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Rules Of Etiquette And Serving

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Make the table as neat and attractive as possible. Not only does a dignified and courteous serving of the family meal aid digestion, but it teaches a refinement of manner that distinguishes the well-bred from others. Children should not be allowed to eat hastily and rush away to play; if the meal is very long they may be excused upon a quiet request.

Never speak of unpleasant subjects at table, such as death, disease, and great disasters. Cultivate the art of conversation at table; save amusing stories for the occasion. The old rule that children should be seen and not heard should not apply at the home table. They should be expected to do their part in the conversation, as they will gain much social training in this way.

A Dinner Invitation. An invitation to dinner must be graciously accepted or declined immediately with regret. An invitation should not be accepted conditionally, as the number invited is limited and the hostess may wish to fill the place of an invited guest who cannot be sure of being present. If one accepts, nothing except illness, or some equally urgent reason, is an excuse for not attending. One should reach the house not less than five minutes or more than fifteen minutes before the hour and should remain for half an hour or more after the dinner. Never be late.

Formal dinner invitations are written in the third person ; other dinner invitations may be given verbally or by an informal note. (Ask the English teacher to give a lesson on formal and informal invitations. Be very particular about the appearance of the notes.)


The hostess will indicate the chair one is to occupy. Stand at the back or side of the chair until she gives the signal. Then be seated from the left; arise from the same side. Gentlemen arrange chairs for the ladies and remain standing until they are seated. If the ladies withdraw from the dining room before the gentlemen, the gentlemen rise.

In sitting at the table place the chair far enough away to bend forward without touching the table. Then there will be no temptation to put the elbows on it. Sit erect and keep the feet on the floor.

When the dinner is over put the napkin loosely at the side of your plate, unless you are to be a guest for following meals; in this case, fold the napkin. Handle it with as little display as possible. Do not put it on the table until the hostess lays hers down.

If in doubt about any point follow the example of the hostess.

Do not play with the silver or put the hands on the table.

One should not reach across the table in front of one's neighbor.

In asking to have anything passed mention the name of the person spoken to. In offering to serve anything say "May I help you?" "May I offer you?" "Let me give you." In refusing food never say "I do not like that ;" say "Thank you, I do not wish any."

Be attentive and courteous to the other guests even if they are not congenial to you. This courtesy is due the hostess. If one must leave the table before the other guests, ask permission of the hostess.

Keep the knife across the edge of the plate when it is not in use. It is used only for cutting. The fork is held in the left hand with the tines down when the right hand is used for cutting food with the knife. Do not cut or mix all the food at once. Cut just what is to be eaten at the time. Use the fork to cut everything soft. Lay the fork across the plate when not in use, next to the sharp edge of the knife.

One hand at a time may be put to the mouth when eating chicken from the bone, celery, asparagus, corn from the cob (the cobs should be cut in short lengths), lettuce rolled and dipped in dressing, radishes, and bread. Do not take more than two mouthfuls in succession while the hand is up.

Do not butter all the bread at once, but break in pieces and butter as eaten. Keep bread on the bread and butter plate or on the dinner plate; never on the tablecloth.

Do not pound salt shakers on the table to loosen the salt. Take salt from a salt cellar with a salt spoon or the tip of a knife. Put it on the plate; never on the tablecloth. Never dip food in salt used by others.

Do not drink from the spoon; use it for stirring only. It may be used to see that a beverage is properly sweetened. Take food from the side of the spoon ; never from the tip. Do not leave the spoon in the cup. Lay it on the saucer at the right and parallel to the handle of the cup.

In eating soup dip away from the body, and take it from the side of the spoon. Do not put bread or crackers in soup.

Do not blow upon any food to cool it. Never pour hot beverages into a saucer.

Do not make a noise when eating food.

Drink from the water glass held in the right hand with the fingers around the tumbler, near the bottom. Drink only a little at a time. Do not drain the glass at one drinking.

Eat with the mouth closed, and do not try to speak with food in the mouth.

In sending the plate back for a second helping lay the knife and fork across it and a little to one side.

Keep the plate neat. Do not scrape the plate or tilt dishes to remove the last bit of food.


The Dining Room. Have the dining room clean and well ventilated. Have the tablecloth and napkins spotless, even if nothing better than white oilcloth and paper napkins are to be had. Adjust shades or curtains so that the light is not in the eyes of those seated at the table. Put chairs up to, but never under, the table.

The sideboard, on which is arranged needed silver, china, and finger bowls, should be covered with a perfectly laundered cloth. Hot dishes are not put on the sideboard.

