In cities the usual hour for a dinner party is seven o'clock; in country places it is frequently earlier in the day. When the last guest has arrived, dinner is announced. The host leads the way with the lady whom he wishes to honor and the hostess comes last with the gentleman whom she wishes to honor.
The giving of a dinner is the most important of all the duties of a hostess. She must not betray ignorance or show nervousness, for she alone is responsible for its entire success. The serving-maid should be trained to keep cool and avoid accidents. The number invited and the outlay expended should depend upon circumstances and one's means.
The favorite form of serving a formal dinner is called a la Russe. The articles of food are carved by the servants at a side table or in the kitchen and brought to the guests. This has one advantage; it allows the host and hostess more time for social enjoyment with their guests. But it calls for well-trained servants to perform this duty satisfactorily. It requires about one servant to every six guests; therefore, when dinner is served in this fashion, where the help is inadequate, it is well to engage outside assistance.
For a home-like, informal, dinner, where the host does the carving, one servant can wait upon twelve persons and do it well if properly trained. On a table or sideboard should be placed the plates for the various courses, smaller spoons, finger-bowls, coffee-cups and saucers. As the plates from each course are removed, they should be taken to the kitchen.
The waiter should approach the guests from the left except in serving water, coffee, or anything of a like nature. The color and flavor of the various courses should be as different from each other as possible, offering all the foods in their respective seasons and of the finest quality.
Oysters, as a rule, should be served at the beginning of a dinner, though they are used only in those months of the year in which the letter "r" occurs. The balance of the year little neck clams are used.
An entree is next in order if desired; it should be made in a fancy way, so as to avoid carving; bread should be the accompaniment. Relishes, such as olives, salted almonds, etc., are served with this course.
The Seventh Course consists of snipe, prairie-chicken, squabs, etc., but poultry, such as spring-chickens, or duck, may be served instead.
Any appetizing salad with cheese wafers.
Fresh fruits and bonbons.
Turkish or black coffee served demi-tasse.
Before serving the dessert all the dishes should be removed, save the drinking glasses, and all crumbs should be lifted from the cloth by means of the crumb knife and tray. A dessert plate and dessert spoon and knife, provided they are needed, should then be placed in front of each guest. Coffee (made after the manner of after-dinner coffee) should be passed last, demi-tasse, and served clear. Sugar and cream should follow, in order that those who prefer either or both, may help themselves as they please.
A host or hostess should never allude to the quality of the dishes or contents - either is in poor taste. The guests will discover their excellence without assistance.
If a guest does not care for a certain article do not press it upon him.
Do not, in serving, overload the plates.
Do not finger knife, fork, dishes or anything on the table.
Do not overload the fork.
Do not leave the knife and fork crossed on the plate when you have finished, but leave them parallel on the plate, the tines of fork down, the knife to the right and the sharp edge next to the fork.
Do not, under any circumstances, put the knife in the mouth.
Do not drink from the saucer.
Do not rise from the chair to reach anything.
Do not tip the soup-plate, or put the end of the soup-spoon in the mouth, except when eating oyster-soup.
Soup should be eaten from the side of the spoon and taken from the further side of the plate by moving the spoon from you.
Close the mouth when chewing.
Never make a hissing sound when eating soup.
Never cut bread, but break it, buttering each piece as it is eaten.
Never reach across others.
Bread should be buttered on the edge of the plate, never in mid-air.
Olives should be taken with the fingers.
The fork should be used for croquettes, patties and most made dishes, and must be used equally well in either hand. Never eat anything with a spoon that can be eaten with a fork.
Do not hesitate to take the last piece.
Do not move the chair, but seat yourself quietly.