IF the great world of society were a university which issued degrees to those whom it trains to its usages, the magna cum laude honors would be awarded without question, not to the hostess who may have given the most marvelous ball of the decade, but to her who knows best every component detail of preparation and service, no less than every inexorable rule of etiquette, in formal dinner-giving.
To give a perfect dinner of ceremony is the supreme accomplishment of a hostess! It means not alone perfection of furnishing, of service, of culinary skill, but also of personal charm, of tact. The only other occasion when a hostess must have equaland possibly even greater abilityis the large and somewhat formal week-end party, which includes a dinner or two as by no means its least formidable features.
There are so many aspects to be considered in dinner giving that it is difficult to know whether to begin upstairs or down, or with furnishing, or service, or people, or manners! One thing is certain, no novice should ever begin her social career by attempting a formal dinner, any more than a pupil swimmer, upon being able to take three strokes alone, should attempt to swim three miles out to sea. The former will as surely drown as the latter.
When Mrs. Worldly gives a dinner, it means no effort on her part whatsoever beyond deciding upon the date and the principal guests who are to form the nucleus; every further detail is left to her subordinateseven to the completion of her list of guests. For instance, she decides that she will have an older dinner, and finding that the tenth is available for herself, she tells her secretary to send out invitations for that date. She does not have especial cards engraved but uses the dinner blank described in the chapter on Invitations. She then looks through her dinner list and orders her secretary to invite the Oldworlds, the Eminents, the Learneds, the Wellborns, the Highbrows, and the Onceweres. She also picks out three or four additional names to be substituted for those who regret. Then turning to the younger married list she searches for a few suitable but amusing or good-looking ones to give life to her dinner which might otherwise be heavy. But her favorites do not seem appropriate. It will not do to ask the Bobo Gildings, not because of the difference in age but because Lucy Gilding smokes like a furnace and is miserable unless she can play bridge for high stakes, and, just as soon as she can bolt through dinner, sit at a card table; while Mrs. Highbrow and Mrs. Oncewere quite possibly disapprove of womens smoking and are surely horrified at gambling. The Smartlings wont do either, for the same reason, nor the Gaylies. She cant ask the Newell Riches either, because Mrs. Oldworld and Mrs. Wellborn both dislike vulgarity too much to find compensation in qualities which are merely amusing. So she ends by adding her own friends the Kindharts and the Normans, who go with everyone, and a few somewhat younger people, and approves her secretarys suggestions as to additional names if those first invited should regret.
The list being settled, Mrs. Worldlys own work is done. She sends word to her cook that there will be twenty-four on the tenth; the menu will be submitted to her later, which she will probably merely glance at and send back. She never sees or thinks about her table, which is in the butlers province.
On the morning of the dinner her secretary brings her the place cards, (the name of each person expected, written on a separate card) and she puts them in the order in which they are to be placed on the table, very much as though playing solitaire. Starting with her own card at one end and her husbands at the other, she first places the lady of honor on his right, the second in importance on his left. Then on either side of herself, she puts the two most important gentlemen. The others she fits in between, trying to seat side by side those congenial to each other.
When the cards are arranged, the secretary attends to putting the name of the lady who sits on each gentlemans right in the envelope addressed to him. She then picks up the place cards still stacked in their proper sequence, and takes them to the butler who will put them in the order arranged on the table after it is set.
Fifteen minutes before the dinner hour, Mrs. Worldly is already standing in her drawing-room. She has no personal responsibility other than that of being hostess. The whole machinery of equipment and service runs seemingly by itself. It does not matter whether she knows what the menu is. Her cook is more than capable of attending to it. That the table shall be perfect is merely the every-day duty of the butler. She knows without looking that one of the chauffeurs is on the sidewalk; that footmen are in the hall; that her own maid is in the ladies dressing-room, and the valet in that of the gentlemen; and that her butler is just outside the door near which she is standing.
So with nothing on her mind (except a jewelled ornament and perfectly done hair) she receives her guests with the tranquillity attained only by those whose householdwhether great or smallcan be counted on to run like a perfectly coordinated machine.
Let us suppose that you have a quite charming house, and that your wedding presents included everything necessary to set a well-appointed table. You have not very experienced servants, but they would all be good ones with a little more training.
You have been at home for so few meals you dont quite know how experienced they are. Your cook at least makes good coffee and eggs and toast for breakfast, and the few other meals she has cooked seemed to be all right, and she is such a nice clean person!
So when your house is in order and the last pictures and curtains are hung, the impulse suddenly comes to you to give a dinner! Your husband thinks it is a splendid idea. It merely remains to decide whom you will ask. You hesitate between a few of your own intimates, or older people, and decide it would be such fun to ask a few of the hostesses whose houses you have almost lived at ever since you came out. You decide to ask Mrs. Toplofty, Mr. Clubwin Doe, the Worldlys, the Gildings, and the Kindharts and the Wellborns. With yourselves that makes twelve. You cant have more than twelve because you have only a dozen of everything; in fact you decide that twelve will be pretty crowded, but that it will be safe to ask that number because a few are sure to regret. So you write notes (since it is to be a formal dinner), andthey all accept! You are a little worried about the size of the dining-room, but you are overcome by the feeling of your popularity. Now the thing to do is to prepare for a dinner. The fact that Nora probably cant make fancy dishes does not bother you a bit. In your minds eye you see delicious plain food passed; you must get Sigrid a dress that properly fits her, and Delia, the chambermaid (who was engaged with the understanding that she was to serve in the dining-room when there was company), has not yet been at table, but she is a very willing young person who will surely look well.
Nora, when you tell her who are coming, eagerly suggests the sort of menu that would appear on the table of the Worldlys or the Gildings. You are thrilled at the thought of your own kitchen producing the same. That it may be the same in name only, does not occur to you. You order flowers for the table, and candy for your four compotiers. You pick out your best tablecloth, but you find rather to your amazement that when the waitress asks you about setting the table, you have never noticed in detail how the places are laid. Knives and spoons go on the right of the plate, of course, and forks on the left, but which goes next to the plate, or whether the wine glasses should stand nearer or beyond the goblet you can only guess. It is quite simple, however, to give directions in serving; you just tell the chambermaid that she is to follow the waitress, and pass the sauces and the vegetables. And you have already explained carefully to the latter that she must not deal plates around the table like a pack of cards, or ever take them off in piles either. (That much at least you do know.) You also make it a point above everything that the silver must be very clean; Sigrid seems to understand, and with the optimism of youth, you approach the dinner hour without misgiving. The table, set with your wedding silver and glass, looks quite nice. You are a little worried about the silverit does look rather yellow, but perhaps it is just a shadow. Then you notice there are a great many forks on the table! You ask your husband what is the matter with the forks? He does not see anything wrong. You need them all for the dinner you ordered, how can there be less? So you straighten a candlestick that was out of line, and put the place cards on.
Then you go into the drawing-room. You dont light the fire until the last moment, because you want it to be burning brightly when your guests arrive. Your drawing-room looks a little stiff somehow, but an open fire more than anything else makes a room inviting, and you light it just as your first guest rings the bell. As Mr. Clubwin Doe enters, the room looks charming, then suddenly the fire smokes, and in the midst of the smoke your other guests arrive. Every one begins to cough and blink. They are very polite, but the smoke, growing each moment denser, is not to be overlooked. Mrs. Toplofty takes matters in her own hands and makes Mr. Doe and your husband carry the logs, smoke and all, and throw them into the yard. The room still thick with smoke is now cheerlessly fireless, and another factor beginning to distress you is that, although everyone has arrived, there is no sign of dinner. You wait, at first merely eager to get out of the smoke-filled drawing-room. Gradually you are becoming nervouswhat can have happened? The dining-room door might be that of a tomb for all the evidence of life behind it. You become really alarmed. Is dinner never going to be served? Everyones eyes are red from the smoke, and conversation is getting weaker and weaker. Mrs. Toploftyevidently despairingsits down. Mrs. Worldly also sits, both hold their eyes shut and say nothing. At last the dining-room door opens, and Sigrid instead of bowing slightly and saying in a low tone of voice, Dinner is served, stands stiff as a block of wood, and fairly shouts: Dinners all ready!
You hope no one heard her, but you know very well that nothing escaped any one of those present. And between the smoke and the delay and your waitress manners, you are already thoroughly mortified by the time you reach the table. But you hope that at least the dinner will be good. For the first time you are assailed with doubt on that score. And again you wait, but the oyster course is all right. And then comes the soup. You dont have to taste it to see that it is wrong. It looks not at all as clear soup should! Its color, instead of being glass-clear amber, is greasy-looking brown. You taste it, fearing the worst, and the worst is realized. It tastes like dish-waterand is barely tepid. You look around the table; Mr. Kindhart alone is trying to eat it.
In removing the plates, Delia, the assistant, takes them up by piling one on top of the other, clashing them together as she does so. You can feel Mrs. Worldly looking with almost hypnotized fascinationas her attention might be drawn to a street accident against her will. Then there is a wait. You wait and wait, and looking in front of you, you notice the bare tablecloth without a plate. You know instantly that the service is wrong, but you find yourself puzzled to know how it should have been done. Finally Sigrid comes in with a whole dozen plates stacked in a pile, which she proceeds to deal around the table. You at least know that to try to interfere would only make matters worse. You hold your own cold fingers in your lap knowing that you must sit there, and that you can do nothing.
The fish which was to have been a mousse with Hollandaise sauce, is a huge mound, much too big for the platter, with a narrow gutter of water around the edge and the center dabbed over with a curdled yellow mess. You realize that not only is the food itself awful, but that the quantity is too great for one dish. You dont know what to do next; you know there is no use in apologizing, there is no way of dropping through the floor, or waking yourself up. You have collected the smartest and the most critical people around your table to put them to torture such as they will never forget. Never! You have to bite your lips to keep from crying. Whatever possessed you to ask these people to your horrible house?
Mr. Kindhart, sitting next to you, says gently, Cheer up, little girl, it doesnt really matter! And then you know to the full how terrible the situation is. The meal is endless; each course is equally unappetizing to look at, and abominably served. You notice that none of your guests eat anything. They cant.
