|Etiquette for a Dinner Party|
A Good Host
key considerations include:
Business Etiquette For Meals and Other Activities
Etiquette was different around the family table from what it was in a formal setting. While the fundamental manners such as asking for food to be passed rather than exercising the "boarding-house reach"; chewing with one’s mouth closed; not speaking while food was in one’s mouth; and using a napkin rather than the britches or skirt to clean of the fingers or mouth when necessary were to be observed regardless of the setting, The primary differences came in where eating utensils were multiplied; where seating was an issue; and even the quality of the utensils, serving pieces, and food would be different.
Formal meals or suppers or dinner parties were associated with "company". As such, they had an etiquette all their own. A formal meal or dinner party was an opportunity to introduce friends and associates to their sanctuary from the world - their home. It was also an opportunity to show off the best of a home’s linens, plates, flatware, mannerliness and hospitality, as well as the house-cleaning skills of the residents of that home. A lady’s best dishes and glasses would be used, and a formal menu would be planned that would commonly include at least four courses. All would be on display for that brief time, including the host and hostesses’ taste in decorating, furnishing their home, and social skills. For some, it was an opportunity to elevate themselves socially by impressing their friends or associates with their good taste and generous larder.
The four courses that were so much a part of a formal meal were soup, fish, an entree, and dessert. While the second course and the entree course would often include wine (except in the case of those working their way up the Temperance Society ladder, of course), dessert would be followed with coffee, and perhaps fruit to help cleanse the palate. The soup or appetizer course would include water, although a rich cream soup or cream sauce for that course might be complemented by serving sherbet or flavored ices after the soup or appetizer to help cleanse the palate. The mid-Victorians were quite sensual people.
When the guests, host, and hostess came into the dining area, ladies were to remove their gloves when they were seated. Gentlemen were to remove their gloves just before seating themselves.
The household’s mistress would sit at the head of the table, while the master would be seated at the foot of the table. Guests would be seated, and thereby mixed, according to personality so as to keep the conversation flowing and lively. Married couples would almost never be seated next to each other. A dinner party was a social occasion, not so much a family affair.
The table would include soup bowls, bread plates, dinner plates, glasses for water and wine, silverware (often a multitude of specialized utensils beyond the simple fork-knife-spoon), knife rests, salt cellars, and napkins; a fish course would add a fish fork and fish plate to each place setting. After those dishes had been cleared from the table in preparation for dessert, dessert would require dessert plates, forks or spoons, finger glasses, and perhaps fruit plates and fruit knives as well. In the mid-Victorian age, most manuals advised that one never eat a fruit (other than a banana) in the hand; instead, when at table they were to place it on a plate, cut it with a knife, and eat it with a fork.
Finger glasses - not finger "bowls" - were an elegant accessory to a meal that normally appeared with the dessert course. The proper manner in which to make use of one is to dip your finger tips into the warm water of the finger glass, wet your napkin with your now-wet fingers, and use the damp portion of the napkin to touch to your face and mouth. It was a genteel complement to the meal's functional pieces. During this ablution, men were advised to pay particular attention to "facial hair residue", or the crumbs and other food particles that tend to gather and linger in mustaches, goatees, and beards. People should be reminded that the finger glass should not be considered an opportunity for public bathing, nor were they intended to provide a mouth wash - and ladies and gentlemen should never, ever rinse their mouths out and expectorate into the finger glasses or water glasses.
While at table, ladies and gentlemen conversant with the manuals of the day would have been mindful to always take what was offered them, even if you they did not want it. That included wine or other adult beverages. If offered a food that was not to their liking, they were expected to take a sampling. For those who chose not to partake of alcoholic beverages, good manners would require that they receive the glass offered with thanks, and merely - but at least - touch the glass to their lips. Among some, however, that act of social propriety with wine or other adult beverages might be negated and refused as a result of threats issued most often from the fairer sex among the Temperance League sorts who adopted the slogan, "Lips that touch alcohol shall never touch mine".
There is a commonly held notion that, following a formal meal, men would retire to one room in which they would smoke cigars and sip port while discussing manly matters; and the ladies would withdraw tot he drawing room where they would discuss feminine topics. That was not always, or even necessarily, the case. In this area, it is best - as it was then - to follow the lead of the host and hostess.
Serving Food Properly – An
Often Misunderstood Practice
Most people in the US think that all food should be served from the left and removed from the right. This is a misconception and stems from the fact that long ago, all food was served in large trays and each guest was served individually tableside from this large tray. If you still do this, then yes, by all means, your guests should be served from the left. But if you are like most people today and have the plates presented to your guests with the food already on it, nicely displayed and decorated, then it should be served from the right, and it is incorrect to serve it from the left. Below is detail of when to serve from the left and when to serve from the right.