The serving table should be protected by an asbestos pad, then covered With a smooth linen cloth. On it place serving trays, hot dishes, and other food.

Everything should be conveniently placed before dinner is announced.

Setting the Table. First cover the table with a silence cloth or a quilted or asbestos pad. The tablecloth should. be laundered without starch. (See Laundering.)

Place the center of the cloth in the center of the table, and have opposite sides the same distance from the floor.

The Decorations. The table may be made attractive by the use of fruit or flowers as a centerpiece. For the breakfast or luncheon table place a dish of fruit, a low vase of flowers, or a growing plant in the center.. For the dinner table use flowers or a plant.

The appearance of the food itself is another decorative feature. The dish selected for food must be so large that the edges will remain clean. Do not fill any dish too full. Meat, especially if it is to be carved, must be put on a comparatively large platter. If food is served in the dish in which it is cooked a napkin arranged in several diagonal folds may be neatly pinned around it. A pudding dish or a casserole with an outer dish of silver or china may be used. Bowls or small dishes for sauces or other foods that are apt to soil the tablecloth should have a small plate or tray underneath.

Desserts with very thin sauces are more attractive if served in deep rather than shallow plates. Biscuit or rolls of symmetrical and even size, bread cut in neat squares or oblongs, cake or pie neatly cut, and all browned to an even golden hue are decorative, as are rich, brown, juicy meats and golden brown potatoes. A stew served in a border of well-browned potatoes furnishes a pleasing contrast for the eye as well as for the palate. A brown stew with a border of white potatoes or rice is very attractive. Vegetables must be well drained, never watery. For example, spinach surrounded by water is unappetizing, but put in a neat mound garnished with egg is pleasing to the eye. Al-ways keep the appearance of the various dishes in mind when planning your menus.

Anything used for a garnish must be very dainty and attractive, and should be edible. Parsley is one of the most popular articles used in this way; it is also a condiment and is believed to be an aid to digestion. It should be very clean and crisp and the curled variety is to be preferred. If grown in a window box or a flower bed it is always to be had when needed. A single garnish used repeatedly, however, is as monotonous as a single method of preparing a certain food. Lemon in slices or eighths is used with fish and some meats. Curled celery is another appetizing garnish. Tiny red radishes with the skin curled back are attractive for ham or beef, and eggs in various forms may be used for many vegetables. Salads may be served on beds of crisp, dry lettuce or cress, in apple cups, or in tomatoes, or green peppers. Avoid an excess of carelessly prepared greens. A sprig or two of parsley at the ends of a platter of steak is appetizing, but a whole bunch detracts from the food.

Fruit may be served in low bowls, platters, or baskets with a few perfect leaves. Grape and peach leaves are very effective. Desserts may be surrounded by whipped cream or deco-rated with a meringue. Gelatin and cornstarch desserts may be turned from the mold on platters or shallow bowls. Ice cream may be molded and garnished with fresh or candied fruit.

The Cover. The space occupied by the plate and silver for each person is known as the cover. Allow as much space as possible for this (at least twenty inches is needed for comfort, and twenty-five to thirty is better). A cover should occupy a space fifteen inches in depth from the edge of the table.

The place of the hostess is at the end of the table nearest the door of the drawing or living room, as she enters the room last. Where the hostess is both cook and waitress and must rise from the table during the meal, it is more convenient for her to sit near the kitchen door. The host sits opposite the hostess. The place of honor for gentlemen is at the right of the hostess; for ladies, at the right of host.

Arrange all dishes so as to give the table a symmetrical appearance; this does not necessarily mean in straight rows. All dishes and pieces of silver should be placed at least one inch from the edge of the table.

If there are no warm dishes to be served, put a plate right side up in the center of each cover. The decorations on the plate should face the guest. (At formal dinners a handsome plate known as the service plate is placed at each cover and is not removed until the main hot meat course appears. In this style of service the place before the guest is always occupied by a plate until the table is cleared for the dessert. As the waitress removes one plate she places another that has been served.)

Knives are placed at the right, sharp edges turned to the plate; forks at the left, tines up; teaspoons at the left of the plate, bowl up ; soup and cereal spoons are placed at the right. The silver is placed in the order in which it is to be used; that used first farthest from the plate.

If the table is to be cleared before the dessert and coffee are served do not put on dessert spoons or forks or coffee spoons -when setting the table.

The water glass is placed at the tip of the knife, top up. The bread and butter plate is placed at the tip of the fork. Place the napkin at the left, neatly folded in a square. Never arrange it in the irregular forms seen in some public eating places.

