Monday, May 4, 2020

Country House Banquet Etiquette

Serving pieces from French flatware catalog for ‘Service À la Russe’ — “‘À la Russe’ is the proper manner to serve large and formal luncheons; in more intimate gatherings the dishes are placed upon the table, the host and hostess carving and helping the principal dishes. Both ways are good. The simplest way is to place the joints upon the ‘buffet’ or side-table, while the entries, soup, game, fish, poultry, vegetables, sweets and fruit occupy the table. Serviettes are ‘de rigueur;’ no hostess should, even from economy or any other reason, ever deny her guests these absolute necessities... Fish knives and forks would be unnecessary, and a ‘mayonnaise’ or entree of fish would be eaten with the usual large dinner fork. Small knives are used for butter and cheese, which, with toast and biscuits and small salad, should be offered to the guests at the end of the repast.” — photo source, Etiquipedia library


Banquet is the more correct term when it is a question of public luncheons, given for instance at the opening of a bridge, laying the foundation stone of a church, opening an hospital, or any semi-official occasion; to these, formal invitations would be issued, and perhaps a month’s notice would be given.

The invitations would be as follows:—

The Mayor and Corporation of  _________,
request the honour of
Mr and Mrs G. Brown’s
Company at a Banquet at the Town Hall at D.,
on the 4th of May, at 2 o'clock,
to celebrate the Opening of D. Bridge.
R. S. V. P.

Etiquette would be strictly observed on such an occasion, as to precedence, and an immediate answer would be sent by those invited of acceptance or the contrary.

At lawn tennis, archery and croquet parties, large luncheons are usually given, which fact should be mentioned on the card of invitation.

In London, in houses where ‘carte blanche’ to come and go is not the order of the day, a week’s verbal or written invitation is generally considered long enough.

Luncheon is a form of hospitality that commends itself much to the minds of most hostesses, as at very little expense, and still less trouble (as a rule), it enables them to receive and show hospitality to a large number of friends and acquaintances, to whom they might otherwise find it impossible to show civility.

It is a meal to which elderly ladies, ‘country cousins’ coming to town for a few days’ shopping, single ladies, and very young ones can be invited; and when a fair proportion of gentlemen are present, so much the better. People can be asked to lunch that for hundreds of reasons it might be impossible, inconvenient, or undesirable, to invite to dinner.

Where a hostess gives ‘carte blanche’ to her friends to come to luncheon whenever they please without any further invitation, gentlemen, as a rule, are more disposed to accept the hospitality than ladies, the former being more diffident of accepting this informal kind of invitation.

At a formal luncheon, where the guests are asked by an invitation card or letter, the hostess would ask equal numbers of ladies and gentlemen, as it would be of material importance that such should be the case, for ladies are generally in the majority when the invitation is a permanent one, and, therefore, gentlemen when invited in the same way should make a point of going without standing upon ceremony. No hostess but what welcomes the advent of a gentleman at lunch, whether she knows he is coming or not, as they are acquisitions then, and would be ready to see that the ladies have what good things they wish. They can take any vacant place; no particular politeness is necessary with them.

When a lady arrives the hostess must show her a certain amount of attention; she must indicate a seat to her at the table, and tell one of the gentlemen present to offer her the different dishes, wine, etc..., and make himself agreeable and conversational while luncheon lasts.

Two o'clock is the usual hour in London during the summer, one-thirty in the winter. In the country, one o’clock is the time, as a rule, to allow of guests riding, driving, etc..., before their five-o’clock tea.

When the invitation is a formal one, although not absolutely imperative, good taste requires that the guests arrive within a quarter of an hour of the hour specified. It will be a breach of etiquette to be half-an hour late. No hostess should wait for any guest after a quarter of an hour has elapsed.

In some houses, both London and the country, where the daughters are old enough to do so, they dine at lunch with their governess, whether strangers are present or not, but it is a mistake that they should do so.

The presence of girls not yet out is embarrassing to all the guests present; topics of conversation that may be discussed by older persons must either be eschewed when they are present, or else indulged in just the same, which is very injurious to young girls and children. Everyone pities the governess, who, in her turn, looks forward to these ordeals with dread, and wishes herself anywhere but where she is; in a word, silence, shyness, general discomfort is the order of the entertainment, until the order for the children’s release comes, and leaves their elders free to enjoy gossip, scandal, etc..., to their heart’s content.

When a lady or gentleman arrives at a house for lunch without previously making known their intention of so doing to the hostess, and simply acting on the general invitation he or she has received, they would inquire of the servant whether their hostess was ‘at home’ and visible; and they would wait until the servant had ascertained; but where previously invited, this would not be necessary, the hostess having already told her servant the number of guests she expected. The guest, on the door being opened, would walk in, merely observing, ‘Her Ladyship expects me to-day.’

The servant then precedes the guest to the drawing-room, the usual place of assembling, if he arrives before the specified hour for luncheon; if that time has passed, then the guest is conducted direct to the dining-room, where the hostess would shake hands with him or her, and make a general introduction to those already present, introducing him thus,—

‘Lord D., Lady E., Mrs B., and Miss W.,’ thus saving three distinct and formal introductions, and so setting all the guests at their ease at once.

Luncheon should be punctual, a quarter of an hour being the outside grace allowed between the assembling of the guests and the announcement of luncheon. Those who do not arrive in that time, will have to submit to the ordeal of walking into lunch, enduring the stare of many pairs of inquisitive eyes. Hence punctuality is a virtue to be cultivated, particularly when the person invited suffers from shyness, that bugbear of many.

