Dinner Is Served: An Etiquette Guide

Dinner Is Served: An Etiquette Guide

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Eunice Meakin, former Extension Nutrition Specialist, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, M. Christine Price, Area Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development, Washington State University, Pullman, WA
A publication with illustrations all about the etiquette for informal and formal dinners. Topics include: responsibilities of host/hostess and guest, table settings and service, table linens, seating arrangements, setting the table, table decorations, and etiquette while eating.
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Whether you are preparing food for guests or for the family, a pleasant atmosphere helps good food taste better. Courtesies extended to family members and guests put everyone at ease. You have responsibilities as a guest and as a host or hostess. When practiced daily, courtesies require no special thought or effort. Courtesy is kindly consideration of others. Etiquette is graciousness that comes from the heart. It is not stiff formality.

Traditions reflect an earlier age. The dining traditions outlined here come from a time when the nuclear family with a male head of household and his wife served as host and hostess. If your family situation differs, adapt these guidelines to make them work for you.

As Host or Hostess

For an informal occasion call guests on the telephone or write an informal invitation. When the occasion is formal, invitations written on note cards are more usual. If response is critical, place “R.S.V.P.” in the lower left corner. (R.S.V.P. is French for: “Repondez S’il vous plait.” It means “Please reply.” Always let guests know what time they are expected. Give an indication of the type of occasion, a backyard picnic, family dinner, or reception for newlyweds, to allow the guest to dress appropriately

A courteous guest always lets the hostess know if he or she is able to accept the invitation. For an informal occasion this may be done by telephone or by writing a brief note. For a formal occasion, a written note following the form of the invitation is called for. Response to invitations should be made promptly, if possible within a day of when the invitation is received.

Greet guests with warmth. Be sincere. Help them feel you really enjoy having them in your home. Be sure that everyone meets everyone else, but not all at once. Introduce a stranger to a few people at one time. When making introductions, the person deserving respect is introduced to the other party. Pronounce each name clearly and distinctly. Sometimes a word about a common interest will help conversation, but don’t give a biographical sketch.

When introducing someone simply say things like, “Mother, this is Susie Brown,” “Mr. Black, John Brown,” “Mrs. Smith, may I present Mr. Jones?”

As a Guest

Be prompt. Know what time you are expected to arrive. If you

have questions about appropriate dress, ask the host or hostess when the invitation is received. When acknowledging an introduction, simply say “How do you do.” It may help you to remember a name if you repeat it. Listen carefully for names. It is embarrassing not to be able to call someone by name when you met them only a few minutes earlier.

Conversation takes two or more people. Don’t dominate the conversation. Suggest news or incidents that will be of interest to others. Avoid unpleasant or argumentative topics.

Table Settings and Table Service

The table setting you choose depends on the food to be served and the atmosphere you wish to create. The convenience and comfort of the diner is your primary consideration. Basic guidelines for setting a table exist, but no hard and fast rules. Customs change. Seldom do we see maids and butlers in American homes today. Family members usually prepare, serve, and enjoy the food. Informal service is more in accord with a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. However, a casual atmosphere is no excuse for carelessness. Table linens, china, silverware, and glassware are accumulated over time. Some are received as gifts. Some are selected by the family. This may result in a combination of many designs and patterns.

When you select table service, choose a design and pattern that will complement many home surroundings and types of food service. Most people do not own completely different sets of table service for different atmospheres.

When you select linens, china, glassware, or silverware, consider your likes and dislikes. Do you prefer the clean lines of contemporary designs, the spartan lines of modern designs, or the softer, more elaborate lines of traditional ones? Does your family prefer casual dining? Will there be times when you wish to serve food more formally? Consider the practical use of tableware. Are the shapes easy to handle? Can they be washed in the dishwasher? Are they easy to store?

Table Linens

The term linen describes any type of table cover. Table linens may be linen, cotton, straw, wood fiber, plastic, paper, jute, or synthetic fibers.

Background materials coordinate with the other elements of the table and suggest a mood. The fineness and natural sheen of linen damask makes it a pleasant background for fine bone china, delicate crystal, and highly polished silverware. Lace, hand-embroidered linen, organdy, and smooth finish cotton all



Copyright 2003 Washington State University

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