From the Left
In general, the diner is approached from the left for three purposes and three purposes only:
1. To present platters of food from which the waiter will serve or the
diner will help himself.
2. To place side dishes such as vegetables or dinner rolls
3. To clear the side dishes that were placed from the left.
The reason most often given for this is that most people are right handed. So, for example, when a waiter must use his right hand to serve from a platter, it is least intrusive if he stands to the left. This way, the platter can be held safely away from the guest as the waiter leans forward to reach his/her plate. And, in the case of placing side dishes, it makes most sense to put them to the side that is less in focus, leaving the right side free for the main dish.
From the Right
These days it is nearly universal practice, even in very formal circumstances, for food to arrive already arranged on the plate, rather than to be presented on a platter. Preplated food (except for side dishes), as well as empty plates and clean utensils brought in preparation for upcoming courses, are always placed from the guest's right side. At the end of the course, these plates are also cleared from the right.
Wine and all other beverages are presented and poured from the right. This is a logical, since glasses are placed above and to the right of the guest's plate, and trying to pour from the left would force the server to reach in front of the guest.
Proper Serving Order
Ever wonder what is the correct order to serve your guests? The following should help you out.
At a formal restaurant or banquet, food should be presented to guests in the following order:
1. Guest of honor
2. Female guests
3. Male guests
After the guest of honor, first the women, then the men, are served in one of two ways:
Dishes can be presented to guests in the order of their seating, starting at the host's right
Dishes may be presented in order of seniority, starting with the most influential and proceeding down to the least prominent guest.
Clearly, using the latter system requires the hosts to furnish information regarding the order of service ahead of time. In restaurants, most groups include neither guest of honor nor hosts, so the meals will simply be served first to the women, then to the men.
Proper Clearing Order
Another misconception exists here. Should plates be cleared as soon as each guest is finished, or should you wait until the last guest in the table has finished that course? The rule is simple. You should wait until all guests have finished with a course before removing the first dish. Just as the ideal of service is to present each course to the entire party at once, it is best to clear the plates at the same time, too.
It has become common for waiters to remove plates as each guest finishes, in violation of this rule of serving etiquette, perhaps because it can be interpreted as extreme attentiveness on the part of the waiter. Nevertheless, the rule holds firm. The most elegant service calls for the removal of all dishes at the end of that course. There is nothing more irritating than to have a plate removed from under you while you are still chewing your food. Not only should you wait, but you should also give some time between courses. Food should come out as soon as one course is finished. The idea here is to make a nice evening of the affair, and multi-course meals should take hours.
Proper Use of Knife, Fork, and Spoon
The rules that specify how knife, fork, and spoon must be used have evolved along with the forms of the utensils themselves. In general, these rules are explicitly intended to prevent the utensils from appearing threatening. Consequently, flatware is held delicately, carefully balanced on the prescribed fingers and guided by the fingertips. To hold any utensil in a fist, or to manipulate it in such a way that is pointed at anyone would hint at potential danger, as would even setting it down in an inappropriate way.
How To Hold Eating Utensils
In general use, both spoon and fork are held horizontally by balancing them between the first knuckle of the middle finger and the tip of the index finger while the thumb steadies the handle. The knife is used with the tip of the index finger gently pressing out over the top of the blade to guide as you cut.
American Style (also known as the zig-zag style)
By American custom, which was brought about partly by the late introduction of the fork into the culture, all three utensils are intended for use primarily with the right hand, which is the more capable hand for most people. This leads to some complicated maneuvering when foods, such as meat, require the use of knife and fork to obtain a bite of manageable size. When this is the case, the fork is held in the left hand, turned so that the tines point downward, the better to hold the meat in place while the right hand operates the knife. After a bite-sized piece has been cut, the diner sets the knife down on the plate and transfers the fork to the right hand, so that it can be used to carry the newly cut morsel to the mouth. Emily Post calls this the "zig-zag" style.
Proper Use of Knife, Fork, and Spoon
The European, or "Continental," style of using knife and fork is somewhat more efficient, and its practice is also slightly used in the United States, where left-handed children are no longer forced to learn to wield a fork with their right hands. According to this method, the fork is held continuously in the left hand and used for eating. When food must be cut, the fork is used exactly as in the American style, except that once the bite has been separated from the whole, it is conveyed directly to the mouth on the downward-facing fork.
Regardless of which style is used to operate fork and knife, it is important never to cut more than one or two bites at one time.