The butler announces ‘Luncheon is ready, My Lady,’ or ‘Luncheon is on the table,’ when the servant is a parlour-maid, as this is a simpler way than the preceding method.

On this announcement being made, the hostess would turn to the lady of highest rank present, and observe, ‘Shall we go downstairs? Luncheon is quite ready.’

The lady so addressed, with her host, if he was present, would walk to the door, talking to the host as she went downstairs; the other ladies would follow her, without regard to precedency, except when they were all strangers to each other; the ladies having all left the room, the hostess would follow, and the gentlemen in their turn would follow her.

It would be a great breach of etiquette for ladies and gentlemen to go down to luncheon arm-in-arm,—that is only done at dinner parties, or when escorting a lady to supper.

The ladies go down by themselves, sometimes two or three in a row, the gentlemen follow them in like manner; but on arriving in the dining-room, each gentleman takes a seat by a lady’s side, or between two ladies.

It is perfectly optional whether the host (when there is one) is present at lunch or not; when he means to be present, he either comes into the drawing-room, and shakes hands with his guests before luncheon is announced, the hostess introducing him to those of the guests with whom he is not already acquainted. Thus, ‘My brother,’ or ‘My husband,’ ‘Lady M.,’ or he joins them after they have sat down to luncheon, the reason for this being that gentlemen are often out at lunch time, and guests not being sent in in couples as they are at dinner, his presence is not a necessity; he may appear or stay away as he feels disposed. Of course, when the luncheon is a formal affair, his presence is imperative.

The hostess sits at the top, the host at the bottom of the table, as at dinner; the guests where they please, although, as a general rule, the lady of highest rank sits next to the host, and the hostess has the gentleman of highest position next to her.

A polite excuse would be made by the guest who arrives after the others are assembled, when he had made his way up the room to the hostess, and shaken hands with her. If the late guest were a lady, the hostess would rise and advance to meet and welcome her; if a gentleman, she would remain seated, simply shaking hands cordially with him.

The wine at luncheon is decanted, the decanters being placed upon the table; the butler fills the guests’ glasses, and then replaces the decanters; when the servants do not remain all luncheon time, the guests help themselves.

À la Russe’ is the proper manner to serve large and formal luncheons; in more intimate gatherings the dishes are placed upon the table, the host and hostess carving and helping the principal dishes. Both ways are good.

The simplest way is to place the joints upon the ‘buffet’ or side-table, while the entries, soup, game, fish, poultry, vegetables, sweets and fruit occupy the table.

Serviettes are ‘de rigueur;’ no hostess should, even from economy or any other reason, ever deny her guests these absolute necessities.

The bread is placed in the serviette, and the usual cover for each person consists of three knives, two large and one small, two large and one small fork, a dessert spoon, with a table spoon, when soup is served; a tumbler and two glasses—one for sherry, the other for claret. When hock is drunk, some people use regular hock glasses, others drink it in claret glasses.

Fish knives and forks would be unnecessary, and a ‘mayonnaise’ or entree of fish would be eaten with the usual large dinner fork. Small knives are used for butter and cheese, which, with toast and biscuits and small salad, should be offered to the guests at the end of the repast.

For half-an-hour to an hour is the usual time for luncheon. Much depends upon the number of the guests. The host and hostess would do their best to make the conversation general, so that no guest should feel neglected or alone.

It is equally fashionable for the servants to remain in the room during lunch, or for only a part of the time. In large houses, where a great deal of state and ceremony is observed, the former is usually the case; but the most agreeable is for the servants to disappear when the guests have been helped to the various joints, vegetables, and wine, and then the rest of the dishes are presented to the guests by the gentlemen assembled, and the sweets, etc..., are helped by the host and hostess. When this is not the case, as at a formal dinner party, the servants hand round each dish in succession.

The host, or gentleman nearest the door, opens it for the ladies to pass out, which they do much in the way in which they entered it, the hostess being last. The hostess gives the signal by attracting, with a smile or word—rising as she does so—the attention of the lady present of highest rank.

The gentlemen follow the ladies when there is no host present; when there is, they remain with him for a few minutes, and then rejoin the ladies in the drawing-room.

If the host is not particularly engaged, he returns with his guests to the drawing-room; but it is a matter of inclination, and not an imperative civility, whether he does so or not.

Twenty minutes to half-an-hour is the longest time guests would remain after the adjournment from the dining-room, and on returning to the drawing-room, the ladies would, in as quiet a manner as possible, put on their gloves and veil, which they take off in the dining-room before sitting down to lunch; they would also remove warm winter cloaks or wraps in the hall, but not their bonnets.

The gentlemen take their hats into the dining-room with them, except at large luncheon parties, when they leave them with their gloves and stick, or umbrella, in the hall.

The servant announces to each guest the arrival of their carriage (when they have one). Ladies having carriages desire their coachmen to return for them from three to a quarter past.

If a lady requires a cab, and has not desired her servant to have one ready at a certain hour, she would ask her hostess’s permission to have one called for her when she was ready to leave.

When the hostess has shaken hands with her guest, she would ring the drawing-room bell, or request one of the gentlemen present to do so for her, that the servant might be in readiness in the entrance-hall to open the door for her, and call up her carriage or cab.

The guest would shake hands with the ladies and gentlemen present that she knew best, and take leave of the rest with a general bow, which includes by its civility everyone else present.— From “Etiquette: What to Do, and How to Do It,” By Lady Constance Eleanora C. Howard, 1885

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