The do’s and don’ts of dinner etiquette

Pamela Crimbchin

Photo illustration by Glennis Siegried | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Nearly all the leaves have fallen, and the weather’s getting cooler. There’s no doubt that the holiday season is upon us. And with that, comes lots of food. That’s why we’ve dedicated this issue to just that.

With the holiday season approaching, families and friends will soon be gathering around tables, sharing good conservations and eating delicious foods.

“It’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends, eat good food, mingle, laugh and forget about the world for a bit,” said Lauren Makiaris, senior speech pathology major.

The etiquette for dinner parties originated hundreds of years ago with nobles and is not always common knowledge.

Here are some of the basic steps to follow for a formal dinner party.

Getting started

The first step in planning a dinner party is to find out how many people will be attending and see if any of the guests have certain needs.

Edward Hoegler, lecturer in hospitality management, gives dinner etiquette presentations to students and adults on campus and at country clubs.

“For example, if you have any vegetarians, making sure that you would accommodate a vegetarian or any other special dietary needs that you might have,” he said.

Once the meal is chosen, it is important to practice making the food at least once to ensure that everything will be perfect for the party.

“(The) last thing you want to do is have this beautiful table and then the food go awry or you burn something,” Hoegler said.

Jeniffer Ruggles, speech pathology graduate student, and her husband own the Bistro on Main. She said she has thrown many dinner parties at the restaurant and in her home for family and friends.

Ruggles suggests finding a fun recipe to make the dinner a more special experience.

“I either use my cookbooks, go on, or any those really good “foody” Web sites, or even any of the magazines too, like Real Simple,”she said.

Also, when planning a dinner party, the host should stay within his or her comfort zone and not try anything too risky, so the dinner can flow smoothly.

Table setting and decor

Decorate the table according to the season. For Christmas, white, red and green are good color choices.

Makiaris said she hopes to have a dinner party with friends sometime over Christmas break.

“I want everything to be really elegant,” Makiaris said. “With candles, tables cloths, maybe bows on the back of chairs.”

Hoegler said to avoid hanging garlands or anything from the edge of the table that could get caught on a guest’s sleeve or shirt.

Also, when choosing a centerpiece, make sure whatever you choose isn’t too tall that it doesn’t prevent everyone from seeing guests on the other side of the table. Candles should also be encased in something so there is not an exposed flame that could be a fire hazard.

The table setting for a dinner party depends on how many courses the host plans on serving. A meal that includes an appetizer, salad and an entrée should have three forks on the left side of the plate in sequential order.

“The first fork you should grab would be for your appetizer, and maybe that’s a smaller fork, maybe it’s only three tines versus a standard entrée fork, which would have four tines on it,” Hoegler said.

A knife should be placed on the right side of the plate with a spoon directly beside it. Multiple spoons for different courses should be placed beside the first spoon.

Hoegler doesn’t recommend setting dessert spoons or forks, but rather bringing those out when dessert is served.

A charger plate is a large plate that stays on the table throughout the entire dinner. The plates for the appetizer, salad and entrée are placed on it. It holds the place setting and can add to the decor of the table.

“It just looks nice,” Hoegler said. “It completes the look of the table.”

The water glass should be placed directly above the spoon. If coffee or wine is served at the dinner party, the coffee cup should be placed beside the spoon with the handle at the four o’clock position. White and red wine glasses can be placed at a 45 degree angle from the coffee cup in whichever order they are served.

“If I’m serving alcohol like wine or beer, I definitely provide non-alcoholic stuff for those who may not want to drink,” Ruggles said.

A small plate for bread and butter and a small knife can also be placed on the left side of the plate.


There are different styles of serving that can be done at a dinner party.

Russian-style service is when the host has the entire course on a platter.

“The server would then serve you off of the platter and make your plate in front of you,” Hoegler said.

Hoegler said plated sit-down service, where the plate is pre-made for the guest and then brought out to them, is very popular in America.

A buffet-style dinner party is also acceptable and allows guests to make their own plates.

When serving guests at a dinner party, the host should always start ladies first. The host can either serve all the ladies at once, then all the men or start with one lady and go clockwise around the table. Either way, the host should always be served last.

“Small children trump that because you want to get kids first,” Hoegler said.

When placing a salad, appetizer or entrée on the table, always serve from the left side, using the left hand with the left foot forward.

“You wouldn’t want to have (the plate) in your right hand because you could be serving from the left side of your guest, but if it’s in your right hand, you’re basically backhanding your guest,” Hoegler said.

Soups and beverages are served from the right side of the guest, using the right hand with the right foot forward.

“The item, if it’s a soup, will pass over the spoon,” Hoegler said. “That’s how you remember, because the spoon is on the right.”

When clearing the table, wait until all guests have finished. Start again with the ladies and remove the plates from the right side. Make sure not to carry too many plates at once.

It’s important to not get too overwhelmed with proper dinner etiquette, such as serving and plate setting. Remember, the point of hosting a dinner party is to enjoy the meal, even if things don’t go as planned.

“If it’s family and friends, you want it to be nice, but I don’t concern myself with that much of (specific rules),” Ruggles said. “I just make sure the table looks pretty and is decorated and is not too over the top.”

Tips to make guests feel comfortable from Ruggles

&bull Make sure everyone has directions to the house.

&bull Make sure there is enough parking.

&bull Fill bathrooms with enough soap, toilet paper and towels.

&bull Do the special little things for guests, like buying their favorite bottle of wine.

Tips for guests from Hoegler

&bull Dress appropriately.

&bull Avoid conversations about politics, religion or sex unless with close friends.

&bull Monitor your alcohol intake.

&bull Do not reach across the table, but ask for items to be passed.

&bull Do not stack your plate, but place it off to your right when finished.

&bull Be adventurous and try new foods.

&bull When in doubt of how to eat a food or what to do, watch the host.

Contact features reporter Pamela Crimbchin at [email protected]