Let dinner be announced quietly by the attendant to the hostess, who nods to the host and he leads the way with the lady assigned to him. This may be the eldest lady present, or a lady for whom the dinner is given, or a bride. The other guests follow, the ladies on the right arm of their escorts, followed by the hostess with the most distinguished *47 gentleman, or the one whom she wishes to honor, placing him at her right hand, she being opposite the host. The guests all remain standing until she seats herself. The ladies are assisted to seats by their escorts, who immediately seat themselves. The ladies sit at the right of their escorts. The host and hostess may sit at opposite sides or at opposite ends, as seems most convenient.
If guests who are unacquainted find themselves side by side at the dinner table, it is perfectly proper for them to engage in conversation. It is not etiquet for husbands or brothers to escort their own wives or sisters.
The table-cloth should be white and spotless, and of as "fine linen" as the means of the hostess will justify. Let the napkins be large, of fine texture, and unstarched. Under the table-cloth should be placed a thick spread to deaden the sound. Cotton flannel or baize may be used. An epergne of fruit and flowers, or a center-piece of flowers, is always in good taste. A tiny bouquet in bouquet-holder, or tied neatly with a ribbon, placed at the plate of each lady guest, and a button-hole bouquet for each gentleman, are marks of delicate attention, besides being aids in the decoration of the table.
Soup as a first course is sometimes placed at each plate before the meal is announced. If it is so served, the soup-plates should be well heated. It seems desirable for some reasons to serve it in this manner. Especially with an untrained servant, danger of spilling is avoided, which is worth considering in a company of richly-dressed ladies. If served at the table, it is proper for either host or hostess to officiate. The tureen and pile of plates are placed in front and but a single ladle-full dipped into each plate, passed to an attendant who serves first the lady of honor then all the other ladies, followed by the gentleman of honor and the other gentlemen. The plate must be handed at the left on a salver - (but water should always be poured at the right). All should take soup, even if they eat but little. As soon as each one has finished, the plate should be removed. The hostess must eat (or appear to eat) until each guest has finished. When all are through and the tureen is removed, the next course is brought on. If it is fish, do not serve more than one vegetable with it., Bread is passed with each course after soup.
Next follows the roast of meat or fowls. It is in good taste for a sirloin with proper accompaniments of vegetables, pickles, jelly, etc., to constitute the substantial part of the meal without any fowls. Or, if preferred, a nice turkey with the usual accompaniments may be served instead, to be followed by the pastry. Jelly is not served in sauce-dishes, but is put upon the dinner-plate, either by the host or by each gentleman for himself and the lady at his side. Do not help too abundantly. It is in very bad taste. Do not urge a second supply of the same dish.
If finger-bowls are used, one should be placed at the left of each plate. It should contain luke-warm water and a slice of lemon, or a geranium leaf, or any slight flavoring of rose, verbena, or anything else. Colored finger-bowls are prettier than white. They may be put in place before the guests are seated, or brought on with the dessert.
After the substantial part of the meal is removed, it is optional whether or not to change the table linen.
The dishes pertaining to each course must all be removed, and others substituted for the next course.
Dessert-cloths and napkins can be procured, and are exceedingly pretty and in good taste.
The pudding and pastry is next served. Coffee may be served with this, or at the last. When coffee is served, the cream and sugar - as desired - should be put into the cups first, and the hostess should always pour it.
Fruit comes after the pastry, and confectionery and ices follow. Fruit-cloths and napkins are used optionally. They are always colored.
When the meal is finished, the hostess rises and the others follow her example. The gentlemen usually repair to the smoking-room, while the ladies proceed directly to the parlors, preceded by the eldest, for a social chat. It is proper to depart in an hour after the dinner is over.