Place the soup ladle in front of the hostess or at the right, handle to the right and bowl up.

Place carving set in front of the host, or put carving knife and gravy ladle at his right, and fork at his left.

Place several tablespoons and forks, if needed, at each end of the table, or lay one beside each place where the dishes to be served will be placed.

If tea or coffee is to be served before the table is cleared, arrange the cups and saucers at the left of the hostess, handles turned the same way, and cream pitcher, sugar bowl, and coffee pot at the right (either on a tray or separate), the whole forming a semicircle.

Put the water pitcher or carafe (a glass water jug) in front of the person who is to replenish the glasses. If a waitress is at hand the water is put on the sideboard.

At informal meals the butter dish may be placed at one side of the center of the table, with the butter knife at the right. If butter is served in balls a small butter fork is used instead of the knife.

Put salt and pepper at each side of the center of the table or at each end. If individual salt and peppers are used place before each cover.

Finger bowls are filled one-third full of fresh cold water. In them there may be a geranium leaf or a rose petal. They are placed on the sideboard before the meal is announced. Where fruit is served first at an informal meal the finger bowls may be placed on the table at the beginning of the meal, on. a doily or on the fruit plate; (the bowl is lifted from the plate as the fruit is passed), or in front of the plate. If the fruit is on the plate when the meal is announced, put the bowl on a doily in front of the plate. A fruit course of sliced peaches or berries that have been hulled or any fruit that does not soil the fingers does not require finger bowls.

At the end of a formal meal place each finger bowl on a dainty doily on a small plate. When the coffee is served place finger bowl in front and a little to the left of guest.

The Breakfast Table. (Review general directions.) Arrange the table for breakfast as directed, selecting the dishes according to the menu. Put butter and jam or other sweet on the table.

Serving the Fruit Course. If fruit is served first put the fruit plates with the finger bowls in the center of the space allowed for each person. Place a silver fruit knife at the right on the fruit plate if it will be needed. Put a fruit spoon if required at the right, outside the breakfast knife.

At a very simple meal butter may be placed on the breakfast plate or on a small butter plate instead of using the bread and butter plate.

Put the cereal in a covered dish before the person who is to serve it, with the cereal bowls or saucers at the left.

Unless they are being warmed, place the breakfast plates at the left of the space intended for the hot dish that is to be served by the host. After the fruit course and the finger bowls are removed serve the cereal. When the cereal dishes are removed place the hot dish before the host, or if eggs in cups are served place them when the cereal bowls are taken away.

Hot bread and potatoes are placed on the table at the sides. If a waitress is in attendance she may first pass them.

The Supper or Luncheon. Supper or luncheon may be served as directed for breakfast. Fruit may form the first course at luncheon and may be served as at breakfast, or it may be used for dessert.

At supper small plates are used if no meat is served. If preserves are used place the dish before the person who is to serve it with dessert saucers at the left. If the supper plates have had nothing in them that will spoil the flavor of the pre-serves, it may be served on them at a very informal meal.

Dinner. Even if one has no waitress dinner should be served in as dignified a manner as possible. Set the table carefully, using dinner plates.

At the family dinner the carving is done at the table. The soup, vegetables, salad, dessert, and tea or coffee, also, are served at the table. It is permissible for those at the table to pass the vegetables, or some one near the carver may put them on the plate with the meat.

If the table is carefully set the person who acts as waitress need leave her seat but twice—once after the soup, and once before the dessert. The one who cooks should not be expected to leave her place to serve.

Boys should take turns with their sisters in serving at the table when there is no waitress.

When soup forms the first course, place the tureen before the one who is to serve, and the warm soup plates directly in front of and almost touching it. (If many plates are needed do not put them in one pile.) Remove the turning it upside down. After the first course remove the tureen, then the plates, taking them one at a time instead of piling them together. Then bring on the hot dishes, including the warm dinner plates. Re-fill the water glasses.

Before the dessert is served remove everything except water glasses and carafe; then place the dessert before the one who is to serve.

Fill water glasses to within an inch of the top just before the meal is announced. When the glasses are to be refilled draw them to the edge of the table at the right of the guest.

Plates must be warmed if the course requires it. Bread, cakes, and some pastry may be served at the room temperature.

Serve from the left everything to which the guest helps him-self. Serve from the right everything to be set down before the guest. Remove everything from the right. A newer and more convenient rule is that everything except beverages should be served from the left, and everything removed from the right.