You leave the table literally sick, but realizing fully that the giving of a dinner is not as easy as you thought. And in the drawing-room, which is now fireless and freezing, but at least smokeless, you start to apologize and burst into tears!
As you are very young, and those present are all really fond of you, they try to be comforting, but you know that it will be years (if ever) before any of them will be willing to risk an evening in your house again. You also know that without malice, but in truth and frankness, they will tell everyone: Whatever you do, dont dine with the Newweds unless you eat your dinner before you go, and wear black glasses so no sight can offend you.
When they have all gone, you drag yourself miserably upstairs, feeling that you never want to look in that drawing-room or dining-room again. Your husband, remembering the trenches, tries to tell you it was not so bad! But you know! You lie awake planning to let the house, and to discharge each one of your awful household the next morning, and then you realize that the fault is not a bit more theirs than yours.
If you had tried the chimney first, and learned its peculiarities; if you yourself had known every detail of cooking and service, of course you would not have attempted to give the dinner in the first place; not at least until, through giving little dinners, the technique of your household had become good enough to give a big one.
On the other hand, supposing that you had had a very experienced cook and waitress; dinner would, of course, not have been bungled, but it would have lacked something, somewhere, if you added nothing of your own personality to its perfection. It is almost safe to make the statement that no dinner is ever really well done unless the hostess herself knows every smallest detail thoroughly. Mrs. Worldly pays seemingly no attention, but nothing escapes her. She can walk through a room without appearing to look either to the right or left, yet if the slightest detail is amiss, an ornament out of place, or there is one dull button on a footmans livery, her house telephone is rung at once!
The requisites at every dinner, whether a great one of 200 covers, or a little one of six, are as follows:
Guests. People who are congenial to one another. This is of first importance.
Food. A suitable menu perfectly prepared and dished. (Hot food to be hot, and cold, cold.)
Table furnishing. Faultlessly laundered linen, brilliantly polished silver, and all other table accessories suitable to the occasion and surroundings.
Service. Expert dining-room servants and enough of them.
Drawing-room. Adequate in size to number of guests and inviting in arrangement.
A cordial and hospitable host.
A hostess of charm. Charm says everythingtact, sympathy, poise and perfect mannersalways.
The proper selection of guests is the first essential in all entertaining, and the hostess who has a talent for assembling the right people has a great asset. Taste in house furnishings or in clothes or in selecting a cook, is as nothing compared to taste in people! Some people have this senseothers havent. The first are the great hosts and hostesses; the others are the mediocre or the failures.
It is usually a mistake to invite great talkers together. Brilliant men and women who love to talk want hearers, not rivals. Very silent people should be sandwiched between good talkers, or at least voluble talkers. Silly people should never be put anywhere near learned ones, nor the dull near the clever, unless the dull one is a young and pretty woman with a talent for listening, and the clever, a man with an admiration for beauty, and a love for talking.
Most people think two brilliant people should be put together. Often they should, but with discretion. If both are voluble or nervous or temperamental, you may create a situation like putting two operatic sopranos in the same part and expecting them to sing together.
The endeavor of a hostess, when seating her table, is to put those together who are likely to be interesting to each other. Professor Bugge might bore you to tears, but Mrs. Entomoid would probably delight in him; just as Mr. Stocksan Bonds and Mrs. Rich would probably have interests in common. Making a dinner list is a little like making a Christmas list. You put down what they will (you hope) like, not what you like. Those who are placed between congenial neighbors remember your dinner as delightfuleven though both food and service were mediocre; but ask people out of their own groups and seat them next to their pet aversions, and wild horses could not drag them to your house again!
Nearly every hostess keeps a dinner listapart from her general visiting listof people with whom she is accustomed to dine, or to invite to dinner or other small entertainments. But the prominent hostess, if she has grown daughters and continually gives parties of all sorts and sizes and ages, usually keeps her list in a more complete and ready reference order.
Mrs. Gilding, for instance, has guest lists separately indexed. Under the general heading Dinners, she has older married, younger married, girls, men. Her luncheon list is taken from her dinner list. Bridge includes especially good players of all ages; dances, young married people, young girls, and dancing men. Then she has a cross-index list of Important Persons, meaning those of real distinction who are always the foundation of all good society; Amusing, usually people of talentinvaluable for house parties; and New People, including many varieties and unassorted. Mrs. Gilding exchanges invitations with a number of these because they are interesting or amusing, or because their parties are diverting and dazzling. And Mrs. Gilding herself, being typical of New Yorks Cavalier element rather than its Puritan strain, personally prefers diversion to edification. Needless to say, Bostons Best, being ninety-eight per cent. Puritan, has no new list. Besides her list of New People, she has a short frivolous list of other Cavaliers like herself, and a Neutral list, which is the most valuable of all because it comprises those who go with everyone. Besides her own lists she has a Pantry list, a list that is actually made out for the benefit of the butler, so that on occasions he can invite guests to fill in. The Pantry list comprises only intimate friends who belong on the Neutral list and fit in everywhere; young girls and young and older single men.
Allowing the butler to invite guests at his own discretion is not quite as casual as it sounds. It is very often an unavoidable expedient. For instance, at four oclock in the afternoon, Mr. Blank telephones that he cannot come to dinner that same evening. Mrs. Gilding is out; to wait until she returns will make it too late to fill the place. Her butler who has been with her for years knows quite as well as Mrs. Gilding herself exactly which people belong in the same group. The dinner cards being already in his possession, he can see not only who is expected for dinner but the two ladies between whom Mr. Blank has been placed, and he thereupon selects some one on the Pantry list who is suitable for Mr. Blanks place at the table, and telephones the invitation. Perhaps he calls up a dozen before he finds one disengaged. When Mrs. Gilding returns he says, Mr. Blank telephoned he would not be able to come for dinner as he was called to Washington. Mr. Bachelor will be happy to come in his place. Married people are seldom on this list, because the butler need not undertake to fill any but an odd placethat of a gentleman particularly. Otherwise two ladies would be seated together.
Since no one but a fairly intimate friend is ever asked to fill a place, this invitation is always telephoned. A very young man is asked by the butler if he will dine with Mrs. Gilding that evening, and very likely no explanation is made; but if the person to be invited is a lady or an older gentleman (except on such occasions as noted above), the hostess herself telephones:
Dinner invitations must be answered immediately; engraved or written ones by return post, or those which were telephoned, by telephone and at once! Also, nothing but serious illness or death or an utterly unavoidable accident can excuse the breaking of a dinner engagement.
To accept a dinner at Mrs. Nobodys and then break the obligation upon being invited to dine with the Worldlys, proclaims anyone capable of such rudeness an unmitigated snob, whom Mrs. Worldly would be the first to cut from her visiting list if she knew of it. The rule is: Dont accept an invitation if you dont care about it. Having declined the Nobody invitation in the first place, you are then free to accept Mrs. Worldlys, or to stay at home. There are times, however, when engagements between very close friends or members of the family may perhaps be broken, but only if made with the special stipulation: Come to dinner with us alone Thursday if nothing better turns up! And the other answers, Id love toand you let me know too, if you want to do anything else. Meanwhile if one of them is invited to something unusually tempting, there is no rudeness in telephoning her friend, Lucy has asked us to hear Galli-Curci on Thursday! and the other says, Go, by all means! We can dine Tuesday next week if you like, or come Sunday for supper. This privilege of intimacy can, however, be abused. An engagement, even with a member of ones family, ought never to be broken twice within a brief period, or it becomes apparent that the others presence is more a fill-in of idle time than a longed-for pleasure.
It may be due to the war period, which accustomed everyone to going with very little meat and to marked reduction in all food, or it may be, of course, merely vanity that is causing even grandparents to aspire to svelte figures, but whatever the cause, people are putting much less food on their tables than formerly. The very rich, living in the biggest houses with the most imposing array of servants, sit down to three, or at most four, courses when alone, or when intimate friends who are known to have moderate appetites, are dining with them.
As a matter of fact, the marked shortening of the menu is in informal dinners and at the home table of the well-to-do. Formal dinners have been as short as the above schedule for twenty-five years. A dinner interlarded with a row of extra entrées, Roman punch, and hot dessert is unknown except at a public dinner, or in the dining-room of a parvenu. About thirty-five years ago such dinners are said to have been in fashion!
One should always try to choose well-balanced dishes; an especially rich dish balanced by a simple one. Timbale with a very rich sauce of cream and pâté de foie gras might perhaps be followed by French chops, broiled chicken or some other light, plain meat. An entrée of about four broiled mushrooms on a small round of toast should be followed by boned capon or saddle of mutton or spring lamb. It is equally bad to give your guests very peculiar food unless as an extra dish. Some people love highly flavored Spanish or Indian dishes, but they are not appropriate for a formal dinner. At an informal dinner an Indian curry or Spanish enchillada for one dish is delicious for those who like it, and if you have another substantial dish such as a plain roast which practically everyone is able to eat, those who dont like Indian food can make their dinner of the other course.
It is the same way with the Italian dishes. One hating garlic and onions would be very wretched if onions were put in each and every course, and liberally. With Indian curry, a fatally bad selection would be a very peppery soup, such as croute au pot filled with pepper, and fish with green peppers, and then the curry, and then something casserole filled again with peppers and onions and other throat-searing ingredients, finishing with an endive salad. Yet more than one hostess has done exactly this. Or equally bad is a dinner of flavorless white sauces from beginning to end; a creamed soup, boiled fish with white sauce, then vol au vent of creamed sweetbreads, followed by breast of chicken and mashed potatoes and cauliflower, palm root salad, vanilla ice cream and lady-cake. Each thing is good in itself but dreadful in the monotony of its combination.
