There is nothing better than being invited to enjoy a lovely meal that you have not cooked yourself. Provided, of course, the meal tastes good. The art of fine dining presented at a dinner party is making a big comeback, however, it has left a few people a little lost as to what to do about being invited.
My first recommendation is that you accept the invitation – enthusiastically. Someone values you enough to want to share not only conversation, but food as well. As human beings we’ve long gathered around food to bond and enjoy friendship.
The question most people ask, however, is what exactly is the best way to behave at a dinner party? Especially a fancy one. It’s been nearly a century since Emily Post published her book, “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home”, considered to be the etiquette bible of her day.
A lot has changed since 1922, and Ms Post never had to consider the question of whether or not the dinner party should be instagrammed or not (it can be – just make sure the host is okay with it and you don’t spend the entire night on your phone instead of interacting with others). We may have seen a lot of changes in the 21st century, but when it comes to dinner parties, however, there are still a few steadfast rules you can follow today.
Be on time. Being fashionably late is no longer fashionable. Being on time shows that you respect your hosts and value their time and their invitation. On the flipside, though, it’s considered rude to turn up early. Don’t even think of ringing the doorbell. The hard and fast rule is on time or slightly late. If you realise you may not make it in time, it’s courteous to advise your hosts that you are running behind schedule.
Bring a gift. It’s customary – and good manners – to bring a small gift for your host as a ‘thank you’. This could be a bunch of flowers, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates. A small gift shows your appreciation for the effort the hosts have made.
Plus one. If you’ve been invited, but would like to bring another guest along, make sure you clear it with your hosts first. They need to know so that they are able to make the necessary catering and seating arrangements. It is never a good idea to simply turn up with someone extra without notifying the hosts first.
Add value. You’ve been invited for a reason, so add some value to the dinner party. Engage with other guests, take part in conversation and treat other guests and the hosts with respect.
Don’t complain about the food. Yes, this may be difficult to do especially if the food doesn’t live up to expectations. However, it is not good etiquette to complain, but to rather appreciate the effort someone has made for you.
- Gratitude. Of course, you should thank your hosts when you leave. Be sure to thank the host for the dinner the next day. Send a note, or flowers – especially if you forgot to bring a small gift – expressing your gratitude for the meal and the trouble it took to prepare it.
Of course, there are a few extra nuances to all this. The dinner doesn’t actually officially begin until the host unfolds their napkin and eating begins when the host takes their first bite. And when it comes to napkins, it’s best if it’s unfolded while on your lap and not flapped around flamboyantly.
While the difference between wine glasses is quite evident, it can get a little confusing when it comes to which cutlery to use – especially if you find yourself faced with a rather wide selection. The rule of thumb here is to work from the outside in, using the outermost utensils for the first course and so on.
It is customary to linger for at least an hour after dinner and considered rude if you leave straight after you’ve eaten. That said, you don’t want to overstay your welcome either, so be aware of clues that it’s time to leave. Hosts will generally give subtle signs that it’s time for the evening to wind down. If they offer one last drink or close the bar (if they have one) and if they start cleaning up you know for sure that they are ready to call an end to the night.
Etiquette, ultimately, is common sense and kindness combined. Your hosts have gone out of their way to create a special evening where both wine and conversation flow. Your job, as a guest, is to behave with respect and courtesy. And enjoy the food, of course.
Written by: Trevor Boyd, Executive Chef at Michelangelo Hotel, Sandton
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