Proper Use of Knife, Fork, and Spoon
Another significant difference between the American and the European styles of using knife and fork is the American insistence that even the most awkward foods (peas being a great example) must be captured by the unaided fork. In Europe it is permitted to use the knife or a small piece of bread to ease an item onto the fork.
There are numerous rules and prohibitions regarding the proper placement of flatware once they have been used. Essentially, used flatware must never be allowed to touch the surface of the table, where it might dirty the cloth. It is not proper to allow even the clean handle of a knife or fork to rest on the cloth while the other end lies on the plate. At the end of a course, a utensil must not be left in any dish that is not flat, the soup bowl, for example. All these items are usually presented with a plate underneath the bowl or cup, on which the utensil must be placed after use.
Reading the Placement of Flatware
The positioning of knife and fork when not in use acts as a sort of semaphore, allowing the diner to indicate the degree to which he intends to pause in eating. Flatware should always be placed on the plate during pauses between bites. If this is to be a very short time, there is no set pattern. For longer waits, perhaps caused by a diverting twist in the table conversation, the diner places the fork on the left and knife on the right, so that they cross over the center of the plate. The diner preparing to pass his plate for a second helping places the fork and knife parallel to each other at the right side of the plate, so that there is room for the food.
When the diner has finished, he signals this by setting the fork and knife parallel to each other, so they lie either horizontally across the center of the plate or are on the diagonal, with the handles pointing to the right. The cutting edge of the knife blade should face toward the diner (again, avoiding all possible aggressive implications), and the fork is best placed with the tines pointing up.
Proper Use of a Napkin
Using the napkin at formal occasions, as with much else associated with etiquette, should be a delicate affair. It is meant only to be dabbed at the lips and should not get dirty in the process. It might seem that the napkin is provided precisely so that it can help the diner clean up any mess that might occur during the course of the meal. Of course, this was its original use, (once the tablecloth itself ceased to be used as a napkin), and at an informal occasion such as a barbeque, it still performs this service. The more formal the event, the more ceremonial the presence of the napkin, because the purpose of nearly every aspect of table manners is to preserve cleanliness and proper appearance. If all other elements of the meal are going well, there will be no danger of smudging the linen.
As soon as you are seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, unfold it, and put it in your lap. At some very formal restaurants, the waiter may do this for the diners, but it is not inappropriate to place your own napkin in your lap, even when this is the case. If your napkin falls on the floor during a very formal event, do not retrieve it. You should be able to signal a member of the serving staff that you need a fresh one.
When you leave the table at the end of the meal, place your napkin loosely next to your plate. It should not be crumpled or twisted, which would reveal untidiness or nervousness, respectively; nor should it be folded, which might be seen as an implication that you think your hosts might reuse it without washing. The napkin must also not be left on the chair. There is a European superstition that a diner who leaves the napkin on his chair will never sit at that table again, but other, less supernatural, reasons are often cited for this, such as, it might seem as if you have an inappropriately dirty napkin to hide, or even that you are trying to run off with the table linens.
Foods That Are Proper To Eat With Your Fingers
The artichoke is actually the leaf-enclosed flower bud of a plant that is in the thistle family. It is usually served steamed with a dipping sauce. To eat it, pull a leaf off, dip it, scrape the flesh from the base of the leaf with your top teeth, and discard the leaf on the plate provided for that purpose. You may encounter a special plate made with a central niche for the artichoke, a niche for a small bowl of sauce, and a sort of moat all around on which the leaves are to be discarded. Continue eating the leaves until the prickly "choke" is revealed. This is the point when it is clear you have a species of thistle in front of you. Switch to fork and knife, first to remove the choke, then to eat the heart and base.
Asparagus may be eaten with the fingers as long as it is not covered with sauce or otherwise prepared so it is too mushy to pick up easily. Of course, it is also just fine to use a fork and knife to eat asparagus, even when it is perfectly al dente and sauce-free. But you might appreciate getting to act like a rebel without breaking any rules.
When bacon is cooked until it is very crisp, and there is no danger of getting the fingers wet with grease, it is okay to pick it up to eat it. This is an instance of practicality winning out over decorum, since trying to cut a crisp piece of bacon usually results in crushing it into shards that are quite difficult to round up onto a fork.
Bread must always be broken, never cut with a knife. Tear off a piece that is no bigger than a couple of bites worth and eat that before tearing off another. If butter is provided, and at formal events it customarily is not, butter the small piece just before eating it. There is an exception to this rule: if you are served a hot roll, it is permissible to tear, never cut, the whole roll lengthwise down the middle and place a pat of butter inside to melt.
It is never necessary to try to eat the cookie that comes as a garnish to your dessert with a spoon. Unless it has fallen so far into the chocolate sauce that there isn't a clean corner by which to pick it up.
