How Has Our Dinner Etiquette Changed From the Victorian Era?

Gone are the days of calling cards, when as a proper lady you gave your calling card to the butler so that he in turn could give it to the lady of the house. Gentlemen on the other hand used their calling cards as silent expressions of the reason for their visit.

In those days, people would be properly “announced” when entering the home of the host and hostess of a dinner party. Gone too, are the Victorian dinner party etiquette manuals for hosting or attending such a dinner. Granted, those days had butlers and one spoke delicately about domestic solicitude, and when the servers took away plates and such, they moved as if they were wearing soft ballet shoes, so light was their touch and attitude as they moved noiselessly about. Guests on the other hand basically pretended that the domestics were not even there.

Today, the emphasis is no longer on the pretentiousness of the Victorian era, but rather making sure that both guests and hosts are relaxed, and that they enjoy each other, without interruptions by graceless and boorish behavior. This means that etiquette is still around but do know that good manners are still in fashion.

Sending out a dinner party invitation used to mean that it had to be engraved, and accepting one meant that you RSVP’d back in writing as well. Today, it is still not quite good etiquette to send a dinner party invitation via email, though it seems as if even this custom is dwindling.

It was customary to dress in your finest during Victorian times, but now, many dinner party invitations now stipulate a more relaxed atmosphere and may say that it is casual dress. We have retained, though, the etiquette that one should never dress in a manner that “one ups” one’s host or hostess.

Good manners, also means that an invitation to a dinner party usually requires that you will give the hosts a small gift, such as flowers, or wine. Too, you will show up on time, not overly early, nor any later than ten minutes or so. Men should still seat their lady. Good manners also dictate that you use your napkin properly, and allowing the hosts to begin the meal by unfolding their napkin still signals that the meal has begun.

Men should still stand when a lady leaves the table, and in today’s cellular society, it is customary to turn cell phones off during dinnertime. It is exceedingly bad manners to take calls at the host’s table. Excuse yourself and take the call in private if it’s necessary to take a call at all.

Hosts need to be as ready as possible, anticipating that the food service will be taken care of properly, and if you need to adjust what’s being served for special diets, do it graciously. Neither host nor guest should ever drink to excess.

Granted everyone commits a faux pas on occasion, and the trick is to not allow it to ruffle you but instead excuse yourself once and continue onward, and if you maintain good manners, chances are that you will receive future work-related or social engagements once more.