Sunday, September 13, 2015

Gilded Age Etiquette of Informal Dinners

"No matter how uninteresting one's partner may be, one must be thoughtful and entertaining..."

The informal dinner, daily served in thousands of refined American homes, is a much less pretentious affair than the name "dinner" technically implies. In most cases the service is but partially à la Russe, most courses, and all the entires, being set on the table, the serving and " helping " being done by some member of the family; the presence of a waitress being sometimes dispensed with except at transition points ; as, when the table is cleared before the dessert. This formality is the most decided dinner feature of the meal,which throughout its progress has been conducted more like a luncheon. Yet, in all essential points of mannerliness, the family dinner is governed by the same rules that control the formal banquet.

It is perhaps needless to remark that the dinner à la Russe  in its perfection cannot be carried out without a number of competent servants. These may be hired when some special occasion warrants extra preparations for due formality. But for customary ''entertaining," those who "live quietly," with possibly but one domestic to assist with the dinner, will show good sense in not attempting anything more imposing than they are able to compass successfully. The "family dinner" has a dignity of its own when in keeping with all the conditions; and though its menu may be simple, its service unpretentious, it may be the gracious exponent of a hospitality "fit for a king."

At the informal dinner it is customary to seat the guests in the order in which they enter the dining-room, without assigning any place of distinction; all the places at table being held of equal honor —comfort and convenience being the things chiefly considered.
From "Etiquette: An Answer to the Riddle When? Where? How??" By Agnes H. Morton

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