A Black Tie Affair
Tips for a formal gathering
In these modern times of potluck suppers and casual get-togethers, who does not love an opportunity to bask in the halcyon days when ladies and gentlemen “dressed for dinner,” even when dining solo or with immediate family?
The Christmas season presents an ideal opportunity to invite friends to share in this elegant tradition of times past — the black tie dinner, an orchestrated event that requires thoughtful consideration of minute details well in advance.
The invitation sets the stage without question. Sending a formal invitation prepares guests for this sophisticated soiree, and receiving the nod for such a dinner party shakes a sequin in the soul with high expectation and excitement. Invitations are often handwritten on an elegant card with stylish script; thus, the recipient anticipates a special night.
Attire sets the tone for the evening. Natty men don black tie to include a white dress shirt with black bow tie, an evening waistcoat or cummerbund, and a dinner jacket, often accented with a pocket handkerchief. Cummerbunds and bow ties today are sometimes made with an accent color or pattern, which gives the gentleman a look of individuality. A cummerbund with a unique needlepoint pattern provides another option for expressing the wearer’s personality or special interests. Ladies sparkle with a swish of their skirts, which are traditionally floor length gowns, but today may be substituted with cocktail dresses. All that needs to be added are heels, stylish coiffures, heirloom jewelry, and evening lipstick. Think of a movie like To Catch a Thief, with debonair Cary Grant escorting the alluring Grace Kelly back to her room after their introductory drink.
Preparing for a black-tie dinner requires thoughtful consideration as to timing throughout the evening to insure a festive mood with laughter. Often, Champagne or a voguish cocktail is served upon entering the hosts’ home, with someone greeting you and taking your coat or wrap. A postured server might pass hors d’oeuvres with linen napkins, and a well-stocked bar is often available.
Lighting should be dim, but not dark, with candles flickering and soft music playing in the background. This is a perfect opportunity to use your pink lightbulbs — simply swap them for your regular white ones in every lamp throughout the house, and dim any overhead lights. The room should have a warm, welcoming glow, encouraging the buzz of relaxed, natural conversation. Hosting a swank black-tie dinner at Christmas will put a jingle in your step and put you on the party circuit for hostess extraordinaire among your friends. Keep the sophisticated tradition of social graces alive and be the talk of the town this Christmas.
Emily Post Table Settings Tips
- Eating utensils should be placed from an outside-in order, for use in the progression of the meal.
- Knife blades should always be placed with the cutting edge toward plate.
- No more than three of any implement should be on the table, except an oyster fork. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then utensils for the fourth course are brought with the meal. In this case, dessert spoons and forks should be brought in on the dessert plate.
- A service plate or charger holds the plate or bowl for the first course, which is brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the charger is used for all courses until the entree is served, at which point the plates are exchanged.
- The butter plate is placed above the forks at the left.
- Glasses are placed on the right above the knives and spoons. As many as five can be set, placed in the order in which they are used.
- Napkins are placed on top of the charger or to the left of the forks or under the forks if space is tight.
- White linens are still considered the most formal, but colored linens are elegant as well.
- The most formal table settings are strictly symmetrical with a centerpiece in the middle, always low enough so guests can see one another.
Emily Post Formal Dinner Tips
- Be ready at the time the evening is supposed to begin.
- Have a well-stocked bar.
- The seating arrangement at the table should be deliberately thought out to induce lively, interesting, well-mannered conversation.
Emily Post Party Guest Tips
- Respond to the invitation in a timely fashion.
- If you cannot be reasonably on time, possibly decline the invitation.
- Do not bring someone with you unless you have cleared it with the host first or unless your invitation indicates that you may bring a guest.
- Do not arrive early.
- When called to dinner, put your cocktail down and do not bring it to the table unless the host invites you to do so.
- Ladies are to be seated first, before the gentlemen.
- After you are seated, wait for the host or guest of honor to pick up their napkin before placing yours in your lap.
- Do not begin eating until everyone has been served and the hostess has picked up her eating utensil, signaling that you may pick up yours and begin.
- Cut your food one bite at a time.
- When passing food around the table, offer the dish to the person on your left, then serve yourself, and pass to the right.
- Salt and pepper are always passed together and set on the table first, never from hand to hand.
- Never salt your food without tasting it first.
- To deal with an unpleasant experience in your mouth, bring the fork to your lips and subtly use your tongue to remove the object from your mouth, then place it on your plate.
- If you drop something, do not pick it up unless it is in the way of people walking by. Tell the server, and he or she will deal with the issue.
- If you leave the table, place your napkin loosely on your chair. Never place a used napkin on the table.
- To signal you are finished, imagine your plate like a clock, and set your utensils on the plate so that both handles are resting at 4 o’clock.
- Never push your plate away when you are finished.
- Plates will be cleared away when the last guest has finished.
- No slouching, fidgeting, smacking, crunching (ice), touching your face or hair, blowing your nose, chewing with your mouth open, or talking with your mouth full. Never chew gum.
- When the bar is shut down, it is time to leave; this is how the host indicates the party is over.
- The “thank you” is the most impactful gesture for the guest. Always find your hosts before leaving and personally thank them. The absolute best thing to do is to follow the evening with a hand-written thank you note.
Attending a black-tie dinner party is about being graciously entertained by an organized and generous host, as well as being a charming guest. Moodiness, anger, bad manners, and cell phones are not allowed. Instead, enjoy being spoiled with delicious food and drink; relish the laughter and fun. Roll with the nostalgia of dressing up and be part of a simply sublime evening!