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The Basics of Good Hosting -- Formal Dinner Parties

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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?


--- Quote from: Venus193 on January 05, 2010, 11:18:52 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?

--- End quote ---

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.

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.

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.

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.


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