Etiquette rules used to be the guiding light for hosting. Today they’re just outdated.
A knife should go to the right of your plate, and a fork should go the the left. You should set a table with wine and water glasses. That’s all well and good, but when it comes to etiquette rules, there are plenty of them that we could certainly live without.
Outdated etiquette rules are often sexist in nature – this was after all the time when the hostess did all the work, and the man of the house would simply gather his male counterparts into the lounge for a post-dinner cigar and coffee. We went to the experts to highlight a few that you can feel good about crossing off of your etiquette list.
1. If you’re single, don’t dine at a bachelor’s house, unless of course you’re a career-woman
This one is proof of how sexist etiquette rules can be. Oh the horror of having the “appearance of evil!”
“Social conventions can do very little to protect a girl really bent on getting into difficulties. In this case, a girl not out of her teens would do better to avoid [dinner at a bachelor’s] unless others, considerably more mature than she, are present. A career girl, from her twenties onward, can accept such an invitation but should not stay beyond ten or ten-thirty. An old rule and a good one is ‘Avoid the appearance of evil.'” – The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, 1952
2. You must, absolutely must, get some expert, hired staff
I mean, who would dream of hosting a dinner with just your regular staff?
“Just as it is better to hire a professional dinner-party cook than to run the risk of attempting a formal dinner with your own Nora or Selma unless you are very sure she is adequate, in the same way it is better to have a professional waitress as captain over your own, or a professional butler over your own inexperienced one, than to have your meal served in spasms and long pauses.” – Emily Post, 1922
3. Don’t pay any attention at all to what your guests are eating
These days, I think we’re all better off being aware of what everyone at the table is eating and what they are enjoying; how else are you going to know what to serve them next time?
“Having once taken your seat at table, you have nothing to do with the dinner but to partake of it. Not a word, or even a glance, will a well-bred hostess bestow upon the servants, nor will she speak to the guests of the dishes. Their choice rests between themselves and the waiters, and you must take no notice of what they eat, how much, or how little. Nay, should they partake of one dish only, you must ignore the fact.” – The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, Florence Hartley, 1860
4. Whatever you do, don’t talk about politics, or anything that will bore someone
Wait, isn’t a good political discussion the kind of thing that makes a great dinner party? Not according to Lady Constance Howard in the July 6th, 1895 issue of Home Chat. “Two topics of conversation are best avoided— religion and politics; and the hostess who possesses tact will not discuss music or painting with persons who have no taste for either.
5. Calling ahead to figure out what kind of flowers the hostess likes
I think we can all agree that a nice bottle of wine is way more useful than sending flowers.
“At a formal dinner, don’t show up with a bunch of cut flowers because the hostess and staff will be too preoccupied to arrange them. Instead it’s thoughtful to call your hostess several days before the dinner to say you’d like to send her flowers and to ask what ware a few of her favorites as well as her preference in color.” The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, 1952
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