The servant watches the number of guests and when all have arrived announces dinner. Or, in case of a belated guest, he waits for a signal from the hostess. When dinner is announced, the host offers his right arm to the lady who is to sit at his right. The other couples follow; then, last, the hostess with the gentleman who is to sit at her right.
Guests are enabled to find their places easily by means of "place cards," on which the name of each guest is distinctly written. Confusion in seating the guests is thus avoided, and it can be arranged to have congenial persons near each other.
The host and hostess may sit at the ends of the table or in the middle of each side. The lady who is to be especially honored sits on the host's right, she who is to be honored next, on his left. Similarly two gentlemen are honored by seats on the right and left of the hostess.
The hostess should, as far as possible, bring together only guests who "mix well," and should select the dinner partners tactfully. Two very quiet people should not be seated together, or two who have very decided opinions, or two who are known to be uncongenial. The dinner should be a feast of good things other than food, and conversation should be as entertaining as possible. Upon host and hostess, of course, devolves the duty of keeping conversation alive, though the guests are expected to do their part. Many a hostess has saved the day by a bon mot or a tactful change of subject. Some women are born hostesses: most women can be made, or, rather, can make themselves successful hostesses. The chief essentials are tact, which is the saving grace of all women, the ability to be interested in many things, and true kindliness.
Courtesy, after all - that is, true courtesy - is a matter of the heart, and is not dependent upon any knowledge of social usages. Some women, notably poor conversationalists, are still very charming hostesses. In them thoughtfulness and tact make up for lack of brilliancy.
One thing, however, is of first importance for the hostess' peace of mind. All the arrangements for the entertainment must be carefully planned, so that the dinner will proceed with the smoothness of clock-work and that the hostess may be as a guest at her own table. Servants should be thoroughly instructed beforehand, and everything should be in readiness when the guests arrive.
In arranging the menu too much should not be attempted and each course should be in pleasing contrast to the last. Except for a very elaborate dinner, raw oysters, a clear soup, fish, one entree, a roast with potatoes and one other vegetable, salad with cheese straws or crackers and cheese, an ice, fruit and black coffee should be sufficient. Butter is never served except at the informal family dinner.
The table should have its centerpiece of growing ferns or flowers, and two or four candlesticks with wax candles and pretty shades. (No edibles, with the exception of bonbons, salted nuts or crystallized fruits in compotiers, appear upon the table.) All the china used in the same course should match wherever possible; but a different set of plates are permissible for each course.
A supply of extra silver should be laid out in convenient fashion on the sideboard, and finger-bowls, dessert plates, after-dinner coffee cups and spoons should be in readiness on the side-table. Water in the finger-bowls should be warm, with perhaps a dainty flower or a leaf of rose geranium floating on the surface.