Corn on the Cob
It is unlikely that it will be served at a formal event, but if you encounter corn on the cob, it may be picked up and eaten. The approved method of doing so is to butter one or two rows at a time and to eat across the cob cleanly.
Chips, French Fries, Fried Chicken, and Hamburgers
All these items, which could also probably be classified as "fast foods", simply will not be served in a formal setting. Most are intended to be eaten with the hands, although a particularly messy hamburger could be approached with fork and knife, and steak fries, the thick-cut, less crispy variety, may be best eaten with a fork.
Hors d'Oeuvre, Canapés, Crudités
Almost everything that is served at a cocktail party or during a pre-meal cocktail hour is intended to be eaten with the fingers. Some of these foods make appearances at regular meals as well, although not often at very formal ones. When they do, it is still permissible to use the fingers to eat them. This includes olives, pickles, nuts, deviled eggs, and chips.
The straightforward sandwich, that is, any sandwich that is not open-faced, not too tall to fit in the mouth, not saturated with dripping sauces or loaded with mushy fillings, is intended to be picked up and eaten. Otherwise use fork and knife.
Small Fruits and Berries on the Stem
If you are served strawberries with the hulls on, cherries with stems, or grapes in bunches, then it is okay to eat them with your fingers. Otherwise, as with all berries, the utensil of choice is a spoon. In the case of grapes, you may encounter a special scissors, to be used to cut off a small cluster from the bunch. If not, tear a portion from the whole, rather than plucking off single grapes, which leaves a cluster of unattractive bare stems on the serving platter.
The Formal Place Setting
There is general agreement among etiquette experts and writers of etiquette manuals that far too many people are not sure they can choose the proper flatware for the appropriate course of the meal. As all published text tells you, use the outermost flatware as necessary, one set for each course, and you will not make a mistake unless the table has been improperly set to start with.
For a formal place setting, you will receive exactly the flatware you will need, arranged in the correct order. Good etiquette requires you to assume that the host has correctly designated each piece of flatware to its task. As each course is finished, the corresponding flatware (used and unused) will be removed with the dish, leaving you ready for the next course to arrive. If the meal is to have more than three or four courses, common sense and aesthetics tell you not to place a slew of forks and knives at the sides of the charger/service plate, so on these occasions the proper new flatware will be brought to you with each course after all of the original settings have been used.
A service plate, also known as a charger plate is never eaten from. It will either be removed when the first course is brought, or the different courses will be set on top of it. A set table may contain any or all of the flatware below.
There is a small fork provided for eating oysters. It will be to your right. They say every rule has an exception and this is the one exception to the rule of placing forks to the left of the plate.
The soup spoon will be located to the right of the plate. It is usually the only spoon provided with the initial place setting.
Salad Fork and Knife
The salad fork may have a thicker tine at the left of the fork. For right handed people, which are the majority, this strengthens the fork for use in cutting large greens without having to use the salad knife.
Fish Fork and Knife
Both a special fork and a knife should be provided for fish. In the old days, the fish knife often had a silver blade, because fish, which is often served with lemon, reacts with the steel in old knife blades, causing an unpleasant taste. The invention of stainless steel in the 1920s took care of this problem. The fish fork is usually shorter than the meat fork.
Meat Fork and Knife
In the western hemisphere, the innermost fork and knife are provided for the meat course of the meal. In some countries where they eat the salad after the main course, the innermost fork and knife are for the salad and are always smaller than the meat fork and knife.
Dessert Spoon and Fork
The dessert spoon and/or fork may be set when you arrive, or may be brought in with the dessert. If they are part of the initial place setting, they would be placed horizontally north of the plate, parallel to each other, with the fork closest to the plate and the tines of the fork pointing right. The bowl of the spoon should point to the left.
When coffee and tea are served, a teaspoon will be provided and it is brought in on the saucer next to the cup.
If a bread plate is provided, as in the photo to the left, a butter knife will also be provided. Remember this is only for the butter as bread is never cut with that or any knife, but simply ripped apart.
In today's eclectic cuisine, your dinner may include one or several oriental courses. If so, chopsticks may be provided for your convenience, such as with nigiri sushi or rolls. Chopsticks may be used for more than one course.
|When serving, is the food presented from the left or right of the person, and from which side does one clear?|
|The general rule is to
serve from the left and clear from the right, except for beverages which are
served and cleared from the right. Common sense and the protocols of the
residence may sometimes supercede this guideline. Common sense reasons
include numerous courses with numerous wine glasses that create an obstacle
to smooth plate removal or the way a table is positioned for an event
causing inadequate access behind the diner.