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Party Etiquette

Dinner Party Etiquette for the 21st Century!

By Rob Jackson

Dinner party etiquette, and indeed the subject of etiquette in general is wrapped up and disguised in layer upon layer of old school tradition!

I intend to dispel some of the mystique of dinner party etiquette. Here you will find easy, commonsense advice and tips to help you through any modern day formal or semi-formal dinner occasion.

Whether you happen to be hosting a party or attending as a guest, this information is for you. This is dinner party etiquette for the new millennium!

Dinner Party Etiquette - the Basics

  1. Even in today's fast and ever changing lifestyle, there is one very simple skill which if we don't already possess, can easily be learned that is guaranteed to get you through even the most trying social occasion - good manners! Yes, something as simple as politeness and good manners will make up ten fold for any lack of etiquette know-how.
  2. And if you are not sure if your manners are good enough, pick a role model and compare your behavior with them. This could be someone well known on screen or television, or perhaps a friend, colleague or business associate. Pay attention to how they behave around other people. Learn from them!
  3. Learn to be confident in yourself. Unease and nervousness in social occasions will undoubtedly make you feel uncomfortable and thus more prone to unnatural behavior. A good tip before any important occasion is to go somewhere quiet on your own and sit or preferably, lay down. Close you eyes - and relax by taking long, slow, deep breaths. Then in your imagination, see yourself at that social event looking calm and confident. Imagine yourself interacting comfortably with other guests - you are a total success! Feel the experience - really let it sink in. This type of mental programming will assist you tremendously.
  4. As host or dinner guest, never allow yourself to be persuaded into believing that the more you spend, the greater the impression you will make! That may be true in certain (frivolous!) circles of society, but it is generally not so, and it is certainly quite unnecessary. Spend only that which you can comfortably afford.

Dinner Party Etiquette - Myths and Unnecessary Trivia

What rules? There are no rules!!

  1. We hear a great deal about rules of etiquette, as though they were written in stone somewhere, or part of the Constitution! What is acceptable to one person or one society may be totally unacceptable to another. If you must live by rules, then develop your own list of rules! Rules of etiquette steeped in history and tradition have very little real relevance in today's society.
  2. Some folk firmly believe that unless you come from a background of substantial wealth and a particular upbringing, then you are automatically excluded from certain social choices. This is completely, and utterly, ridiculous! In my profession, I have performed the role of Butler at numerous very grand and formal social occasions for the wealthy and upper classes. And I do not exaggerate when I say that on occasions, the behavior of some of those attending was truly appalling. Social background, education and wealth are no guarantees of good manners and proper behavior!
  3. Often a dinner host or hostess believes that the more complex the menu, the more extravagant the occasion, the more elaborate the table setting ......the more he or she will impress the guests! That is far from the reality! A simple yet stylish, well executed dinner party delivered with thought, care and attention, will achieve a far greater result........for a lot less stress!
  4. Dress code? Just as there are no rules in modern day entertaining, there is dress code! However, if it's a formal affair and the host has clearly indicated a dress style (black tie, lounge suits, smart casual etc) then clearly, the dinner guest should respect that. As a host, however, do consider carefully whether such a stipulation is really necessary. The trend these days is very much towards casual dining and generally speaking, most dinner guests will be more relaxed in that situation.

Dinner Party Etiquette - Social Behavior

  1. If you are hosting a dinner party, use yourself as an example of what you consider to be acceptable social behavior. Most dinner guests will take their lead from you - and if they don't, they probably shouldn't be there and are unlikely to be invited again!
  2. The art of conversation! The successful dinner party host should always encourage lively and varied conversation with honest opinions being expressed and shared. However, proper dinner party etiquette should encourage avoiding sensitive issues or subjects that some guests may find uncomfortable. As a considerate dinner host, if such a conversation is under way, discreetly interject and carefully change the subject. Or if that fails, interrupt by introducing the next course!
  3. For both the dinner host and guest, excessive behavior of any sort is to be avoided. That should include excessive drinking, excessive talking (being overbearing!), excessive joke telling (particularly bad ones!!) and even excessive eating! A healthy appetite is to be enjoyed, over indulgence however, is not an endearing feature!
  4. To smoke, or not to smoke? Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the host or hostess to dictate on this. As smoking becomes less and less acceptable publicly, it is quite unacceptable to do so at a dinner table unless expressly invited to do so. It can be a sensitive issue. Personally, I would advise that the host makes another room available (perhaps where after dinner coffee will be served) for any guest wishing to smoke. Again, there are no strict rules on this subject - as dinner host, you must make this choice for your guests.

Dinner Party Etiquette - Place and Table Setting

  1. The days of making an impression by setting out enormous and extravagant place settings with numerous pieces of (sometimes confusing!) cutlery and glassware for an excessively long menu are thankfully, largely over. Keep the setting simple by putting in place only that which is required up to and including the main course. Cutlery for any following courses can acceptably be provided as the dinner progresses and concludes.
  2. Excessively large, elaborate table decorations and expensive, hall marked tableware are quite unnecessary (unless of course they are family heirlooms!). A simple yet thoughtfully styled table using the best that you own and can afford can be very affective. Don't be led into the trap of believing that your table must look like something off the front of a glossy home design magazine! I said earlier that there are no rules. Well in fact there is one golden rule...........keep it simple!
  3. If you are hosting a large dinner party, then a table plan and place cards are essential. For a smaller party however, avoid such unnecessary protocol. Simply, casually direct dinner guests to sit where you would prefer them to.

This is dinner party etiquette for the 21st century. All of the above is no more than plain, common sense! And it is also about behaving responsibly and not offensively!

As a final word, please remember that the true art of entertaining has one prime goal, that of pleasure! It should be enjoyed by host and guest alike. So at all costs, avoid being overly concerned about what is "right, and what is "wrong". Do what you feel is right and if you do happen to make the odd gaff - as long as you carry it off with grace, honesty and humility, you will happily survive the day! After all, it is only a dinner party!

Relax and enjoy!

Robert Jackson has worked all of his life in the hospitality business. Now at, he shares his views, ideas, tips and guidance on entertaining at home with style and ease!

Article Source: Rob Jackson.

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