I've been at many semi-formal dinners at my mother's, and a couple of formal lunches/dinners for the presenting of awards/medals.

I don't like the "ladies first" service.  It is supposedly showing deference to the ladies; but all it means is that the women's food gets cold. 

I know this thread is about private dinner parties, but I believe I learned somewhere that at a more institutional setting, one can begin eating after some proportion of the table has been served -- or perhaps it was the people on both your right and left?  Something like that.  Anyway, that way no one's food has to get cold while waiting for a very large table to be served.  Doing ladies first, when the women are presumably fairly randomly distributed even if not every other, defeats that.

For a dinner party at home, we always serve family style (guests serve themselves and pass the serving dishes) anyway, not plated meals, so that pretty much obviates the whole problem.  It also lets guests discreetly avoid or take only a token amount of any dishes they don't want, choose the chicken part or portion size they prefer, and so forth.