One of the central tasks carried out by the mistress of an establishment is the management of its social calendar. This is no small task, and not one to be undertaken lightly. It entails many duties, from paying calls to securing invitations.
A particularly perilous task is to be found in the hosting of a dinner.
Yet Behind The Past is here to unburden you of all of your cares and worries. With our handy guides, dealt out in manageable portions, all aspects of the running of your Victorian household will soon fall easily into place. Today, we shall deal with the initial management of your guests at a dinner party, i.e. from before they arrive to just before the food is served, and we shall do this in five simple steps.
- Prior preparation is absolutely paramount. Your management of these lucky guests should begin before the invitations are even sent out. The success of an evening hinges upon their enjoyment. Therefore, before you put pen to paper, make sure your guests have a reasonable chance of getting on with each other. While some healthy debate about a Bill currently going through parliament might liven up the conversation, angry exchanges between two political adversaries will probably have everyone else trying to hide behind their napkins.
- You should also consider the conversation when planning your seating arrangement. For example, if you have a guest who is particularly witty, or charming, or a noted conversationalist, try and seat them at the centre of the table. They should draw in the other guests and raise the tone of the whole evening. Equally, if you think there are any guests who will get on too well, try to keep them apart. If they are going to fall into a conversation and ignore everyone else around them, it will make the party feel disjointed.
- When the guests and dinner are ready, the party will go into the dining room in order of precedence. If the assembled company is particularly grand, and the hostess in any doubt, she should consult the proper authorities (such as Debrett’s or Burke’s) in advance. On the night, it will be up to her to ensure that the correct order is observed. She must never assume that her guests will know each other well enough to fall into the right places without any direction.
- In simpler company, the etiquette of precedence is still applied. So, for example, the married ladies will precede those who are unattached.
- When the party goes into the dining room, the hostess should follow the host. Some ladies are inclined to linger behind, hoping to make sure the guests make their way through safely. These women certainly mean well, but are acting in grievous error. Upon entering the dining room last, they are likely to find their guests awkwardly hovering around the table, unsure as to where they should sit. The hostess should be there before, and guide them warmly to their proper place.
We shall of course, at a later date, discuss the management of the dinner table and the evening entertainment which duly follows. However, it is not our intention here to overwhelm our readers with terrifying lists of rules and etiquette. Each topic can be addressed at leisure.
Routledge, George, Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, [First published: 1875].