Formal Dinner Etiquette - How to Host a Dinner Party

As has already been remarked, we ask our "dear Five Hundred" to our balls and receptions, reserving our dinner invitations for those whom we particularly wish to compliment. The dinner we provide is by no means of the comfortable "pot-Iuck" kind. It is, in society, an elaborate and expensive form of entertainment. It requires delicacies for the palate, flowers and bonbons and other decorations for the table, and ceremonious serving. The finest of linen, cut glass and silver adorn it, and the repast may easily be prolonged through two or more hours. Such a dinner is served in courses; begins with an appetizer, extends through soup, fish, joint, salad and dessert courses at the very least, and ends with coffee, served at the table or in some other apartment--the library or drawing room--where the guests converse over their cups.
Such a meal cannot be prepared or served without competent service in the kitchen and dining-room. The cook must know how to prepare every dish in the best manner, and have it ready at the right moment; the waiter must be experienced and noiseless. The hostess must have such perfect confidence that everything will progress in perfect and proper order that she can give her full attention to the guests,

Serving the Dinner
Let us suppose a dinner for eight people is to be served. The ceremonious dinner, the world over, is served a la Russe, that is, according to the Russian fashion. By this fashion nothing but the covers--a term which includes the china, silver and glass at each plate--flowers, dishes of bonbons, salted nuts and olives, occasionally small cakes, are on the table when the guests are seated,
The hostess has inspected the table, after it is laid, seeing that everything is correct, Silver must have had a fresh polish, the cut glass must shine and sparkle, There must be plenty of light, yet no glare; to prevent this, ground glass globes on the electric lights are preferred. The hostess herself will arrange the place cards, separating married people, and in so far as possible so seating her guests that each may be pleased with his or her neighbor. The centerpiece is of flowers; for this never choose a strongly scented flower like hyacinths or narcissi. The heat, the odor of the food, combined with the scent of the flowers, may induce lethargy, so that the dinner may be "garnished with stupidity."
There must be a service plate at each place. These are to be as handsome as you can afford. At the side of this is laid the dinner napkin, within which a roll is folded. The guest removes the napkin, unfolding it for use. The waitress removes the service plate and puts down another on which is a grapefruit, vermouth, or other kind of cock¬tail. This plate and glass removed, there comes another plate, and little dishes of caviarre are passed. These plates also disappear, others are substituted, and soup is served. After the soup is eaten the soup plates are removed, leaving the other plates, and celery and radishes and salted nuts and olives are passed, not necessarily all, but at least two, say celery and olives; nuts and radishes. If the little individual almond dishes are used, of course the salted nuts will not be passed.
These plates are again changed when the fish is served, the rule being that at no time during the dinner must a guest be without a plate before him until the table is cleared for dessert. Moreover, the waitress, in placing plates that have a monogram or heraldic device for decoration, must so place the plate before each guest that the design faces him. In taking up the plates, one is taken up with the right hand while with the left the waitress replaces it with another; one plate is never placed upon another.
The fish, meat, and other courses are served from the pantry, the portions being arranged for convenience in helping, and garnished with parsley or lemon. The dish is passed first to the guest seated at the host's right hand, next to the one on the left, and afterwards in regular rotation, irrespective of sex. All service is at the left; this leaves the guest's right hand in position to help himself. The waitress holds the dish upon a folded napkin on the flat of her hand, and low down. Vegetables are passed in the same fashion.
You will see how much depends upon having well trained ser¬vants at such a dinner. The service must be without haste, yet with¬out delay; there must be no clatter of china and silver, no awkward¬ness in removing plates, etc. The waitress must be quick to refill glasses or supply whatever is needed.

The Help Required
A dinner to twelve or fourteen guests can¬not be served properly without two or three waiters--usually men at such large dinners--and additional help in the kitchen. So much thought and anxiety are required for the success of a home dinner party that it is small wonder many prefer to add a little to the expense, in cities at least, and order a dinner for the requisite number at hotel or club, where the responsibility rests with the management after the details of the menu are settled. Such a dinner is less of a compliment to one's guests than the entertainment at one's own home, however; and why should one possess stores of beautiful and expensive furnishings without their use?
One dinner generally means another a short time afterwards, since in selecting the small number who can be entertained one must necessarily leave out others who have equal claims to hospitality and whose sense of being slighted must be appeased. And if the hostess is socially prominent she may find herself embarked on a course of entertainments that will tax her time and her funds to a considerable degree.
Invitations to a dinner must be sent at least two weeks in advance. As has already been stated, an immediate and unconditional acceptance or regret is demanded.