The following menu might seem at first glance a good dinner, but it is one from which the average man would go home and forage ravenously in the ice box:
A canapé (good, but merely an appetizer)
Clear soup (a dinner party helping, and no substance)
Smelts (one apiece)
Individual croutards of sweetbreads (holding about a dessert-spoonful)
Broiled squab, small potato croquette, and string beans
Lettuce salad, with about one small cracker apiece
The only thing that had any sustaining quality, barring the potato which was not more than a mouthful, was the last, and very few men care to make their dinner of ice cream. If instead of squab there had been filet of beef cut in generous slices, and the potato croquettes had been more numerous, it would have been adequate. Or if there had been a thick cream soup, and a fish with more substancesuch as salmon or shad, or a baked thick fish of which he could have had a generous helpingthe squab would have been adequate also. But many women order trimmings rather than food; men usually like food.
All of us old enough to remember the beginning of this century can bring to mind the typical (and most fashionable) dinner table of that time. Occasionally it was oblong or rectangular, but its favorite shape was round, and a thick white damask cloth hung to the floor on all sides. Often as not there was a large lace centerpiece, and in the middle of it was a floral mound of roses (like a funeral piece, exactly), usually red. The four compotiers were much scrolled and embossed, and the four candlesticks, also scrolled, but not to match, had shades of perforated silver over red silk linings, like those in restaurants to-day. And there was a gas droplight thickly petticoated with fringed red silk. The plates were always heavily jewelled and hand painted, and enough forks and knives and spoons were arrayed at each place for a dozen courses. The glasses numbered at least six, and the entire table was laden with little dishesand spoons! There were olives, radishes, celery and salted nuts in glass dishes; and about ten kinds of sugar-plums in ten different styles of ornate and bumpy silver dishes; and wherever a small space of tablecloth showed through, it was filled with either a big Apostle spoon or little Dutch ones criss-crossed.
Bread was always rolled in the napkin (and usually fell on the floor) and the oysters were occasionally found already placed on the table when the guests came in to dinner! Loading a table to the utmost of its capacity with useless implements which only in rarest instances had the least value, would seem to prove that quantity without quality must have been thought evidence of elegance and generous hospitality! And the astounding part of the bad taste epidemic was that few if any escaped. Even those who had inherited colonial silver and glass and china of consummate beauty, sent it dust-gathering to the attic and cluttered their tables with stuffy and spurious lumber.
But to-day the classic has come into its own again! As though recovering from an illness, good taste is again demanding severe beauty of form and line, and banishing everything that is useless or superfluous. During the last twenty years most of us have sent an army of lumpy dishes to the melting-pot, and junky ornaments to the ash heap along with plush table covers, upholstered mantel-boards and fern dishes! To-day we are going almost to the extreme of bareness, and putting nothing on our tables not actually needed for use.
It is scarcely necessary to point out that the bigger and more ambitious the house, the more perfect its appointments must be. If your house has a great Georgian dining-room, the table should be set with Georgian or an earlier period English silver. Furthermore, in a great dining-room, all the silver should be real! Real meaning nothing so trifling as sterling, but genuine and important period pieces made by Eighteenth Century silversmiths, such as de Lamerie or Crespell or Buck or Robertson, or perhaps one of their predecessors. Or if, like Mrs. Oldname, you live in an old Colonial house, you are perhaps also lucky enough to have inherited some genuine American pieces made by Daniel Rogers or Paul Revere! Or if you are an ardent admirer of Early Italian architecture and have built yourself a Fifteenth Century stone-floored and frescoed or tapestry-hung dining room, you must set your long refectory table with a runner of old hand-linen and altar embroidery, or perhaps Thirteenth Century damask and great cisterns or ewers and beakers in high-relief silver and gold; or in Callazzioli or majolica, with great bowls of fruit and church candlesticks of gilt, and even follow as far as is practicable the crude table implements of that time. It need not be pointed out that Twentieth Century appurtenances in a Thirteenth or Fifteenth Century room are anachronisms. But because the dining-table in the replica of a palace (whether English, Italian, Spanish or French) may be equipped with great standing cups and candelabra so heavy a man can scarcely lift one, it does not follow that all the rest of us who live in medium or small houses, should attempt anything of the sort. Nothing could be more out of proportionand therefore in worse taste. Nor is it necessary, in order to have a table that is inviting, to set it with any of the completely exquisite things which all people of taste long for, but which are possessed (in quantity at least) only through wealth, inheritance, or collectors luck.
There is a dining-room in a certain small New York house that is quite as inviting as it is lacking in expensiveness. Its walls are rough-plastered French gray. Its table is an ordinary drop-leaf kitchen one painted a light green that is almost gray; the chairs are wooden ones, somewhat on the Windsor variety, but made of pine and painted like the table, and the side tables or consoles are made of a cheap round pine table which has been sawed in half, painted gray-green, and the legless sides fastened to the walls. The glass curtains are point desprit net with a deep flounce at the bottom and outside curtains are (expensive) watermelon pink changeable taffeta. There is a gilt mirror over a cream (absolutely plain) mantel and over each console a picture of a conventional bouquet of flowers in a flat frame the color of the furniture, with the watermelon color of the curtains predominating in a neutral tint background. The table is set with a rather coarse cream-colored linen drawn-work centerpiece (a tea cloth actually) big enough to cover all but three inches of table edge. In the middle of the table is a glass bowl with a wide turn-over rim, holding deep pink flowers (roses or tulips) standing upright in glass flower holders as though growing. In midwinter, when real flowers are too expensive, porcelain ones take their placeunless there is a lunch or dinner party. The compotiers are glass urns and the only pieces of silver used are two tall Sheffield candelabra at night, without shades, the salts and peppers and the necessary spoons and forks. The knives are ivory handled.
Everything on the table must be geometrically spaced; the centerpiece in the actual center, the places at equal distances, and all utensils balanced; beyond this one rule you may set your table as you choose.
If the tablecloth is of white damask, which for dinner is always good style, a felt must be put under it. (To say that it must be smooth and white, in other words perfectly laundered, is as beside the mark as to say that faces and hands should be clean!) If the tablecloth has lace insertions, it must on no account be put over satin or over a color. In a very important dining-room and on a very large table, a cloth of plain and finest quality damask with no trimming other than a monogram (or crest) embroidered on either side, is in better taste than one of linen with elaborations of lace and embroidery. Damask is the old-fashioned but essentially conservative (and safely best style) tablecloth, especially suitable in a high-ceilinged room that is either English, French, or of no special period, in decoration. Lace tablecloths are better suited to an Italian roomespecially if the table is a refectory one. Handkerchief linen tablecloths embroidered and lace-inserted are also, strangely enough, suited to all quaint, low-ceilinged, old-fashioned but beautifully appointed rooms; the reason being that the lace cloth is put over a bare table. The lace cloth must also go over a refectory table without felt or other lining.
Very high-studded rooms (unless Italian) on the other hand, seem to need the thickness of damask. To be sure, one does see in certain housesat the Gildings for instancean elaborate lace and embroidery tablecloth put on top of a plain one which in turn goes over a felt, but this combination is always somewhat overpowering, whereas lace over a bare table is light and fragile.
All needlework, whether to be used on the table or on a bed, must, in a beautifully finished house, be fine rather than striking. Coarse linen, coarse embroideries, all sorts of Russian drawn-work, Italian needlework or mosaic (but avoiding big scrolled patterns), are in perfect keepingand therefore in good tastein a cottage, a bungalow or a house whose furnishings are not too fine.
But whatever type of cloth is used, the middle crease must be put on so that it is an absolutely straight and unwavering line down the exact center from head to foot. If it is an embroidered one, be sure the embroidery is right side out. Next goes the centerpiece which is always the chief ornament. Usually this is an arrangement of flowers in either a bowl or a vase, but it can be any one of an almost unlimited variety of things; flowers or fruit in any arrangement that taste and ingenuity can devise; or an ornament in silver that needs no flowers, such as a covered cup; or an epergne, which, however, necessitates the use of fruit, flowers or candy. Mrs. Wellborn, for instance, whose heirlooms are better than her income, rarely uses flowers, but has a wonderful old centerpiece that is ornament enough in itself. The foundation is a mirror representing a lake, surrounded by silver rocks and grass. At one side, jutting into the lake, is a knoll with a group of trees sheltering a stag and doe. The ornament is entirely of silver, almost twenty inches high, and about twenty inches in diameter across the lake.
The Normans have a full-rigged silver ship in the center of their table and at either end rather tall lanterns, Venetian really, but rather appropriate to the ship; and the salt cellars are very tall ones (about ten inches high), of sea shells supported on the backs of dolphins.
However, to go back to table setting: A cloth laid straight; then a centerpiece put in the middle; then four candlesticks at the four corners, about half-way between the center and the edge of the table, or two candelabra at either end halfway between the places of the host and hostess and the centerpiece. Candles are used with or without shades. Fashion at the moment, says without, which means that, in order to bring the flame well above peoples eyes, candlesticks or candelabra must be high and the candles as long as the proportion can stand. Longer candles can be put in massive candlesticks than in fragile ones. But whether shaded or not, there are candles on all dinner tables always! The center droplight has gone out entirely. Electroliers in candlesticks were never good style, and kerosene lamps in candlestickshorrible! Fashion says, Candles! preferably without shades, but shades if you insist, and few or manybut candles!
Next comes the setting of the places. (If it is an extension table, leaves have, of course, been put in; or if it is stationary, guests have been invited according to its size.) The distance between places at the table must never be so short that guests have no elbow room, and that the servants can not pass the dishes properly; when the dining-room chairs are very high backed and are placed so close as to be almost touching, it is impossible for them not to risk spilling something over some one. On the other hand, to place people a yard or more apart so that conversation has to be shouted into the din made by everyone elses shouting, is equally trying. About two feet from plate center to plate center is ideal. If the chairs have narrow and low backs, people can sit much closer together, especially at a small round table, the curve of which leaves a spreading wedge of space between the chairs at the back even if the seats touch at the front corners. But on the long straight sides of a rectangular table in a very largeand impressivedining-room there should be at least a foot of space between the chairs.
