When attending a hoity toity affair, the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself, your guest or your hostess by not knowing proper formal dinner etiquette. The normal table manner rules found here still apply, but, in a formal dinner setting, another layer of unspoken rules are laid down, which we have outlined for you below.
1) Make sure you dress appropriately for the setting. If the invitation did not state the dress code, contact the host for that information.
2) Never show up empty handed. You don’t need to spend a lot. A simple bouquet or bottle of wine will do nicely.
3) If you are bringing a guest that will not know many people at the dinner, be a good date and introduce them to everyone at the very beginning and don’t abandon them. It is ok for you to go to the bathroom separately, though. And don’t bring a guest unless the invitation specifically allows one.
4) Avoid broaching topics of conversation that may cause your fellow diners to be uncomfortable. The basic subjects to avoid are religion and politics, and, amongst close friends, there are always issues it is best not to discuss (like how fabulously happy your friend’s ex boyfriend is with his new wife and baby when that friend is sitting right next to you). The evening is about enjoying each others’ company; not creating a soap opera drama.
5) Don’t get drunk. Unless, that’s the point of the dinner party.
6) With your eating utensils, always remember, “Outside in”. The salad fork is on the outside and is smaller than the dinner fork. When in doubt, wait until everyone else at the table goes for their utensil and simply copy them!
7) When you are finished eating, cross your knife and fork across each other on your plate for the universal signal of, “I’m done!”
If you are hosting a formal dinner, the table presentation is almost as important as what you will be serving (as for what you should serve, keep it fairly generic to appeal to the masses). Formal dinner etiquette states that to the right of the plate lie the glasses, cup and saucer, seafood fork, knives and spoons. On the left of the plate lie the bread plate, the butter knife, salad plate, napkin and forks. Sometimes, when hosting a formal dinner party, it is fun to split couples up to encourage more social interaction. This can be easily done with placecards put on each plate identifying who should sit where. You might also want to tie a theme into your meal, dishware, and centerpiece setting to jazz up the setting. Just remember not to make the centerpiece so large the guests can’t see each other over it!
Photo: flickr/Luigi Crespo