The most awe-inspiring ordeal to the unaccustomed hostess is the giving of a formal dinner. It may be a gathering of more or less distinguished people, or be in honor of some important member husband's firm or some visitor from out of town. Whatever the size, however, formal entertaining augurs a certain ritual and the service must be subject to certain conventions.
If the hostess is well equipped with silver and china, entertaining is not so difficult as it appears. In the house of limited servants, where formal service has often to be dispensed with for ordinary occasions, it is well to rehearse the maid thoroughly in any changes. In some cases it might be found convenient to hire a waitress for the evening rather than suddenly to try to change the manner in which your cook-waitress has been accustomed to serve you. By giving her minute written instructions and rehearsing the service, however, she can often be trained to manage without outside help.
The decoration of the table is a good deal a matter of taste; but a tablecloth of damask, embroidered linen or lace is considered better form than table mats. There is no limit to the type of centerpiece that may be used. It may be a lovely urn, a flat silver platter of fruit, a pair of brilliant china birds, or a silver basket or bowl of flowers. Tall candles in silver candlesticks, preferably of a design that matches the service, are a very important part of the dinner table decoration, and the present vogue is to have them unshaded. Four silver compotes holding candy may be placed at the corners. There should be a set of peppers and salts to every two persons and small dishes for salted nuts are placed at each place.
A proper equipment of flat silver-knives, forks, spoons, and other pieces-is absolutely essential to the proper service of a dinner. While it is now recognized as good form to simplify the number of knives, forks, and spoons that are placed upon the table, it is necessary to have available all of the silverware required in serving each of the courses, so that the proper articles may be brought in without delay. The menu for a formal dinner should never be less than:
Grapefruit or Hors d'oeuvres
Except in rare instances, it is customary to place on the table but three pieces of silverware on either side of the plate. In setting the table, the salad fork is placed on the left of the plate, the meat (dinner) fork is next, and then the fish fork. A dessert size fork is ordinarily used for the fish course. The salad fork, which is usually the third used, is thus laid nearest the plate. If there is an entrée, the fork for this course is placed between the fish fork and that for the meat, and the salad fork is left to be brought in later. On the right of the plate, and nearest to it, is put the steel blade dinner knife, then the soup spoon, and then the oyster fork or grapefruit spoon. The fork or spoon for the dessert is brought in on the dessert plate.
To start from the beginning of the service, the grapefruit or hors d'oeuvres is arranged in the pantry beforehand on small plates and is placed directly on the service plates. When the small plate is removed, the soup plate will also be placed on the service plate. The service plate and soup plate should be removed at the same time, and replaced by a very hot plate for the fish. Supposing the meat course consists of chicken or turkey, this should be carved in the kitchen, the seasoning placed on the plate, and the whole covered with a giblet gravy, which does away with the passing of the sauce boat. If the gravy is served, it should be passed after the meat in a gravy boat on its own tray. At least two vegetables are necessary, and they should be passed in a silver vegetable or entrée dish. It is permissible to have two vegetables in a two-compartment dish, but two dishes should not be passed at once.
Next comes the salad. After the salad a silver crumb remover and platter should be used by the waitress to remove the crumbs. The dessert plates should be already prepared on a side table, the necessary spoons or forks being placed on them. Where there is but one waitress it is quite possible to have a finger bowl and doily on this plate to save a second passing. If this is not done, the finger bowls are passed immediately after the dessert plates are removed and the fruit and candies passed. The actual serving of the dinner is now ended. — From “Etiquette, Entertaining and Good Sense,” 1923
🍽Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia
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