The necessary number of plates, with the pattern or initials right side up, are first put around the table at equal distances (spaced with a tape measure if the butler or waitress has not an accurate eye). Then on the left of each plate, handle towards the edge of the table, and prongs up, is put the salad fork, the meat fork is put next, and then the fish fork. The salad fork, which will usually be the third used, is thus laid nearest to the plate. If there is an entrée, the fork for this course is placed between the fish fork and that for the roast and the salad fork is left to be brought in later. On the right of the plate, and nearest to it, is put the steel meat knife, then the silver fish knife, the edge of each toward the plate. Then the soup spoon and then the oyster fork or grape fruit spoon. Additional forks and knives are put on the table during dinner.
In putting on the glasses, the water goblet is at the top and to the right of the knives, and the wine glasses are either grouped to the right of the goblet, or in a straight line slanting down from the goblet obliquely towards the right. (Butter plates are never put on a dinner table.) A dinner napkin folded square and flat is laid on each place plate; very fancy foldings are not in good taste, but if the napkin is very large, the sides are folded in so as to make a flattened roll a third the width of its height. (Bread should not be put in the napkinnot nowadays.) The place cards are usually put above the plate on the tablecloth, but some people put them on top of the napkin because they are more easily read.
When the places have been set, four silver dishes (or more on a very big table), either bowl or basket or paten shaped, are put at the four corners, between the candlesticks (or candelabra) and the centerpiece; or wherever there are four equally spaced vacancies on the table. These dishes, or compotiers, hold candy or fruit, chosen less for taste than for decorative appearance.
On a very large table the four compotiers are filled with candy, and two or four larger silver dishes or baskets are filled with fruit and put on alternately with the candy dishes. Flowers are also often put in two or four smaller vases, in addition to a larger and dominating one in the center.
Lots of people who would not dream of using a wrinkled tablecloth or chipped glass or china, seem perfectly blind to dirty silversilver that is washed clean of food of course, but so dull that it looks like jaundiced pewter.
Dont put any silver on your table if you cant have it cleaned. Infinitely rather have every ornament of glass or chinaand if knives and forks have crevices in the design of their handles that are hard to clean, buy plain plated ones, or use tin! Anything is better than yellow-faced dirty-finger-nailed silver. The first thing to ask in engaging a waitress is, Can you clean silver? If she cant, she would better be something else.
Of course no waitress and no single-handed butler can keep silver the way it is kept in such houses as the Worldlys, nor is such perfection expected. The silver polishing of perfection in huge houses is done by such an expert that no one can tell whether a fork has that moment been sent from the silversmiths or not. It is not merely polished until it is bright, but burnished so that it is new! Every piece of silver in certain of the great establishments, or in smaller ones that are run like a great one, is never picked up by a servant except with a rouged chamois. No piece of silver is ever allowed by the slightest chance to touch another piece. Every piece is washed separately. The footman who gathers two or three forks in a bunch will never do it a second time, and keep his place. If the ring of a guest should happen to scratch a knife handle or a fork, the silver-polisher may have to spend an entire day using his thumb or a silver buffer, and rub and rub until no vestige of a scratch remains.
Perfection such as this is attainable only in a great house where servants are specialists of super-efficiency; but in every perfectly run house, where service is not too limited, every piece of silver that is put on the table, at every meal, is handled with a rouged chamois and given a quick wipe-off as it is laid on the dining table. No silver should ever be picked up in the fingers as that always leaves a mark.
In view of the present high cost of living (including wages) and the consequent difficulty, with a reduced number of servants, of keeping a great quantity of silver brilliant, even the most fashionable people are more and more using only what is essential, and in occasional instances, are taking to china! People who are lucky enough to have well-stored attics these days are bringing treasures out of them.
But the modern manufacturers are making enchanting sets that are replicas of the old. These tea sets with cups and saucers to match and with a silver kettle and tray, are seen almost as often as silver services in simple houses in the country, as well as in the small apartment in town.
Dont put ribbon trimmings on your table. Satin bands and bows have no more place on a ladys table than have chop-house appurtenances. Pickle jars, catsup bottles, toothpicks and crackers are not private-house table ornaments. Crackers are passed with oyster stew and with salad, and any one who wants relishes can have them in his own house (though they insult the cook!). At all events, pickles and tomato sauces and other cold meat condiments are never presented at table in a bottle, but are put in glass dishes with small serving spoons. Nothing is ever served from the jar or bottle it comes in except certain kinds of cheese, Bar-le-Duc preserves (only sometimes) and wines. Pickles, jellies, jams, olives, are all put into small glass dishes.
Saucers for vegetables are contrary to all etiquette. The only extra plates ever permitted are the bread and butter plates which are put on at breakfast and lunch and supper above and to the left of the forks, but never at dinner. The crescent-shaped salad plate, made to fit at the side of the place plate, is seen rarely in fashionable houses. When two plates are made necessary by the serving of game or broiled chicken or squab, for which the plate should be very hot, at the same time as the salad which is cold, the crescent-shaped plate is convenient in that it takes little room.
A correct and very good serving dish for a family of two, is the vegetable dish that has a partition dividing it into two or even three divisions, so that a small quantity of two or three vegetables can be passed at the same time.
Napkin rings are unknown in fashionable houses outside of the nursery. But in large families where it is impossible to manage such a wash as three clean napkins a day entail, napkin rings are probably necessary. In most moderately run houses, a napkin that is unrumpled and spotless after a meal, is put aside and used again for breakfast; but to be given a napkin that is not perfectly clean is a horrid thought. Perhaps though, the necessity for napkin rings results in the achievement of the immaculate napkinwhich is quite a nice thought.
For faultless service, if there are many accompanied dishes, two servants are necessary to wait on as few as two persons. But two can also efficiently serve eight; or with unaccompanied dishes an expert servant can manage eight alone, and with one assistant, he can perfectly manage twelve.
In old-fashioned times people apparently did not mind waiting tranquilly through courses and between courses, even though meat grew cold long before the last of many vegetables was passed, and they waited endlessly while a slow talker and eater finished his topic and his food. But people of to-day do not like to wait an unnecessary second. The moment fish is passed them, they expect the cucumbers or sauce, or whatever should go with the fish, to follow immediately. And when the first servant hands the meat course, they consider that they should not be expected to wait a moment for a second servant to hand the gravy or jelly or whatever goes with the meat. No service is good in this day unless swiftand, of course, soundless.
A late leader of Newport society who had a world-wide reputation for the brilliancy of her entertainments, had an equally well-known reputation for rapidly served dinners. Twenty minutes is quite long enough to sit at tableever! is what she used to say, and what her household had to live up to. She had a footman to about every two guests and any one dining with her had to cling to the edge of his plate or it would be whisked away! One who looked aside or let go for a second found his plate gone! That was extreme; but, even so, better than a snail-paced dinner!
In America the dinner hour is not a fixture, since it varies in various sections of the country. The ordinary New York hour when giving a dinner is eight oclock, half past eight in Newport. In New York, when dining and going to the opera, one is usually asked for seven-fifteen, and for seven-thirty before going to a play. Otherwise only quiet people dine before eight. But invitations should, of course, be issued for whatever hour is customary in the place where the dinner is given.
When the dinner guests enter the dining-room, it is customary for the butler to hold out the chair of the mistress of the house. This always seems a discourtesy to the guests. And an occasional hostess insists on having the chair of the guest of honor held by the butler instead of her own. If there are footmen enough, the chair of each lady is held for her; otherwise the gentleman who takes her in to dinner helps her to be seated. Ordinarily where there are two servants, the head one holds the chair of the hostess and the second, the chair on the right of the host. The hostess always seats herself as quickly as possible so that the butler may be free to assist a guest to draw her chair up to the table.
In a big house the butler always stands throughout a meal back of the hostess chair, except when giving one of the men under him a direction, or when pouring wine. He is not supposed to leave the dining-room himself or ever to handle a dish. In a smaller house where he has no assistant, he naturally does everything himself; when he has a second man or parlor-maid, he passes the principal dishes and the assistant follows with the accompanying dishes or vegetables.
So-called Russian service is the only one known in New York which merely means that nothing to eat is ever put on the table except ornamental dishes of fruit and candy. The meat is carved in the kitchen or pantry, vegetables are passed and returned to the side table. Only at breakfast or possibly at supper are dishes of food put on the table.
From the setting of the table until it is cleared for dessert, a plate must remain at every cover. Under the first two courses there are always two plates. The plate on which oysters or hors doeuvres are served is put on top of the place plate. At the end of the course the used plate is removed, leaving the place plate. The soup plate is also put on top of this same plate. But when the soup plate is removed, the underneath plate is removed with it, and a hot plate immediately exchanged for the two taken away. The place plate merely becomes a hot fish plate, but it is there just the same.
If the first course had been a canapé or any cold dish that was offered in bulk instead of being brought on separate plates, it would have been eaten on the place plate, and an exchange plate would have been necessary before the soup could be served. That is, a clean plate would have been exchanged for the used one, and the soup plate then put on top of that. The reason for it is that a plate with food on it can never be exchanged for a plate that has had food on it; a clean one must come between.
If an entrée served on individual plates follows the fish, clean plates are first exchanged for the used ones until the whole table is set with clean plates. Then the entrée is put at each place in exchange for the clean plate. Although dishes are always presented at the left of the person served, plates are removed and replaced at the right.
May the Plates for Two Persons Be Brought in Together?
The only plates that can possibly be brought into the dining-room one in each hand are for the hors doeuvres, soup and dessert. The first two plates are placed on others which have not been removed, and the dessert plates need merely be put down on the tablecloth. But the plates of every other course have to be exchanged and therefore each individual service requires two hands. Soup plates, two at a time, would better not be attempted by any but the expert and sure-handed, as it is in placing one plate, while holding the other aloft that the mishap of soup poured down some ones back occurs! If only one plate of soup is brought in at a time, that accident at least cannot happen. In the same way the spoon and fork on the dessert plate can easily fall off, unless it is held level. Two plates at a time therefore is not a question of etiquette, but of the servants skill.
Once upon a time it was actually considered impolite to remove a single plate until the last guest at the table had finished eating! In other days people evidently did not mind looking at their own dirty plates indefinitely, nor could they have minded sitting for hours at table. Good service to-day requires the removal of each plate as soon as the fork is laid upon it; so that by the time the last fork is put down, the entire table is set with clean plates and is ready for the next course.
