Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dinner Downton Abbey Style: Good manners and table etiquette

Have you ever wondered about the customs and etiquette traditions that are lost in time and which ones remain to this day? How much these traditions have changed over time? Just watch one of the scenes of Downton Abbey were the family is eating dinner or hosting a party and you will see how different people behavior was. 

Maybe you are just thinking about celebrating a birthday party or a dinner Downton Abbey Style. If you do, there are things you should know. Maybe you won't be able to replicate the exact elements for a dinner of that Era but you could do something very similar.

There is nostalgia for the protocol and customs on the table; for breakfast, lunch and dinner time. But good manners and table etiquettes are becoming mainstream/fashionable again in part thanks to shows like Downton Abbey. The fact that we can see before our eyes the grandeur and elegance of the past,  makes us truly hope to continue that lifestyle. 
Many table etiquettes rules of the Edwardian Era and Victorian Era can still apply to our modern society; in fact, they should still be used at dinner tables. If you pay attention, you will notice that there are people who still implement certain behaviors at the table that comes from the two Eras. 
(I'll skip the situations where guest with noble titles are present because...having royalty at home for dinner is not common.) 
 If you are a hostess/host : 

1. Dinner etiquette begins with the host. After planning the dinner, you should invite people one week to three weeks in advance so people can plan ahead properly. This means, if you let them know with plenty of time ahead this will give them time to accept or refuse your invitation. 
-What to do: Invite people by phone and Facebook. Let's not forget that we live in the Era of social media and let's face it, Facebook will give your guests a reminder of the event they were invited to. 
-What not to do: Invite people a couple of days before or the same day. A person who is invited at the last minute can be offended and take this invitation as a snub. Who would like to be the last to know about a party? 
2. The dress code is a guide that will indicate you what kind of attire you are required to use according to the event. It goes from black tie, black tie optional, semiformal, dressy casual and casual.  

-What to do: In the invitation you must indicate the appropriate dress code if you want your guests to be in tune with your dinner decor or theme. 
 -What not to do: Tell your guest to wear whatever they want. There is a big chance that your guests will feel over dress or under dress when they get to your dinner party, making them feel uncomfortable. 
  If you are the guest:

1. Invitations 

-What to do: After getting a phone call or an invitation for a dinner party or birthday party through Facebook, you should try to answer it immediately. Just as the host was kind enough to invite you with enough time in advance so you can attend, the guest must answer as soon as possible so that the host or hostess will have an exact number of guests. This way she/he will know how much food and drinks will be needed.  

-What not to do: Also, don't accept any invitations if you know you can't attend. It's rude to cancel at the last minute. If you have no plans to attend, be kind enough to call the host, apologize and let them know you are not going. 
2. Dress Code 

-What to do: If by any reasons your invitation or your host does not indicate what kind of attire you are expected to use, you should ask. 
-What not to do: If your invitations clearly indicate the dinner's dress code. Don't use the opposite attire you are required to use. 

On the Victorian Era and the Edwardian Era not only the good manners on the table could tell people about your upbringing and breed but the way you dressed was very important. This entire combined is the ideal package to get accepted in the high hierarchy of the society at the time.  
Time to sit on the table 

  • Don’t sit down until the hostess (or host) is seated. Just stand behind your chair and wait until the hostess is ready to sit or at least until she/he ask you to sit down. 
  • Rest your wrists on the table while eating and if you’re not, put them on your lap but don't ever put your elbows on the table. 
  • Begin eating only after the hostess or host does. If you were at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey), the “footman” would not remove the dishes until the hostess is finished. 
  • Don't place anything on the table. I am talking about cell phones, glasses, wallets, gloves, makeup, purse, etc. 
  • Direct your attention to the hostess but also starts a conversation with the person sitting to your right and then do the same with the person sitting to your left. Nobody likes to be ignored. 
The dinner will officially begin when the hostess take her napkin off the table, you should take your napkin from the table too and place it in your lap after the hostess (or host) does. At formal dinners, large cloth napkins are placed in the lap and then unfolded in half with the fold facing the waist (if you wear gloves just leave them under your napkin). 
There are a few things to remember like, what to do with the knife and the fork when one is done with the food. Silverware should never touch the table and always rest on a plate. There is even a proper way to put the knives and the forks on the plate when you are not finished with your dinner. 

The host and hostess will sit at the side/middle of the table across from each other. This way they will be able to make eye contact and chat with the entire guests if possible. This is also because, if there are no butlers or footmen available to serve, then the hostess/host will have the food within reach.  If people need to pass the food around the table it should be done in a counterclockwise direction, or to the right. But if you need to pass it to the left, just do it, it will be silly to pass the food all the way around the table if you are close to that person.

If you are in a formal dinner at Downton Abbey you will probably notice that you have in front of you multiple forks, knives, spoons and crystal glasses of different sizes. You should begin from the outside silverware to the inside or just copy what the others are doing. If your cutlery is dirty, indicate the waiter to approach you, without using your voice just with a hand signal and ask him politely to change it. Never clean the cutlery with your napkin.  

During dinner you should try to engage in conversation with the people to your right or left, but also try to pay attention to what is going on in the table. Avoid topics like religion, politics or money. Those kinds of conversations usually end up unpleasantly.  
-What not to do during dinner:  
  • You should never speak too loud or scream.  
  • Don't use profanity. 
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol. 
  • Don't tell the hostess a better way to cook the food.  
  • As a host never apologize for the cooking. You did your best. 
  • Never complain about the food, if you don't like something on the plate, just leave it. 
  • Don't speak with the mouth full 
  • Eat your dinner with a good pace, neither too fast nor too slow. 
  • Never leave the table when there are still people eating their food or without asking to be excused. 
  • Never cut the bread. Break it into small pieces with your hands and then spread each piece with butter. 
  • Take your knife and your fork off the plate before being served again. 
  • Never gesticulate with a fork or a knife in your hand. 
  • Don't use the toothpicks at the table. 
-What to do during dinner: 
  • Make sure you are using the right cutlery 
  • Take small sips from your cup 
  • Clean your mouth before speaking, drinking or if you feel something might be on your lips. 
  • When talking to someone, make eye contact. Your food can wait. 
  • Use words like "Please", "Thank you" , "Will you ..." . 
  • Introduce pleasing topics of conversation. 
  • Stay at least an hour after dinner is finished. After all, you are not there just to eat dinner but to enjoy the company of friends. 

The only way to know the dinner is finished is when the hostess laid the fork and knife together across the plate and the napkin over the table. You can do the same only after the hostess. 

Now it's time for dessert and you will find a dessertspoon and fork placed horizontally above the dinner plate. Use the fork for eating and the spoon to push the dessert or vice versa, depending on what kind of dessert you got.  Finally (this is not a must) the women would leave to the drawing room for some coffee and the men will stay to smoke cigars and talk about business. The groups would reunite after one hour for playing cards or something like that.  

The host/hostess job was truly over when she accompanies her guests to their carriages  (or the door) and wave goodbye .  

Hope you enjoyed these basic tips to learn some good manners and table etiquette. I hope this will help you to understand more about the solemnity and protocol that the Victorians and the Edwardians were used to. Maybe you can implement these tips and use them at a themed evening party. Good luck! 

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