Dining Etiquette Series – The Formal Dinner Party Menu

There was no food as yet on the glittering golden plates, but small menus were lying in front of each of them. Harry picked his up uncertainly and looked around—there were no waiters. Dumbledore, however, looked carefully down at his own menu, then said very clearly to his plate, “Pork chops!” And pork chops appeared.” ~ Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

We might not be able to summon our courses directly from the menu card the way the Harry Potter crowd did, but all the same there is a magical atmosphere that surrounds a formal dinner party. 

Dining Etiquette Series – The Complexities of Serving Coffee

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
 sweeter far than muscatel wine!
 ~ Lieschen, Coffee Cantata by Johan Sebastian Bach

In the early 18th Century in Leipzig, Germany, coffee was a controversial commodity. Some years later, Bach composed Coffee Cantata about the coffee “brew”- ha-ha, which features the clash of a father and daughter over her love of the seductive beverage. (Here is the English translation.)

Today, we have some controversies of our own about coffee, or at least variations in the way we serve it in formal or semi-formal social and business luncheons and dinners.

Dining Etiquette Series – Dessert, At Last!

Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.
Ernestine Ulmer, 1892-1987

No doubt many people will agree with this famous quote. But, in the formal multi-course dinner, dessert is the last course, at least in the U.S. In European, and European-influenced, countries you might find that the dessert course is followed by a fruit course to finish the dinner with a refreshing palate cleanser, and then followed by coffee and a sweet (more about the “coffee course” next week). But, in most cases, dessert will be the sweet finale to a luncheon or dinner. 

Dining Etiquette Series – That Little Place Card


“Proper names are poetry in the raw.
Like all poetry they are untranslatable.” 
~ W.H. Auden

Whatever one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century meant by these words, to most people their names are like poetry and music to their ears. And that is the reason when printing or lettering place cards, whether they are for a formal or informal affair, names must be spelled correctly. No mistakes or typos are permitted or excused. Great care must be taken when preparing these personalized accouterments to the dining table. Place cards are commonly used when there are eight or more guests. I love place cards, as they add another dimension to a formal or festive table, and people love to see their names as much as they love to hear them. 

Dining Etiquette Series – Crystal Gazing

Question: What did the women of Sex And The City not know how to do
that Bogart and Bergman finally got right in Casablanca

Answer: The correct way to hold stemware! In a number of scenes throughout the series, the sophisticated ladies of Sex and the City are seen holding their wine or champagne glasses incorrectly--by the bowl instead of the stem. And, although Bogie and Bergman fumbled their goblets, as well, in Casablanca, they finally got it right in the scene where they are together for the last time in Paris. Toasting each other with champagne and holding their glasses correctly by the stems, Bogie utters one of his most famous lines: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” 

Dining Etiquette Series – The Salad Plate

"There was an Old Person of Fife,
Who was greatly disgusted with life;
They sang him a ballad,
and fed him on salad,
Which cured that Old Person of Fife."

~ Edward Lear, English artist, writer (1812-1888)

Ah, the salad course! It’s my favorite, and, as an American, I prefer to enjoy it before the main course. But, in some countries, especially in Europe, the salad course is served after the main course as a palette cleanser before the cheese course is served.

It is believed that as far back as ancient times, the Romans and Greeks dined on raw vegetables that they dressed with vinegar, oil, and herbs. And, according to the Oxford Companion to Food, the word, “salad” resulted from the progression of first the Latin word, sal, which means “salt”; later the form, salata, which means, “'salted things” referring to a primary ingredient of dressing they used; and then the Old French word, salade; and finally in 14th century emerged the English word, “salad” or sallet, as they said back then.

Dining Etiquette Series – The Bread and Butter Plate

Show That You’re Well-Bred When Breaking Bread

The formal table setting often includes the bread and butter plate, which is located at the upper left of your service or main plate, directly above your forks. However, on a crowded table this small plate might be placed wherever there is room, but always to the left. On your B&B plate will rest a butter spreader, named such because it’s used to spread butter rather than to cut bread. (See the section below, Buttering Up, regarding missing butter spreaders).

To remember that your B&B (as well as your salad) plate is placed to the left of your main plate, and glasses are placed to the right, try these methods:

Dining Etiquette Series – The Place Setting

“I definitely have the salad fork.
The rest of the silverware is a little confusing.”
~ Vivian, played by Julia Roberts, in Pretty Woman

It can be daunting to sit down to a formal or informal table or place setting, which is precisely what happens when you attend a business luncheon or dinner, black-tie affair, wedding or other professional or personal event. But it needn’t be. In this entry, we’ll be looking at the various components of the place setting. (Note that informal dining differs from casual dining. “Informal” refers to a somewhat less formal dinner, luncheon or breakfast setting; “casual” implies fast-food, picnic, backyard or kicking-back-in-front-of-the-TV dining.)