At every well-ordered dinner, there should be a double service for ten or twelve persons; that is, no hot dish should, if avoidable, be presented to more than six, or nine at the outside. At a dinner of twelve, for instance, two dishes each holding six portions, are garnished exactly alike and presented at opposite ends of the table. One to the lady on the right of the host, and the other to the lady at the opposite end of the table. The services continue around to the right, but occasional butlers direct that after serving the lady of honor on the right of the host, the host is skipped and the dish presented to the lady on his left, after which the dish continues around the table to the left, to ladies and gentlemen as they come. In this event the second service starts opposite the lady of honor and also skips the first gentleman, after which it goes around the table to the left, skips the lady of honor and ends with the host. The first service when it reaches the other end of the table skips the lady who was first served and ends with the gentleman who was skipped.
It is perhaps more polite to the ladies to give them preference, but it is complicated, and leaves another gentleman as well as the host, sitting between two ladies who are eating while he is apparently forgotten. The object (which is to prevent the lady who is second in precedence from being served last) can be accomplished by beginning the first service from the lady on the right of the host and continuing on the right 6 places; the second service begins with the lady on the left of the host and continues on the left five places, and then comes back to the host. The best way of all, perhaps, is to vary the honor by serving the entrée and salad courses first to the lady on the left instead of to the lady on the right and continue the service of these two courses to the left.
A dinner of eighteen has sometimes two services, but if very perfect, three. Where there are three services they start with the lady of honor and the sixth from her on either side and continue to the right.
As soon as the guests are seated and the first course put in front of them, the butler goes from guest to guest on the right hand side of each, and asks Apollinaris or plain water! and fills the goblet accordingly. In the same way he asks later before pouring wine: Cider, sir? Grape fruit cup, madam? Or in a house which has the remains of a cellar, Champagne? or Do you care for whisky soda, sir?
But the temperature and service of wines which used to be an essential detail of every dinner have now no place at all. Whether people will offer frappéd cider or some other iced drink in the middle of dinner, and a warmed something else to take the place of claret with the fish, remains to be seen. A water glass standing alone at each place makes such a meager and untrimmed looking table that most people put on at least two wine glasses, sherry and champagne, or claret and sherry, and pour something pinkish or yellowish into them. A rather popular drink at present is an equal mixture of white grape-juice and ginger ale with mint leaves and much ice. Those few who still have cellars, serve wines exactly as they used to, white wine, claret, sherry and Burgundy warm, champagne ice cold; and after dinner, green mint poured over crushed ice in little glasses, and other liqueurs of room temperature. Whisky is always poured at the table over ice in a tall tumbler, each gentleman saying when by putting his hand out. The glass is then filled with soda or Apollinaris.
As soon as soup is served the parlor-maid or a footman passes a dish or a basket of dinner rolls. If rolls are not available, bread cut in about two-inch-thick slices, is cut cross-ways again in three. An old-fashioned silver cake basket makes a perfect modern bread-basket. Or a small wicker basket that is shallow and inconspicuous will do. A guest helps himself with his fingers and lays the roll or bread on the tablecloth, always. No bread plates are ever on a table where there is no butter, and no butter is ever served at a dinner. Whenever there is no bread left at any ones place at table, more should be passed. The glasses should also be kept filled.
Dishes are presented held flat on the palm of the servants right hand; every hot one must have a napkin placed as a pad under it. An especially heavy meat platter can be steadied if necessary by holding the edge of the platter with the left hand, the fingers protected from being burned by a second folded napkin.
Each dish is supplied with whatever implements are needed for helping it; a serving spoon (somewhat larger than an ordinary tablespoon) is put on all dishes and a fork of large size is added for fish, meat, salad and any vegetables or other dishes that are hard to help. String beans, braised celery, spinach en branche, etc., need a fork and spoon. Asparagus has various special lifters and tongs, but most people use the ordinary spoon and fork, putting the spoon underneath and the fork, prongs down, to hold the stalks on the spoon while being removed to the plate. Corn on the cob is taken with the fingers, but is never served at a dinner party. A galantine or mousse, as well as peas, mashed potatoes, rice, etc., are offered with a spoon only.
The serving table is an ordinary table placed in the corner of the dining-room near the door to the pantry, and behind a screen, so that it may not be seen by the guests at table. In a small dining-room where space is limited, a set of shelves like a single bookcase is useful.
The serving table is a halfway station between the dinner table and the pantry. It holds stacks of cold plates, extra forks and knives, and the finger bowls and dessert plates. The latter are sometimes put out on the sideboard, if the serving table is small or too crowded.
At little informal dinners all dishes of food after being passed are left on the serving table in case they are called upon for a second helping. But at formal dinners, dishes are never passed twice, and are therefore taken direct to the pantry after being passed.
At dinner always, whether at a formal one, or whether a member of the family is alone, the salad plates, or the plates of whatever course precedes dessert, are removed, leaving the table plateless. The salt cellars and pepper pots are taken off on the serving tray (without being put on any napkin or doily, as used to be the custom), and the crumbs are brushed off each place at table with a folded napkin onto a tray held under the table edge. A silver crumb scraper is still seen occasionally when the tablecloth is plain, but its hard edge is not suitable for embroidery and lace, and ruinous to a bare table, so that a napkin folded to about the size and thickness of an iron-holder is the crumb-scraper of to-day.
The captious say dessert means the fruit and candy which come after the ices. Ices is a misleading word too, because suggestive of the individual ices which flourished at private dinners in the Victorian age, and still survive at public dinners, suppers at balls, and at wedding breakfasts, but which are seen at not more than one private dinner in a thousandif that.
In the present world of fashion the dessert is ice cream, served in one mold; not ices (a lot of little frozen images). And the refusal to call the sweets at the end of the dinner, which certainly include ice cream and cake, dessert, is at least not the interpretation of either good usage or good society. In France, where the word dessert originated, ices were set apart from dessert merely because French chefs delight in designating each item of a meal as a separate course. But chefs and cook-books notwithstanding, dessert means everything sweet that comes at the end of a meal. And the great American dessert is ice creamor pie. Pie, however, is not a company dessert. Ice cream on the other hand is the inevitable conclusion of a formal dinner. The fact that the spoon which is double the size of a teaspoon is known as nothing but a dessert spoon, is offered in further proof that dessert is spoon and not finger food!
There are two, almost equally used, methods of serving dessert. The first or hotel method, also seen in many fashionable private houses, is to put on a china plate for ice cream or a first course, and the finger bowl on a plate by itself, afterwards. In the private house service, the entire dessert paraphernalia is put on at once.
In detail: In the two-course, or hotel, service, the dessert plate is of china, or if of glass, it must have a china one under it. A china dessert plate is just a fairly deep medium sized plate and it is always put on the table with a dessert spoon and fork on it. After the inevitable ice cream has been eaten, a fruit plate with a finger bowl on it, is put on in exchange. A doily goes under the finger bowl, and a fruit knife and fork on either side.
In the single course, or private house, service, the ice cream plate is of glass and belongs under the finger bowl which it matches. The glass plate and finger bowl in turn are put on the fruit plate with a doily between, and the dessert spoon and fork go on either side of the finger bowl (instead of the fruit knife and fork). This arrangement of plates is seen in such houses as the Worldlys and the Oldnames, and in fact in most very well done houses. The finger bowls and glass plates that match make a prettier service than the finger bowl on a china plate by itself; also it eliminates a changebut not a removalof plates. In this service, a guest lifts the finger bowl off and eats his ice cream on the glass plate, after which the glass plate is removed and the china one is left for fruit.
Some people think this service confusing because an occasional guest, in lifting off the finger bowl, lifts the glass plate too, and eats his dessert on his china plate. It is merely necessary for the servants to notice at which place the china plate has been used and to bring a clean one; otherwise a cover is left with a glass plate or a bare tablecloth for fruit. Also any one taking fruit must have a fruit knife and fork brought to him. Fruit is passed immediately after ice-cream; and chocolates, conserves, or whatever the decorative sweets may be, are passed last.
This single service may sound as though it were more complicated than the two-course service, but actually it is less. Few people use the wrong plate and usually the ice-cream plates having others under them can be taken away two at a time. Furthermore, scarcely any one takes fruit, so that the extra knives and forks are few, if any.
Before finishing dessert, it may be as well to add in detail, that the finger bowl doiley is about five or six inches in diameter; it may be round or square, and of the finest and sheerest needlework that can be found (or afforded). It must always be cream or white. Colored embroideries look well sometimes on a country lunch table but not at dinner. No matter where it is used, the finger bowl is less than half filled with cold water; and at dinner parties, a few violets, sweet peas, or occasionally a gardenia, is put in it. (A slice of lemon is never seen outside of a chop-house where eating with the fingers may necessitate the lemon in removing grease. Pretty thought!)
Black coffee is never served at a fashionable dinner table, but is brought afterwards with cigarettes and liqueurs into the drawing-room for the ladies, and with cigars, cigarettes and liqueurs into the smoking room for the gentlemen.
The place cards are usually about an inch and a half high by two inches long, sometimes slightly larger. People of old family have their crest embossed in plain white; occasionally an elderly hostess, following a lifelong custom, has her husbands crest stamped in gold. Nothing other than a crest must ever be engraved on a place card; and usually they are plain, even in the houses of old families.
Small, standing porcelain slates, on which the menu is written, are seen on occasional dinner tables. Most often there is only one which is placed in front of the host; but sometimes there is one between every two guests.
As has already been observed, the most practical way to seat the table is to write the names on individual cards first, and then place them as though playing solitaire; the guest of honor on the hosts right, the second lady in rank on his left; the most distinguished or oldest gentleman on the right of the hostess, and the other guests filled in between.
The guest of honor is the oldest lady present, or a stranger whom you wish for some reason to honor. A bride at her first dinner in your house, after her return from her honeymoon, takes, if you choose to have her, precedence over older people. Or if a younger woman has been long away she, in this instance of welcoming her home, takes precedence over her elders. The guest of honor is always led in to dinner by the host and placed on his right, the second in importance sits on his left and is taken in to dinner by the gentleman on whose right she sits. The hostess is always the last to go into the dining-room at a formal dinner.
