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Formal Dinner Party Etiquette Tips

Gracie Watkins
Have you been invited to a dinner party? If you’re not one to frequent formal dining affairs, you may be curious about the atmosphere and what is expected of you as a guest. Whether it's a charity ball, a wedding reception or a private party to commemorate a significant milestone or event, formal dinner gatherings demand impeccable etiquette from every attendee. Here is a basic guide to help you make a good impression so that you can enjoy your evening with confidence.

Dress Appropriately

When it comes to formal gatherings, dressing appropriately is crucial. Not only is it a sign of respect for your host, but adhering to the dress code sets the general tone for the evening. If you’ve been officially invited to a formal event such as a charity gala or cocktail party, your invitation may feature information regarding the dress code - it may specify “black tie” or “evening wear”. Additionally, if the event is being hosted at a formal restaurant or hotel, appropriate attire may be a strict requirement for entry. 

Arrive On Time

While there is a popular misconception suggesting that arriving fashionably late portrays a busy, well-liked individual with other pressing matters to handle, in reality, being late indicates a lack of respect towards your host and fellow guests. As a rule of thumb, aim to arrive five minutes early to your function. Leaving the house with plenty of time to spare will account for bad traffic conditions and other unforeseen circumstances that may cause you to become delayed. 

Don’t Bring An Unexpected Plus One

Although you may be nervous about attending a formal dinner party, bringing an uninvited guest for moral support is a big mistake. Simply put, your host will have meticulously planned the dinner party, including the seating arrangements and the required amount of food and drinks. Adding an unexpected guest can disrupt these plans and put unnecessary pressure on the host to accommodate the extra person. Check your invitation - it will state whether or not you are encouraged to bring a plus one. If you're still unsure, contact your host and ask, leaving enough time for them to adjust their plans if needed.

Know The Table Setting

Understanding the proper table setting and etiquette is essential when attending formal events. However, if formal table settings are unfamiliar to you, don’t worry; you're not alone. After all, the intricacies of setting a table for a formal dining event are not commonly practised in the average family home. Nevertheless, you can make a good first impression by familiarising yourself with a few fundamental rules. As each course is served, using the appropriate utensils is crucial. Typically, the cutlery will be placed in the order they will be used, starting from the outside - knives to the right and forks to the left. Soup spoons should be placed on the right of the knives.

Bring A Gift

When attending a dinner party, it is always customary to bring the host a gift. This is a thoughtful gesture that shows appreciation and gratitude for being invited. It also demonstrates that you recognise the hard work that has inevitably been thrown into organising a remarkable event, which is no mean feat. For formal occasions, consider a gift that aligns with the ambience of the evening, such as high-quality wine or artisan chocolates. 
For example, an exquisite bottle of Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux is guaranteed to impress both your host and fellow guests. 

Keep The Conversation Flowing

The art of conversation is integral to a successful dinner party. Hosts typically arrange their seating plan strategically to encourage interaction between guests. Not only is engaging in conversation polite, but interacting with strangers at social gatherings is an opportunity to connect with fellow guests and form meaningful relationships. If you struggle with conversations, allow other guests to do the talking - ask thought-provoking questions about their lives and interests, demonstrating genuine interest and active listening. 

Display Good Table Manners

It goes without saying, but you must demonstrate good table manners when attending a formal dining event. Some helpful tips include:
  • Place the napkin on your lap as soon as you are seated.
  • Chew with your mouth closed and avoid talking with your mouth full.
  • Sit up straight with your elbows off the table while eating.
  • Avoid using your smartphone.
  • If alcohol is served, drink responsibly.
  • If you need to leave the table during the meal, politely excuse yourself.

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