This section of the book is from the "Household Companion: The Home Book Of Etiquette" book.
A dinner party is regarded by many persons as the most formal and, at the same time, the most elegant mode of entertaining guests--it is certainly the one which most severely taxes the resources of the hostess. Any woman not positively ill-bred can fill the position of hostess at a ball; but it requires tact, readiness, and a thorough knowledge of society to make a dinner party, in the ordinary parlance, " go off well." No matter how exquisite the china, glass, floral decorations, silver, and linen may be, if the hostess is a dull or awkward woman, the banquet will not be a success, for a proper selection of guests and the power of drawing them into gay and brilliant conversation are quite as needful as any of the material accessories.
The hostess should call into requisition all her tact and knowledge of society to set her guests at ease. No accident must disturb her. If her rarest china or most precious bit of glass is broken, she must appear not to notice it. If any one has had the misfortune to arrive late, she must welcome him or her cordially, though her duties to her other guests have not permitted her to wait in the drawing-room more than the fifteen minutes permitted by etiquette to the tardy. She must think only of encouraging the timid, inducing the taciturn to talk, and enabling all to contribute their best conversational powers to the general fund of entertainment. The same rules, of course, apply to the host.
The arrangements for dinner should be much the same whether the party be large or small, though, of course, the larger number will require a few extra servants, and may render advisable some extra courses. It should be remembered, however, by givers of dinners that too many courses are objectionable, and that in the best society of to-day fewer dishes are offered than was formerly the custom.
The hour for dinner should be fixed to suit the convenience of the guests and will vary in city and country. In the city it should be no earlier than seven nor later than eight o'clock, and the probability must be borne in mind that the guests will not all assemble till at least fifteen minutes after the hour named in the invitations. Tardiness of this kind was formerly considered rude, but has now become so common as to be expected and allowed for.