In an envelope addressed to each gentleman is put a card on which is written the name of the lady he is to take down to dinner. This card just fits in the envelope, which is an inch or slightly less high and about two inches long. When the envelopes are addressed and filled, they are arranged in two neat rows on a silver tray and put in the front hall. The tray is presented to each gentleman just before he goes into the drawing-room, on his arrival.
A frame made of leather, round or rectangular, with small openings at regular intervals around the edge in which names written on cards can be slipped, shows the seating of the table at a glance. In a frame holding twenty-four cards, twelve guests would be indicated by leaving every other card place blank, or for eight, only one in three is filled. This diagram is shown to each gentleman upon his arrival, so that he can see who is coming for dinner and where he himself is placed. At a dinner of ten or less this diagram is especially convenient as envelopes are used only at formal dinners of twelve and over.
When the number of guests is a multiple of four, the host and hostess never sit opposite each other. It would bring two ladies and two gentlemen together if they did. At a table which seats two together at each end, the fact that the host is opposite a gentleman and the hostess opposite a lady is not noticeable; nor is it ever noticeable at a round table. But at a narrow table which has room for only one at the end, the hostess invariably sits in the seat next to that which is properly her own, putting in her place a gentleman at the end. The host usually keeps his seat rather than the hostess because the seat of honor is on his right; and in the etiquette governing dinners, the host and not the hostess is the more important personage!
When there are only four, they keep their own places, otherwise the host and hostess would sit next to each other. At a dinner of eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty, etc., the host keeps his place, but at supper for eight or twelve, the hostess keeps her place and the host moves a place to the right or left because the hostess at supper pours coffee or chocolate. And although the host keeps his seat at a formal dinner in honor of the lady he takes in, at a little dinner of eight, where there is no guest of honor, the host does not necessarily keep his seat at the expense of his wife unless he carves, in which case he must have the end place; just as at supper she has the end place in order to pour.
One can be pretty sure on seeing a red velvet carpet spread down the steps of a house (or up! since there are so many sunken American basement entrances) that there are people for dinner. The carpet is kept rolled, or turned under near the foot (or top) of the steps until a few minutes before the dinner hour when it is spread across the width of the pavement by the chauffeur or whoever is on duty on the sidewalk. Very big or formal dinners often have an awning, especially at a house where there is much entertaining and which has an awning of its own; but at an ordinary house, for a dinner of twelve or so, the man on the pavement must, if it is raining, shelter each arriving guest under his coachmans umbrella from carriage to door. If it does not rain, he merely opens the doors of vehicles. Checks are never given at dinners, no matter how big; every motor is called by address at the end of the evening. The Worldly car is not shouted for as Worldly! but xox Fifth Avenue! The typical coachman of another day used to tell you carriages are ordered for ten-fifteen. Carriages were nearly always ordered for that hour, though with slow and long dinners no one ever actually left until the horses had exercised for at least an hour! But the chauffeur of to-day opens the door in silenceunless there is to be a concert or amateur theatricals, when he, like the coachman says, Motors are ordered for twelve oclock, or whatever hour he is told to say.
In this day of telephone and indefinite bridge games, many people prefer to have their cars telephoned for, when they are ready to go home. Those who do not play bridge leave an eight oclock dinner about half past ten, or at least order their cars for that hour.
In all modern houses of size there are two rooms on the entrance floor, built sometimes as dressing-rooms and nothing else, but more often they are small reception rooms, each with a lavatory off of it. In the one given to the ladies, there is always a dressing-table with toilet appointments on it, and the ladys maid should be on duty to give whatever service may be required; when there is no dressing-room on the ground floor, the back of the hall is arranged with coat-hangers and an improvised dressing-table for the ladies, since modern peoplein New York at leastnever go upstairs to a bedroom if they can help it. In fact, nine ladies out of ten drop their evening cloaks at the front door, handing them to the servant on duty, and go at once without more ado to the drawing-room. A lady arriving in her own closed car cant be very much blown about, in a completely air tight compartment and in two or three minutes of time!
Gentlemen also leave their hats and coats in the front part of the hall. A servant presents to each a tray of envelopes, and if there is one, the table diagram. Envelopes are not really necessary when there is a table diagram, since every gentleman knows that he takes in the lady placed on his right! But at very big dinners in New York or Washington, where many people are sure to be strangers to one another, an absent-minded gentleman might better, perhaps, have his partners name safely in his pocket.
A gentleman always falls behind his wife in entering the drawing-room. If the butler knows the guests, he merely announces the wifes name first and then the husbands. If he does not know them by sight he asks whichever is nearest to him, What name, please? And whichever one is asked, answers: Mr. and Mrs. Lake.
The butler then precedes the guests a few steps into the room where the hostess is stationed, and standing aside says in a low tone but very distinctly: Mrs. Lake, a pause and then, Mr. Lake. Married people are usually announced separately as above, but occasionally people have their guests announced Mr. and Mrs..
All men of high executive rank are not alone announced first, but take precedence of their wives in entering the room. The President of the United States is announced simply, The President and Mrs. Harding. His title needs no qualifying appendage, since he and he solely, is the President. He enters first, and alone, of course; and then Mrs. Harding follows. The same form precisely is used for The Vice-President and Mrs. Coolidge. A governor is sometimes in courtesy called Excellency but the correct announcement would be the Governor of New Jersey and Mrs. Edwards. He enters the room and Mrs. Edwards follows. The Mayor and Mrs. Thompson observe the same etiquette; or in a city other than his own he would be announced The Mayor of Chicago and Mrs. Thompson.
Other announcements are The Chief Justice and Mrs. Taft, The Secretary of State and Mrs. Hughes. Senator and Mrs. Washington, but in this case the latter enters the room first, because his office is not executive.
According to diplomatic etiquette an Ambassador and his wife should be announced, Their Excellencies the Ambassador and Ambassadress of Great Britain. The Ambassador enters the room first. A Minister Plenipotentiary is announced The Minister of Sweden. He enters a moment later and Mrs. Ogren follows. But a First Secretary and his wife are announced, if they have a title of their own, Count and Countess European, or Mr. and Mrs. American.
The President, the Vice-President, the Governor of a State, the Mayor of a city, the Ambassador of a foreign Powerin other words, all executivestake precedence over their wives and enter rooms and vehicles first. But Senators, Representatives, Secretaries of legations and all other officials who are not executive, allow their wives to precede them, just as they would if they were private individuals.
Foreigners who have hereditary titles are announced by them: The Duke and Duchess of Overthere. The Marquis and Marchioness of Landsend, or Sir Edward and Lady Blank, etc. Titles are invariably translated into English, Count and Countess Lorraine, not M. le Comte et Mme. la Comtesse Lorraine.
On all occasions of formality, at a dinner as well as at a ball, the hostess stands near the door of her drawing-room, and as guests are announced, she greets them with a smile and a hand-shake and says something pleasant to each. What she says is nothing very important, charm of expression and of manner can often wordlessly express a far more gracious welcome than the most elaborate phrases (which as a matter of fact should be studiously avoided). Unless a womans loveliness springs from generosity of heart and sympathy, her manners, no matter how perfectly practised, are nothing but cosmetics applied to hide a want of inner beauty; precisely as rouge and powder are applied in the hope of hiding the lack of a beautiful skin. One device is about as successful as the other; quite pleasing unless brought into comparison with the real.
Mrs. Oldname, for instance, usually welcomes you with some such sentences as, I am very glad to see you or I am so glad you could come! Or if it is raining, she very likely tells you that you were very unselfish to come out in the storm. But no matter what she says or whether anything at all, she takes your hand with a firm pressure and her smile is really a smile of welcome, not a mechanical exercise of the facial muscles. She gives you alwayseven if only for the momenther complete attention; and you go into her drawing-room with a distinct feeling that you are under the roof, not of a mere acquaintance, but of a friend. Mr. Oldname who stands never very far from his wife, always comes forward and, grasping your hand, accentuates his wifes more subtle but no less vivid welcome. And either you join a friend standing near, or he presents you, if you are a man, to a lady; or if you are a lady, he presents a man to you.
Some hostesses, especially those of the Lion-Hunting and the New-to-Best-Society variety are much given to explanations, and love to say Mrs. Jones, I want you to meet Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith is the author of Dragged from the Depths, a most enlightening work of psychic insight. Or to a good-looking woman, I am putting you next to the Assyrian AmbassadorI want him to carry back a flattering impression of American women!
But people of good breeding do not over-exploit their distinguished guests with embarrassing hyperbole, or make personal remarks. Both are in worst possible taste. Do not understand by this that explanations can not be made; it is only that they must not be embarrassingly made to their faces. Nor must a specialists subject be forced upon him, like a pair of manacles, by any exploiting hostess who has captured him. Mrs. Oldname might perhaps, in order to assist conversation for an interesting but reticent person, tell a lady just before going in to dinner, Mr. Traveler who is sitting next to you at the table, has just come back from two years alone with the cannibals. This is not to exploit her Traveled Lion but to give his neighbor a starting point for conversation at table. And although personal remarks are never good form, it would be permissible for an older lady in welcoming a very young one, especially a débutante or a bride, to say, How lovely you look, Mary dear, and what an adorable dress you have on!
The host stands fairly near his wife so that if any guest seems to be unknown to all of the others, he can present him to some one. At formal dinners introductions are never general and people do not as a rule speak to strangers, except those next to them at table or in the drawing-room after dinner. The host therefore makes a few introductions if necessary. Before dinner, since the hostess is standing (and no gentleman may therefore sit down) and as it is awkward for a lady who is sitting, to talk with a gentleman who is standing, the ladies usually also stand until dinner is announced.
It is the duty of the butler to count heads so that he may know when the company has arrived. As soon as he has announced the last person, he notifies the cook. The cook being ready, the butler, having glanced into the dining-room to see that windows have been closed and the candles on the table lighted, enters the drawing-room, approaches the hostess, bows, and says quietly, Dinner is served.