Use a tray for removing small dishes and silver. Take large dishes on your left hand or on both hands with a folded napkin underneath. .Be careful not to put the fingers over the edges of the dish. Put a spoon or a fork, or both, if needed, in each dish to be served. Place them on the side next to the guest. Hold the dish low enough for the guest to help himself conveniently.

In removing a course take the large dishes first, then the plates. All that belongs to one course is removed before the next is brought in. Never reach across a cover. Never pile dishes one upon the other. Small dishes may be placed side by side on a tray, but when a number of guests must be quickly served by one waitress she may take the dinner plate in one hand, placing a small dish (if one has been used for juicy vegetables) on the plate at the side of knife and fork and taking the bread and butter plate in her other hand. This leaves each cover clear as she passes around the table.

Before the dessert is brought, remove crumbs as quietly as possible, using a silver crumb knife or a napkin (a soft napkin is preferable on a polished table) and a silver tray or a plate, passing to the left of the guests. Crumbs may be removed between courses if necessary.


The table should be supplied with a handsome and spotless damask cloth over a heavy silence cloth. The tablecloth should extend at least quarter of a yard over the edge of the table. For luncheon the polished table is often used without a cloth, but the table must, be quite handsome if set without a cloth. A number of doilies of lace or embroidery are needed to carry out this plan. They should be of linen and not over decorated. A round table lends itself more easily to decoration than a square one and makes it easier to engage in general conversation.

In setting the table, apply the rules given. The oyster fork is placed at the right of the soup spoon. A fork is used for all desserts if possible. Bread and butter plates are not used at formal dinners. A dinner roll or a piece of bread two inches long and half an inch thick may be laid between the folds of the napkin. Menu cards are not used at private dinners. Place cards may be used for large dinners or luncheons. They should be small and dainty and are, placed in front of the service plates.

Decorations should be simple and not high enough to obstruct the view across the table. The lights should be shaded and placed no higher than the heads of the guests. Candles may stand just outside the centerpiece or may be placed near the four corners of a square table. One candle to two guests may be used.

Bon bons and salted nuts may be put on the table in crystal or silver dishes.

Serving. At formal dinners the main courses, such as soup and meats, are served from the pantry. Portions are put on the plates and placed before the guests. Dishes that ac-company the course are offered on a tray, which is held low enough for the guest to help himself. If the party is large, this style of service is possible only with several maids. (For family use or for small dinners the method may be modified ; if a fruit cocktail or oysters are served first, they may be on the table when dinner is announced or may be served from the pantry after the guests are seated.) After this course is removed the soup is served. The waitress should pass to the right of the guest at the hostess' right, and put the plate before him on the service plate. After all are served at the right, she should begin at the hostess' left. If fish is served, the fish platter should be put before the host. The warmed fish plates should be placed in piles of three or four at the side or brought from the side-board. The waitress should first serve the guest at the right of the hostess, removing the service plate with her left hand and putting the fish plate in its place, then proceeding as for the soup until all are served. Cold relishes, such as cucumbers or tomatoes, should be served on small plates at the left of each cover. The fish sauce should then be passed, then potatoes or other starchy vegetables.

If an entree (a dish such as creamed sweetbreads as a course alone) is used, it is served from the serving table.

The chief meat course is served from the pantry or by the host in the manner in which the fish is served. Then the starchy vegetable should be passed on a tray; then the green vegetable such as peas, and tomatoes; then the meat sauce; then bread or rolls if needed. This course should be removed as directed for fish, a salad plate being placed before each guest (with the salad on it, if served from the pantry) when the meat plates are lifted.

Only vegetable salads are served at dinner. At small dinners the French dressing may be made at the table by the hostess, but it is usually made in the pantry. The salad bowl should be placed on a tray before the hostess, with a salad fork and spoon in the bowl, and an extra salad plate before her. The plates when served should be placed before the guests in the order given, and the empty salad plates removed. Then wafers and cheese, if they are to be served, should be passed on a tray. When the salad course is removed, the bowl should be taken first ; then plates ; then salt, pepper, and relishes. Only confections, water glasses, and decorations should be left. The crumbs should be removed very quietly before the dessert is served.

The dessert plate with the proper spoon or fork, and a finger bowl on a doily, should be placed before each guest. The dessert is put before the hostess; each guest lifts the finger bowl and doily and places them in front and to the left of his dessert plate. As soon as the hostess serves a plate, it is put before a guest, and replaced with a fresh dessert plate. The dessert may also be served from the pantry.

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