Precedence
At these formal dinners, the question of precedence engages the hostess's attention, If all the guests are about on equal terms, the host takes out the oldest or most prominent lady, seating her at his right. The other, guests are paired off according to the hostess's ideas of social propriety or congeniality. No man ever takes his wife in to dinner. The place of honor for men is at the hostess's right hand. Dinner cards, legibly written, are placed on the napkins. The men draw out the chairs and seat the ladies, then seat themselves. Generally, at a small dinner, the hostess tells each man before leaving the drawing room, whom he is to take out: at large functions, he finds in the men's cloak room an envelope addressed to him containing the lady's name. He seeks out his partner and gives her his arm when dinner is announced.

Be Prompt
It is almost unpardonable for a guest to be late at a dinner. The arrival should be within fifteen minutes of the time named on the invitation, never earlier. The hostess must be ready in ample time, and must appear calm and untroubled. Nervousness be¬speaks the novice in entertaining. Generally, however, even if the affair passes off without any contretemps she is ready to say "Thank heaven it's over!"
Now this is not to say that one may not serve a good and very enjoyable dinner or luncheon to a few friends, without as much trouble and expense as are here indicated. This is simply to state how such meals are served, formally and informally. Knowing the proper procedure one may adopt as much or as little as her circumstances and style of living warrant.

 THE INFORMAL DINNER

The informal dinner resembles the formal, save that fewer courses are served, the menu is simpler, and the decorations less elaborate. The serving is on the same order--a la Russe. If one is fortunate enough to have a maid who combines the experience of a waitress with the qualities of a good cook, by ingenious planning it is possible to serve six persons acceptably in the approved fashion.
But there are thousands of households in which but one maid is kept, and in this case what may be termed "the family dinner" will be found better, because there will be no endeavor to do more than one can accomplish with the means at her command. Better by far serve well and simply than attempt something more elaborate and fall short in it.

Family Dinners
At the family dinner, the grape fruit or oyster cocktail, or the raw oysters which form the first course, is on the table when the guests are seated. The grape fruit may be served in glasses, like the cocktail. If oysters are served, the maid passes the condiments. She then removes these plates, replacing them with ser¬vice plates as she does so, and brings in the soup. This the hostess serves and the maid carries about. While this is being eaten--celery or olives being passed after the guests are helped--the maid slips out in the kitchen to dish up the vegetables unless these are already in the warmer. Returning, she removes the soup-plates, never taking more than two at a time. She then brings on the joint or roast, placing it before the host, who proceeds to serve it. (If oysters are served first, a fish course is generally omitted; indeed, so many courses tax one's resources too severely.) The maid carries about the dinner plates, removing the service plate with the right hand and placing the other with the left. She then passes the vegetables. The serving begins with the lady at the host's right hand. If the piece de resistance is a turkey, white and dark meat and a portion of dressing are placed on each plate; gravy and the vegetables, then cranberry or currant jelly, are passed. Here the waitress should refill water glasses.
The plates are then removed for the salad course, and the table cleared. This should be ready on the plates, and kept where it will be perfectly cold. While this is being brought on, the hostess will start dishes of salted nuts and bonbons down the table, the guests passing them. After the salad the plates are removed and the dessert brought in. This may be a mould of ice cream or a pudding; pie is seldom or never served. This the host or hostess serves. The coffee service may be brought in, and the hostess pours it; little cakes or wafers, or mints, are usually passed with it; then the maid is excused from further service. The hostess always gives the signal for leaving the table by a slight nod toward the lady on her husband's right, and rising.