The host offers his arm to the lady of honor and leads the way to the dining-room. All the other gentlemen offer their arms to the ladies appointed to them, and follow the host, in an orderly procession, two and two; the only order of precedence is that the host and his partner lead, while the hostess and her partner come last. At all formal dinners, place cards being on the table, the hostess does not direct people where to sit. If there was no table diagram in the hall, the butler, standing just within the dining-room door, tells each gentleman as he approaches Right or Left.
R or L is occasionally written on the ladys name card in the envelopes given to the gentlemen, or if it is such a big dinner that there are many separate tables, the tables are numbered with standing placards (as at a public dinner) and the table number written on each ladys name card.
First of all, a hostess must show each of her guests equal and impartial attention. Also, although engrossed in the person she is talking to, she must be able to notice anything amiss that may occur. The more competent her servants, the less she need be aware of details herself, but the hostess giving a formal dinner with uncertain dining-room efficiency has a far from smooth path before her. No matter what happens, if all the china in the pantry falls with a crash, she must not appear to have heard it. No matter what goes wrong she must cover it as best she may, and at the same time cover the fact that she is covering it. To give hectic directions, merely accentuates the awkwardness. If a dish appears that is unpresentable, she as quietly as possible orders the next one to be brought in. If a guest knocks over a glass and breaks it, even though the glass be a piece of genuine Steigel, her only concern must seemingly be that her guests place has been made uncomfortable. She says, I am so sorry, but I will have it fixed at once! The broken glass is nothing! And she has a fresh glass brought (even though it doesnt match) and dismisses all thought of the matter.
Both the host and hostess must keep the conversation going, if it lags, but this is not as definitely their duty at a formal, as at an informal dinner. It is at the small dinner that the skilful hostess has need of what Thackeray calls the showman quality. She brings each guest forward in turn to the center of the stage. In a lull in the conversation she says beguilingly to a clever but shy man, John, what was that story you told me and then she repeats briefly an introduction to a topic in which John particularly shines. Or later on, she begins a narrative and breaks off suddenly, turning to some one else, You tell them!
These examples are rather bald, and overemphasize the method in order to make it clear. Practise and the knowledge of human nature, or of the particular temperament with which she is trying to deal, can alone tell her when she may lead or provoke this or that one to being at his best, to his own satisfaction as well as that of the others who may be present. Her own character and sympathy are the only real showman assets, since no one shows to advantage except in a congenial environment.
A polite hostess waits twenty minutes after the dinner hour, and then orders dinner served. To wait more than twenty minutes, or actually fifteen after those who took the allowable five minutes grace, would be showing lack of consideration to many for the sake of one. When the late guest finally enters the dining-room, the hostess rises, shakes hands with her, but does not leave her place at table. She doesnt rise for a gentleman. It is the guest who must go up to the hostess and apologize for being late. The hostess must never take the guest to task, but should say something polite and conciliatory such as, I was sure you would not want us to wait dinner! The newcomer is usually served with dinner from the beginning unless she is considerate enough to say to the butler, Just let me begin with this course.
Old Mrs. Toploftys manners to late guests are an exception: on the last stroke of eight oclock in winter and half after eight in Newport, dinner is announced. She waits for no one! Furthermore, a guest arriving after a course has been served, does not have to protest against disarranging the order of dinner since the rule of the house is that a course which has passed a chair is not to be returned. A guest missing his turn misses that course. The result is that everyone dining with Mrs. Toplofty arrives on the stroke of the dinner hour; which is also rather necessary, as she is one of those who like the service to be rushed through at top speed, and anyone arriving half an hour late would find dinner over.
It would be excellent discipline if there were more hostesses like her, but no young woman could be so autocratic and few older ones care (or dare) to be. Nothing shows selfish want of consideration more than being habitually late for dinner. Not only are others, who were themselves considerate, kept waiting, but dinner is dried and ruined for everyone else through the fault of the tardy one. And though expert cooks know how to keep food from becoming uneatable, no food can be so good as at the moment for which it is prepared, and the habitually late guest should be made to realize how unfairly she is meeting her hostess generosity by destroying for every one the hospitality which she was invited to share.
On the other hand, before a formal dinner, it is the duty of the hostess to be dressed and in her drawing-room fifteen, or ten minutes at least, before the hour set for dinner. For a very informal dinner it is not important to be ready ahead of time, but even then a late hostess is an inconsiderate one.
Ladies always wear gloves to formal dinners and take them off at table. Entirely off. It is hideous to leave them on the arm, merely turning back the hands. Both gloves and fan are supposed to be laid across the lap, and one is supposed to lay the napkin folded once in half across the lap too, on top of the gloves and fan, and all three are supposed to stay in place on a slippery satin skirt on a little lap, that more often than not slants downward.
It is all very well for etiquette to say They stay there, but every woman knows they dont! And this is quite a nice question: If you obey etiquette and lay the napkin on top of the fan and gloves loosely across your satin-covered knees, it will depend merely upon the heaviness and position of the fans handle whether the avalanche starts right, left or forward, onto the floor. There is just one way to keep these four articles (including the lap as one) from disintegrating, which is to put the napkin cornerwise across your knees and tuck the two side corners under like a lap robe, with the gloves and the fan tied in place as it were. This ought not to be put in a book of etiquette, which should say you must do nothing of the kind, but it is either do that or have the gentleman next you groping under the table at the end of the meal; and it is impossible to imagine that etiquette should wish to conserve the picture of gentlemen on all fours as the concluding ceremonial at dinners.
The turning of the table is accomplished by the hostess, who merely turns from the gentleman (on her left probably) with whom she has been talking through the soup and the fish course, to the one on her right. As she turns, the lady to whom the right gentleman has been talking, turns to the gentleman further on, and in a moment everyone at table is talking to a new neighbor. Sometimes a single couple who have become very much engrossed, refuse to change partners and the whole table is blocked; leaving one lady and one gentleman on either side of the block, staring alone at their plates. At this point the hostess has to come to the rescue by attracting the blocking ladys attention and saying, Sally, you cannot talk to Professor Bugge any longer! Mr. Smith has been trying his best to attract your attention.
Sally being in this way brought awake, is obliged to pay attention to Mr. Smith, and Professor Bugge, little as he may feel inclined, must turn his attention to the other side. To persist in carrying on their own conversation at the expense of others, would be inexcusably rude, not only to their hostess but to every one present.
At a dinner not long ago, Mr. Kindhart sitting next to Mrs. Wellborn and left to himself because of the assiduity of the ladys farther partner, slid his own name-card across and in front of her, to bring her attention to the fact that it was his turn.
Even if you are placed next to some one with whom you have had a bitter quarrel, consideration for your hostess, who would be distressed if she knew you had been put in a disagreeable place, and further consideration for the rest of the table which is otherwise blocked, exacts that you give no outward sign of your repugnance and that you make a pretence at least for a little while, of talking together.
At dinner once, Mrs. Toplofty, finding herself next to a man she quite openly despised, said to him with apparent placidity, I shall not talk to youbecause I dont care to. But for the sake of my hostess I shall say my multiplication tables. Twice one are two, twice two are four and she continued on through the tables, making him alternate them with her. As soon as she politely could she turned again to her other companion.
It used to be an offense, and it still is considered impolite, to refuse dishes at the table, because your refusal implies that you do not like what is offered you. If this is true, you should be doubly careful to take at least a little on your plate and make a pretence of eating some of it, since to refuse course after course can not fail to distress your hostess. If you are on a diet and accepted the invitation with that stipulation, your not eating is excusable; but even then to sit with an empty plate in front of you throughout a meal makes you a seemingly reproachful table companion for those of good appetite sitting next to you.
When a dinner has been prepared by a chef who prides himself on being a decorative artist, the guest of honor and whoever else may be the first to be served have quite a problem to know which part of an intricate structure is to be eaten, and which part is scenic effect!
The main portion is generally clear enough; the uncertainty is in whether the flowers are eatable vegetables and whether the things that look like ducks are potatoes, or trimming. If there are six or more, the chances are they are edible, and that one or two of a kind are embellishments only. Rings around food are nearly always to be eaten; platforms under food seldom, if ever, are. Anything that looks like pastry is to be eaten; and anything divided into separate units should be taken on your plate complete. You should not try to cut a section from anything that has already been divided into portions in the kitchen. Aspics and desserts are, it must be said, occasionally Chinese puzzles, but if you do help yourself to part of the decoration, no great harm is done.
Dishes are never passed from hand to hand at a dinner, not even at the smallest and most informal one. Sometimes people pass salted nuts to each other, or an extra sweet from a dish near by, but not circling the table.
At the end of dinner, when the last dish of chocolates has been passed and the hostess sees that no one is any longer eating, she looks across the table, and catching the eye of one of the ladies, slowly stands up. The one who happens to be observing also stands up, and in a moment everyone is standing. The gentlemen offer their arms to their partners and conduct them back to the drawing-room or the library or wherever they are to sit during the rest of the evening.
Each gentleman then slightly bows, takes leave of his partner, and adjourns with the other gentlemen to the smoking-room, where after-dinner coffee, liqueurs, cigars and cigarettes are passed, and they all sit where they like and with whom they like, and talk.
It is perfectly correct for a gentleman to talk to any other who happens to be sitting near him, whether he knows him or not. The host on occasionsbut it is rarely necessarystarts the conversation if most of the guests are inclined to keep silent, by drawing this one or that into discussion of a general topic that everyone is likely to take part in. At the end of twenty minutes or so, he must take the opportunity of the first lull in the conversation to suggest that they join the ladies in the drawing-room.
In a house where there is no smoking-room, the gentlemen do not conduct the ladies to the drawing-room, but stay where they are (the ladies leaving alone) and have their coffee, cigars, liqueurs and conversation sitting around the table.
In the drawing-room, meanwhile, the ladies are having coffee, cigarettes, and liqueurs passed to them. There is not a modern New York hostess, scarcely even an old-fashioned one, who does not have cigarettes passed after dinner.
