Some hilarious, but still-appropriate vintage etiquette rules to improve your dinner parties.
Just how do you properly host a dinner party? There was a time when throwing a dinner party meant more than sending a mass text to your girlfriends, asking them to bring the wine and cheese. While casual is all well and good, who doesn’t want some serious dining etiquette once in awhile?
There are volumes of books written on the subject, but here are ten items of vintage etiquette that make for a perfect dinner party. Bon appetite!
1. Choose your guests wisely
“Be careful in selecting the guests for a dinner party. Remember that conversation will be the sole entertainment for several hours, and if your guests are not well chosen, your dinner, no matter how perfect or costly the viands, will prove a failure. The most agreeable dinners are those whose numbers will allow all the guests to join in a common conversation, and where the host has spirit and intelligence to take the lead, and start a new subject when the interest in the old one begins to flag.” – The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness, Florence Hartley, 1860
2. Don’t you dare invite people with a text message
Invitations to the company informal dinner are usually phoned or are given by word of mouth, and, of course, may be extended by informals or calling cards… The hostess always tenders the invitation. On occasion, for convenience’s sake, her husband may do so in her name, where close friends are concerned.” – Amy Vanderbilt, 1952
3. Never, ever break a dinner party engagement
“Dinner invitations must be answered immediately; engraved or written ones by return post, or those which were telephoned, by telephone and at once! Also, nothing but serious illness or death or an utterly unavoidable accident can excuse the breaking of a dinner engagement.” – Etiquette, Emily Post, 1922
4. Preparing your table is as important as your food
“The hostess should give as much time and thought to the preparation and arrangement of the table, as she does to the planning of the menu. She will find that her guests will appreciate novel lighting effects, surprising color tones, unusual serving innovations. And she will find that a correctly laid table will add surprisingly to the entire success of her dinner party.” – Today’s Etiquette Volume 2, Lillian Eichler, 1922
5. Before dinner starts, try your best to be interesting
“As the time just before dinner is very apt to be tiresome, you should bring forward all the armor against stupidity that you possess. Display upon tables arranged conveniently about the room, curiosities, handsome books, photographs, engravings, stereoscopes, medallions, any works of art you may own, and have the ottomans, sofas, and chairs so placed that your guests can move easily about the room, or rooms.” – The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness, Florence Hartley, 1860
6. Make simple food and make it well
“…that your dinner should be of the very best your means will afford; a good plain dinner without pretension, if your income is small, every delicacy of the culinary art, and the wine of the very best if you are blessed with much money. With these three necessities, the hostess may eat her dinner in comfort, secure in the knowledge that the verdict of her guests will be in her favour.” – Lady Constance Howard, 1895
7. Don’t ever test out a new dish for a dinner party
“Typical dinner-party dishes are invariably the temptation no less than the downfall of ambitious ignorance. Never let an inexperienced cook attempt a new dish for company, no matter how attractive her description of it may sound. Try it yourself, or when you are having family or most intimate friends who will understand if it turns out all wrong that it is a “trial” dish.” – Etiquette, Emily Post, 1922
8. Cook seasonally
The Season, naturally, must be considered in planning dinner for guests. Availability of produce and meats, too, is a factor, as is the seasonableness of the weather. Foods with rich sauces are less appetizing in hot weather. In winter a main dish en gelee would seem unsubstantial. – Amy Vanderbilt, 1952
9. Soup should be the first course and you should eat it properly
“Soup is always served for the first course, and it should be eaten with dessert spoons, and taken from the sides, not the tips of them, without any sounds of the lips, and not sucked into the mouth audibly from the ends of the spoon.” – Victorian cookbook, 1890
10. As a guest, don’t insult the food
“Men and women of cultivation rarely make comments on food except to praise. It is better to accept a little of each course on one’s place and eat a bit of it although one does not particularly care for it, than to refuse it entirely.” Today’s Etiquette Volume 2, Lillian Eichler, 1922
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