Dinner Party Etiquette
- A menu that is well planned.
- A table with ironed linen, polished silver, and sparkling glassware.
- Well prepared food.
- A welcoming host.
Serve something you've served before.
Have a simple to prepare fallback if something goes wrong with a dish or course.
- Plan a well-balanced meal.
- Don't serve heavy or spicy dishes back to back.
- Balance rich dishes with a simple ones.
- Combine flavors intelligently.
- Don't serve an assortment of spicy food, or your guests' palates will never recover.
- Don't serve successive sweet dishes, such as duck basted with currant jelly, a fruit salad, and a raspberry trifle for dessert.
Consider the season.
Light foods, such as main-course salads and cold soups, are good choices in the summer.
Heavy foods, such as stews and roasts, in winter.
Make use of the season in another way by creating a menu using fresh seasonal foods.
- in autumn, butternut and acorn squash;
- in winter, Brussels sprouts;
- in spring, softshell crabs and asparagus;
- in summer fresh vegetables.
Consider the limitations of your kitchen.
One oven. If you have only one oven and plan to cook a roast, don't also plan dishes that must be cooked in the oven at the same time but under different temperatures and different cooking times. Instead, prepare a salad, saute squash, steam vegetables, or mash potatoes on the stove.
Limited space. Prepare dishes ahead of time and carefully plan your cooking times.
Large pots. You can find oversize stainless-steel pots at restaurant-supply stores, or you can rent them.
When pre-dinner drinks or cocktails are served, dinner should be planned for at least an hour later than the time noted on the invitation; 20 minutes later if drinks are not served, which allows late arrivals a moment of relaxation.
Two or three varieties of cocktails should be offered, with the bartender or host indicating what they are.
- soda, juices, and sparkling water
Guests should be given enough time to have a couple cocktails.
You may serve light snacks or hors d'oeuvres with drinks. They should have compatible flavors with the food to be served at dinner.
Delay dinner fifteen (15) minutes for a late guest. When the guest arrives, he or she is served the course that is being served at the time.
When dinner is ready to be served:
- Have the table prepared. The candles should be lit and water glasses filled.
- If possible have the first course on the plates before guests arrive at the table (but not if it is a hot dish).
- For a small group announce: "Dinner is ready; shall we go in?".
- For large groups, ask a few friends to help guide the guests to the dining room.
- If people linger with their drinks, suggest that they bring them to the dinner table.
- Lead the way to dinner.
order of service
The female guest of honor seated on the host's right is always served each dish first. If there is serving help, servers move around the table counterclockwise from her, serving the host last.
- When food is served directly from the kitchen, service is also counterclockwise from the female to the host's right, with the host served last.
- Plates are served from the guests' left side and removed, if possible, from the right.
Each dish is supplied with whatever silver is needed for serving it.
- A serving spoon and a large fork are put on most dishes, or the spoon alone is used if the dish is not hard to serve.
- With the spoon underneath, the fork is held with the prongs turned down to hold and balance the portion when both utensils are used.
At a more casual dinner party,
- let guests serve themselves or
- at least pass the potato and vegetable dishes around the table instead.
- If the salad has not been served on individual salad plates, then it can be served from a large salad bowl passed from guest to guest, with each guest in turn holding it for the person on his right.
Since any of these procedures can take time, the host or hostess should insist that guests start eating after three or four people have been served.
Except at formal dinners, bread and other condiments are usually passed around the table by the guests themselves.
Dishes are passed counterclockwise to the left and should be passed in the same direction.
A guest helps himself to the bread basket with his fingers and lays the roll or bread on his butter plate.
If there is a choice of two or three sauces or other condiments, placing them together in a divided dish, or on a small, easily managed tray, ensures that they are passed together and all guests are aware of the choices.
Dessert may be served already placed on individual dessert plates, or the hostess may serve it at the table.
When the table is cleared, dishes are removed two at a time, never stacked. Salt-and-pepper containers and condiment dishes are cleared also.
To accelerate the clearing process, it is quite correct to bring back dessert plates, or whatever is needed for the next course, when you return from the kitchen. Or have a friend serve the dessert while you finish clearing.
If you have a sideboard or serving table, use it as a halfway station between the dinner table and the kitchen. On it you can have plates for the next course and extra flatware.
Serving dishes, after being passed, can be left on the serving table on a warming tray or taken to the kitchen and kept warm on the stove.
When you see that guests are ready for another portion, get up, get the serving bowl and pass it around.
Salad plates as well as the plates used for the entree are removed before dessert is served.
Any salt-and-pepper shakers, unused flat silver, and dishes of nuts are taken off (on a serving tray, if you like).
It is safest to remove dishes two at a time. Never stack or scrape the dishes at the table.
As mentioned above, each time something is taken to the kitchen, you may bring back dessert plates, salad and salad plates, or whatever is needed.
If you wish, you may put a dessert plate at each place you have cleared as you return to take the next plate, or you may serve the dessert at the table.
To guests who offer to help you clear, just say, "No, thank you, really it is easier to do it myself"-or you may find that everyone is suddenly on his or her feet and in the kitchen. It's better to designate a serving and cleaning buddy in advance to help-a son or daughter, a close friend-but your other guests should be just that, guests, and remain at the table.
After-dinner coffee may be served either at the dining table or in another room to which the diners have moved.
The hostess pours the coffee right at the dining-room table or from a tray that has been carried to the living room or den.
If coffee is served at the table, bottles of after-dinner drinks may also be placed on the table.
If coffee is served in the living room, a tray containing bottles and glasses is placed on the coffee table.