Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Dinner Table


"Invitations to dinner must of course be answered to the lady. Cards of invitation to a dinner party are usually issued from three days to a fortnight previous to the entertainment; they should specify the hour of meeting. The proper number for such a party is somewhat in dispute: the happy medium may be considered ten.

As persons are necessarily introduced at a dinner party, only such persons as are known to each other, or who mutually desire to be acquainted should be invited, except under the circumstances alluded to in No. I.

Be punctual to the hour appointed.

When an invitation is accepted, let nothing but imperative necessity compel you to break the engagement, or at the last moment to send an excuse.

When your guests enter, present them to the others, and if any delay occur, let the conversation be light and on commonplace topics.

It is usual for the host or hostess to point out to the gentlemen the ladies they are to conduct to the dining-room, according to some real or imaginary standard (age or distinction). If persons of distinction are present, it is desirable that this should be done—of course giving them precedence.

The hostess follows her guests to the dining-room, the host having led the way with the lady of most consideration; the gentleman of the greatest distinction accompanies the hostess to the dining-room.

The hostess takes the head of the table: the seat of honor for a gentleman is at her right hand; for a lady, it is to the right of the host.

Ladies do not wear gloves during dinner.

In the best houses, the operation of carving is performed at the side tables; i. e. the principal joint, or joints, which require strength in the operation, are there carved.

Table napkins are indispensable at the dinner table; and silver forks are now met with in almost every respectable house. Steel forks, except for carving, are now seldom placed upon the dinner table.

It is usual to commence with soup, which never refuse; if you do not eat it, you can toy with it until it is followed by fish; of either of which never take more than once.

When all are seated, send a plate of soup to every one. Do not ask any one if they will be helped, as every one takes it, of course.

Always feed yourself with the fork; a knife is only used as a divider. Use a dessert spoon in eating tarts, puddings, curries, &c., &c.

If what you are eating before the dessert has any liquid, sop the bread and then raise it to the mouth. For articles of the dessert having liquid, a spoon is usually provided.

In helping sauce or vegetables, place them upon the side of the viands on the plate.

If anything is sent you from the host or hostess, do not offer it to any other person; and when helped do not wait until others are served, but at once arrange your napkin, and proceed to the important business of the moment.

In helping a joint, do not overload a person’s plate; and if game, or any particularly select dish is placed before you, serve it with discretion.

In helping, wherever a spoon can be conveniently used, it is preferable to the use of a knife and fork.

Fish must be helped with a fish slice: you may carve it more dexterously by taking a spoon in your left hand.

Soup must be eaten from the side, not the point of the spoon; and, in eating it, be careful not to make a noise, by strongly inhaling the breath: this habit is excessively vulgar; you cannot eat too quietly.

In helping soup, recollect that a little more than a ladle full is sufficient.

As hostess, do not press people to eat more than they appear inclined to take, nor force upon them any particular dish which you may think superexcellent. If any difficulty occurs in carving, you should feel no diffidence in requesting the gentleman to your right or left to assist you: it is a part of their duty and privilege.

Do not ask any one at the table to help you to anything, but apply to the servant.

The hostess should never send away her plate until all the guests have finished.
When you send your plate for anything, leave your knife and fork upon it. When you have done, place both together on one side of the plate.

Servants wait at table in white gloves, or have a fine napkin in their hand, which prevents its contact with your plate.

Finger-glasses come on with the dessert; wet a corner of your napkin and wipe your mouth; then immerse your fingers in the water and dry them with the napkin.

As hostess, you will give the signal for retiring by rising from the table. The time for so doing varies in different companies, and must be left to your discretion.

Should your servants break anything while you are at table, do not appear to notice it. If they betray stupidity or awkwardness, avoid reprimanding them publicly, as it only draws attention to their errors, and adds to their embarrassment.

During the week which follows the entertainment, each of the guests owes a visit to the entertainer. Converse about the dinner, the pleasure you have enjoyed, and of the persons whom you have met there.

The mistress of the house should never appear to pride herself regarding what is on her table, nor confuse herself with apologies for the bad cheer which she may offer you; it is much better for her to observe silence in this respect, and leave it to her guests to pronounce eulogiums on the dinner.

Ladies should not leave the table before the end of the entertainment, unless from urgent necessity. If it is a married lady, she requests someone to accompany her; if unmarried, she goes with her mother."

From True Politeness; a Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies, 1847. At Project Gutenberg.

8 comments:

JenerEight said...

I was confused at first by the use of the word "Helping" - but then I realised that it does still appear in current language in the phrase "second helpings" ie more of the same dish served at a meal. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

my SIL valiantly teaches etiquette at the junior high, and debate. as part of the etiquette class, the students host and serve a dinner, where some are the role of the servants - excellent career training for the sort of wait-table jobs you can get at that age. i remember her surprise and pleasure when some students came back and told her what great training that was. some of the instructions were very like your post.
a sharon

Lydia said...

A very sick and twisted part of me wishes dinner parties like this still happened somewhat regularly. I think I watch Jeeves & Wooster too often.

Sisiggy said...

See-- the problem lies, not with the actual night. It would be fun to do this for one night. It's the ten visits from the ten guests that are "owed the entertainer" the week after that might make you think twice about wanting to return to these "good ol' days."

Packrat said...

Since I have a teeny, tiny kitchen and no hired help, I don't want to do this - ever. You may come over and partake of whatever we happen to be having. I may ask you to help me cook, prepare, serve, set. I may ask you to help wash the dishes or put away food. Or, maybe we'll just sit and talk and worry about the mess in the morning. I will not expect a visit during the week nor a hand written thank you. You may visit. You may call. But, I won't expect it of you. :)

PS: The TV will not be on.

The Blushing Hostess said...

Some of it remains in corners of this world, gratefully.

sewducky said...

I remember having to learn this, and I still have to attend one of these once in a while. The visit after is not necessary for the most part, but a thank you note is as well as a hostess gift the night of. Obviously there are some modifications (servants is the most notable one).

I always thought this whole thing was pretty normal.

GDad said...

Not quite what you see at IHOP.