At a dinner of ten or twelve, the five or six ladies are apt to sit in one group, or possibly two sit by themselves, and three of four together, but at a very large dinner they inevitably fall into groups of four or five or so each. In any case, the hostess must see that no one is left to sit alone. If one of her guests is a stranger to the others, the hostess draws a chair near one of the groups and offering it to her single guest sits beside her. After a while when this particular guest has at least joined the outskirts of the conversation of the group, the hostess leaves her and joins another group where perhaps she sits beside some one else who has been somewhat left out. When there is no one who needs any especial attention, the hostess nevertheless sits for a time with each of the different groups in order to spend at least a part of the evening with all of her guests.
When the gentlemen return to the drawing-room, if there is a particular lady that one of them wants to talk to, he naturally goes directly to where she is, and sits down beside her. If, however, she is securely wedged in between two other ladies, he must ask her to join him elsewhere. Supposing Mr. Jones, for instance, wants to talk to Mrs. Bobo Gilding, who is sitting between Mrs. Stranger and Miss Stiffleigh: Mr. Jones saunters up to Mrs. Gildinghe must not look too eager or seem too directly to prefer her to the two who are flanking her position, so he says rather casually, Will you come and talk to me? Whereupon she leaves her sandwiched position and goes over to another part of the room, and sits down where there is a vacant seat beside her. Usually, however, the ladies on the ends, being accessible are more apt to be joined by the first gentleman entering than is the one in the center, whom it is impossible to reach. Etiquette has always decreed that gentlemen should not continue to talk together after leaving the smoking-room, as it is not courteous to those of the ladies who are necessarily left without partners.
At informal dinners, and even at many formal ones, bridge tables are set up in an adjoining room, if not in the drawing-room. Those few who do not play bridge spend a half hour (or less) in conversation and then go home, unless there is some special diversion.
Very large dinners of fifty or over are almost invariably followed by some sort of entertainment. Either the dinner is given before a ball or a musicale or amateur theatricals, or professionals are brought in to dance or sing.
In this day when conversation is not so much a lost as a wilfully abandoned art, people in numbers can not be left to spend an evening on nothing but conversation. Grouped together by the hundred and with bridge tables absent, the modern fashionables in America, and in England, too, are as helpless as children at a party without something for them to do, listen to, or look at!
A dinner of sixty, for instance, is always served at separate tables: a center one of twenty people, and four corner tables of ten each. Or if less, a center table of twelve and four smaller tables of eight. A dinner of thirty-six or less is seated at a single table.
But whether there are eighteen, eighty, or one or two hundred, the setting of each individual table and the service is precisely the same. Each one is set with centerpiece, candles, compotiers, and evenly spaced plates, with the addition of a number by which to identify it; or else each table is decorated with different colored flowers, pink, yellow, orchid, white. Whatever the manner of identification, the number or the color is written in the corner of the ladies name cards that go in the envelopes handed to each arriving gentleman at the door: pink, yellow, orchid, white, or center table.
In arranging for the service of dinner the butler details three footmen, usually, to each table of ten, and six footmen to the center table of twenty. There are several houses (palaces really) in New York that have dining-rooms big enough to seat a hundred or more easily. But sixty is a very big dinner, and even thirty does not go well without an entertainment following it.
Otherwise the details are the same in every particular as well as in table setting: the hostess receives at the door; guests stand until dinner is announced; the host leads the way with the guest of honor. The hostess goes to table last. The host and hostess always sit at the big center table and the others at that table are invariably the oldest present. No one resents being grouped according to age, but many do resent a segregation of ultra fashionables. You must never put all the prominent ones at one table, unless you want forever to lose the acquaintance of those at every other.
After dinner, the gentlemen go to the smoking-room and the ladies sit in the ballroom, where, if there is to be a theatrical performance, the stage is probably arranged. The gentlemen return, the guests take their places, and the performance begins. After the performance the leave-taking is the same as at all dinners or parties.
That the guest of honor must be first to take leave was in former times so fixed a rule that everyone used to sit on and on, no matter how late it became, waiting for her whose duty it was, to go! More often than not, the guest of honor was an absent-minded old lady, or celebrity, who very likely was vaguely saying to herself, Oh, my! are these people never going home? until by and by it dawned upon her that the obligation was her own!
But to-day, although it is still the obligation of the guest who sat on the hosts right to make the move to go, it is not considered ill-mannered, if the hour is growing late, for another lady to rise first. In fact, unless the guest of honor is one really, meaning a stranger or an elderly lady of distinction, there is no actual precedence in being the one first to go. If the hour is very early when the first lady rises, the hostess, who always rises too, very likely says: I hope you are not thinking of going!
Usually, however, each one merely says, Good night, thank you so much. The hostess answers, I am so glad you could come! and she then presses a bell (not one that any guest can hear!) for the servants to be in the dressing-rooms and hall. When one guest leaves, they all leaveexcept those at the bridge tables. They all say, Good night to whomever they were talking with and shake hands, and then going up to their hostess, they shake hands and say, Thank you for asking us, or Thank you so much.
Thank you so much; good night, is the usual expression. And the hostess answers, It was so nice to see you again, or Im glad you could come. But most usually of all she says merely, Good night! and suggests friendliness by the tone in which she says itan accent slightly more on the good perhaps than on the night.
In the dressing-room, or in the hall, the maid is waiting to help the ladies on with their wraps, and the butler is at the door. When Mr. and Mrs. Jones are ready to leave, he goes out on the front steps and calls, Mr. Jones car! The Jones chauffeur answers, Here, the butler says to either Mr. or Mrs. Jones, Your car is at the door! and they go out.
The bridge people leave as they finish their games; sometimes a table at a time or most likely two together. (Husbands and wives are never, if it can be avoided, put at the same table.) Young people in saying good night say, Good night, it has been too wonderful! or Good night, and thank you so much. And the hostess smiles and says, So glad you could come! or just Good night!
The little dinner is thought by most people to be the very pleasantest social function there is. It is always informal, of course, and intimate conversation is possible, since strangers are seldom, or at least very carefully, included. For younger people, or others who do not find great satisfaction in conversation, the dinner of eight and two tables of bridge afterwards has no rival in popularity. The formal dinner is liked by most people now and then (and for those who dont especially like it, it is at least salutary as a spine stiffening exercise), but for night after night, season after season, the little dinner is to social activity what the roast course is to the meal.
The service of a little dinner is the same as that of a big one. As has been said, proper service in properly run houses is never relaxed, whether dinner is for eighteen or for two alone. The table appointments are equally fine and beautiful, though possibly not quite so rare. Really priceless old glass and china cant be replaced because duplicates do not exist and to use it three times a day would be to court destruction; replicas, however, are scarcely less beautiful and can be replaced if chipped. The silver is identical; the food is equally well prepared, though a course or two is eliminated; the service is precisely the same. The clothes that fashionable people wear every evening they are home alone, are, if not the same, at least as beautiful of their kind. Young Gildings lounge suit is quite as handsome as his dinner clothes, and he tubs and shaves and changes his linen when he puts it on. His wife wears a tea gown, which is classified as a negligé rather in irony, since it is apt to be more elaborate and gorgeous (to say nothing of dignified) than half of the garments that masquerade these days as evening dresses! They wear these informal clothes only if very intimate friends are coming to dinner alone. Alone may include as many as eight!but never includes a stranger.
Otherwise, at informal dinners, the host wears a dinner coat and the hostess a simple evening dress, or perhaps an elaborate one that has been seen by everyone and which goes on at little dinners for the sake of getting some wear out of it. She never, however, receives formally standing, though she rises when a guest comes into the room, shakes hands and sits down again. When dinner is announced, gentlemen do not offer their arms to the ladies. The hostess and the other ladies go into the dining-room together, not in a procession, but just as they happen to come. If one of them is much older than the others, the younger ones wait for her to go ahead of them, or one who is much younger goes last. The men stroll in the rear. The hostess on reaching the dining-room goes to her own place where she stands and tells everyone where she or he is to sit. Mary, will you sit next to Jim, and Lucy on his other side; Kate, over there, Bobo, next to me, etc.
Carving is sometimes seen at home dinner tables. A certain type of man always likes to carve, and such a one does. But in forty-nine houses out of fifty, in New York at least, the carving is done by the cook in the kitchena roast while it is still in the roasting pan, and close to the range at that, so that nothing can possibly get cooled off in the carving. After which the pieces are carefully put together again, and transferred to an intensely hot platter. This method has two advantages over table carving; quicker service, and hotter food. Unless a change takes place in the present fashion, none except cooks will know anything about carving, which was once considered an art necessary to every gentleman. The boast of the high-born Southerner, that he could carve a canvas-back holding it on his fork, will be as unknown as the driving of a four-in-hand.
Old-fashioned butlers sometimes carve in the pantry, but in the most modern service all carving is done by the cook. Cold meats are, in the English service, put whole on the sideboard and the family and guests cut off what they choose themselves. In America cold meat is more often sliced and laid on a platter garnished with finely chopped meat jelly and water cress or parsley.
A mans dinner is sometimes called a stag or a bachelor dinner; and as its name implies, is a dinner given by a man and for men only. A mans dinner is usually given to celebrate an occasion of welcome or farewell. The best-known bachelor dinner is the one given by the groom just before his wedding. Other dinners are more apt to be given by one man (or a group of men) in honor of a noted citizen who has returned from a long absence, or who is about to embark on an expedition or a foreign mission. Or a young man may give a dinner in honor of a friends twenty-first birthday; or an older man may give a dinner merely because he has a quantity of game which he has shot and wants to share with his especial friends.
Nearly always a mans dinner is given at the hosts club or his bachelor quarters or in a private room in a hotel. But if a man chooses to give a stag dinner in his own house, his wife (or his mother) should not appear. For a wife to come downstairs and receive the guests for him, can not be too strongly condemned as out of place. Such a maneuver on her part, instead of impressing his guests with her own grace and beauty, is far more likely to make them think what a poor worm her husband must be, to allow himself to be hen-pecked. And for a mother to appear at a sons dinner is, if anything, worse. An essential piece of advice to every woman is: No matter how much you may want to say How do you do to your husbands or your sons friendsdont!