Dinner Is Served

In our first of a series of a new etiquette column, our very own Mr. Manners solves some behavioral conundrums that are a part of the daily good life. Dinner party do’s and don’ts are the focus here because even the wealthy need to be reminded once in a while.

By Jake Gaines

Dear Mr.Manners,

I am attending a formal dinner party and always forget where to place my napkin when I get up from the table or have finished my meal. Can you help me, a guy, whose lost in paradise, figure it out?

Regards, Dining For Dollars

Dear Dollar Signs, 

I understand your concern and it’s not uncommon. It’s just like remembering which way to lean when being served a piping hot dish of Chateaubriand for two. The server serves from the left and removes from the right. Now, about your question, it’s really quite simple. When you are leaving the table briefly, push your chair away from the table, rise and exit from the right side of the chair. Place your napkin on the chair seat and push your chair under the table. When you leave your place for good for the evening, lightly fold your napkin and place it on the left of your dessert plate or coffee cup and saucer. Then, get up and dance the night away until the wee small hours of the morning, which is the most magical time after a boisterous evening.

Dear Mr, Manners,  It’s time. Time for me to host my first dinner party honoring a longtime friend on getting a Fellowship at Oxford. Where is the guest of honor seated for the meal? I want this to be as right as what would be done in Buckingham Palace. This will also be a room of guests who have been around the block before.

Thanks a million, Bucky in New Braunfels

Dear Buckster Von Buckingham, Congratulations on making the effort to do what is best to make your guests their most comfortable, which is the epitome of being a great host. The guest of honor should always sits to the host’s right – even in a restaurant. The guest of honor should be facing out into the dining area of a restaurant and if the meal is shared in your home, that guest always faces the room. If you and your wife, or partner, are hosting together, and there are two guests, the guest of honor will be seated on the right of the most senior host. If one of the hosts is a woman, that means her. If you can, do serve some Beluga caviar with all the trimmings, to get the party started. It can dress up any occasion and is really quite affordable these days. 

Dear Mr. Manners,  It’s something so basic that I know I should have learned for good in second grade, yet I need to brush up on how to eat different courses with its specific tableware, and while we are at it, which way should my knife blade face when resting on my plate?

Greatly appreciated from Forgetful, Yet Willing To Do Right

Dear Forget-Me-Not, Some people can be overwhelmed at the plethora of knives, spoons and forks that are to be used with each course. I know I have beem. Here’s a tip that will save you many worries and much embarrassment:  work your way inside out. That’s it. Bien deux. WIth the first course, likely a soup, aspic or salad, the fork on your left and the knife and spoon on your left, accordingly what it is that you begin with, Then work your way in toward the inside of the plate. Sound easy? It is. Remember the dessert knife or fork is always at the top of your plate and please, because it is a Mr. Manners pet peeve, never turn your coffee cup upside down if you don’t want after-dinner coffee. Never. And, by the way, to answer your other question, the cutting edge of the blade always faces the center of the plate.

Dear Mr. Manners, I love to entertain, even though I don’t come from a background where I learned how to on a high level, so I turn to you. We have the income now, yet we just need some tips. For instance, how do I do seating so that a dinner party is memorable?

Kindly, Terasita in Tarrytown

Dear Tarry About,

I commend you on wanting to do your best, deciding to make entertaining fun and give your guests something to talk about. Budget should never be a factor. Serving Caesar salad and a decent white wine can work as well as filet and fancy trimmings.

First. beyond the décor and theme decisions, create your seating chart. Keep in mind that Job One is always to help make your guests as comfortable as possible. Plus, mix it up a bit. You’ll not want to seat two private equity bankers together, as they would spend the whole meal discussing money business and no one else would be included in the conversation. You know how they can be. Likewise, you won’t want to seat together two people of opposing political views if they’re prone to debate, especially in an election year like this one. Dinner conversation should be kept vibrant and upbeat, so your seating chart should reflect this. Don’t seat the two most low-key guests together and keep the most robust guests on opposite ends of the table to balance out the good humor. That’s where Mr. Manners likes to be, of course. Dinner guests should also do their best to keep the conversation flowing with their own intellectual prowess. If someone has an opposing view, it’s fine to offer your own, yet should an argument happen, it’s up to you as a good host – or guest – to cut it off at the pass and change the subject. Pass the foie gras, please.