Requirements
A dinner of this kind requires a serving-table or sideboard where china and silver may be in readiness. Such an aid is even more indispensable where the hostess serves the meal herself. Many very enjoyable "company dinners" are served where the hostess is also the cook, and she and her husband serve. If one has daughters they should be taught how to serve, and may rise from the table to change plates and bring in courses with perfect propriety. In such case, the soup is served at the table and, as it is awkward to pass without spilling, some one should carry it about if more than two or three guests are present. The roast or fowl is carved by the host; vegetables are on the table and are passed from hand to hand. After this course the hostess, or the daughter delegated to do this, clears the table and brings in the salad. The dessert follows. Coffee is occasionally served with the meat course, but it is better to bring it on with the dessert. Cups, etc., should be in readiness on the side table, to be transferred to the table. There should be an apparent absence of formality at such a meal, though everything should progress in regular order, systematically, quietly, without orders or clash. Above all things, see that everything likely to be wanted is at hand; nothing looks worse than someone jumping up to get some article that has been forgotten. If dishes, spoons or forks must be washed during the progress of the meal, have warm water ready in the kitchen, wash them quickly, and wipe them out of cold water; then their heat will not betray your limited resources.

Setting the Table
The "best cloth" and napkins are brought out for the dinner party. The cloth must be laid with mathematical exactness, its center exactly on the center of the table. The centerpiece, almost invariably of flowers, only occasionally of fruit, is also exactly placed. This should be low; it is awkward not to be able to see one's vis-a-vis, and the hostess should be able to command an uninterrupted view of her table, so that if the waitress omits any service she may by a glance direct her to supply it. The arrangement should be graceful and pretty, and, in summer, garden flowers may be used with propriety. The flowers give the keynote of the color scheme; dinner cards, bonbons, ices and creams and the decorations of the small cakes usually served with the dessert, conform to it. Candelabra are less used than at one time, but are by no means "out." A handsome silver candelabra may be used as a centerpiece, its base banked in flowers. On a square or oblong table, candlesticks with shades give a touch of color that relieves the whiteness of napery and glass.
There is a plate--your handsomest--at each place; a napkin squarely folded and lying flat; a row of forks at the left, oyster fork outside, then fish fork, dinner and salad fork, four in all, laid in the order in which they will be used. Knives are at the right of the napkin, always two, a large and a small one. Fashion has re-introduced the steel-bladed knife for the meat course; it is surprising to notice how much more tender meat is than it used to be when we tried to cut it with the silver knives. The soup-spoon is laid at the top of the plate. The salad fork may be brought in with the salad if preferred, spoons with the dessert and coffee. Grape fruit is eaten with an orange spoon, laid at the right. No "fancy folding" of napkins is permissible. The glasses stand at the top of the plate, a little to the right. Small cut glass or fancy dishes containing the relishes are placed near the corners of the table within the circle of plates if the table is square; if it is round they are so arranged so as to balance each other in the form of a square. There may be two of nuts and two of stuffed olives or of bonbons. Individual salt cellars are at the top of the plate; a roll is folded in the napkin, sometimes laid on the bread-and-butter plate, which is placed at the left. Such rolls should be small and well-baked. At formal dinners no butter is served, and the plates are omitted. Finger bowls are brought in after the ices or the pudding. They are on a small plate on which is a doily, and the fruit knife, if to be used, is on the plate. The guest lays bowl and doily at his right, lifting the two together, the plate being for fruit, if any is served. If no fruit, the bowl is left on the plate.



MANNERS AND SOCIAL CUSTOMS FOR OUR GREAT MIDDLE CLASS
AS WELL AS OUR BEST SOCIETY
Correspondence, Cards and Introductions, Dress for Different Occasions, Weddings, Christenings, Funerals, Etc.,
Social Functions, Dinners, Luncheons.
Gifts, "Showers," Calls, and Hundreds of Other Essential Subjects so Vital to Culture and Refinement of Men, Women, School-Girls and Boys at Home and in Public.
By MRS. ELIZABETH JOHNSTONE

Excerpt from the book:
MOTHER'S'  REMEDIES
Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada.
By DR. T. J. RITTER
PUBLISHED BY G.H. FOOTE  PUB. CO. DETROIT MICH 1921
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