Dinner Etiquette
Dinner Etiquette

What Does Dinner Etiquette Look Like?

What Does Dinner Etiquette Look Like?

Attending a formal dinner is an exciting experience. Whether it’s a wedding reception, business event, or charity fundraiser, it’s a chance to dress up and enjoy a night of glamour and sophistication. However, attending such an event can also be daunting, particularly when you are unsure of the proper dinner etiquette. With the event’s elegance and the dress code’s formality, it’s natural to feel a little nervous about getting everything right.

But do not worry; with a bit of preparation and an understanding of the etiquette involved, you can easily navigate the social event. To make sure you make the most of your experience, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you feel confident and comfortable at any formal dinner occasion.


When you receive an invitation to a formal dinner, it’s essential to RSVP promptly. It would be best if you let the host know whether or not you will be able to attend so that they can make the necessary preparations, including seating arrangements and catering. Respond within the timeframe provided in the invitation, and do not forget to express your gratitude for the invitation. If you can’t attend, let the host know and apologise for the inconvenience.

Dress code

One of the most important things to consider when attending a formal dinner is the dress code. The dress code is usually specified on the invitation, and it’s crucial to adhere to it. For example, if the dress code is black tie, wear a tuxedo for men or a long evening gown for women. Opt for a formal suit or dress if the invitation specifies business attire.

Arriving at the event

Arrive at the event on time or by fifteen minutes after the start. It is considered impolite to keep the other guests and the host waiting. Upon arriving, introduce yourself to the host, thank them for inviting you, and compliment them on their beautiful home or event venue.

Gift for the host

If you have been invited to a formal dinner, bringing a host or hostess gift is customary. A bottle of wine or a small bouquet are traditional gifts, but anything thoughtful and appropriate for the occasion will suffice. When presenting the gift, it is best to do so at the beginning of the evening rather than at the end.

Table seating

Take note of the place cards and find your designated seat. The host or hostess will guide you to your seat if there is no place card. When you sit down, place your napkin on your lap, and never use it to wipe your face. You should use the napkin to wipe your mouth or fingers only. In a formal dinner, the hostess or host will indicate when it is time to start eating by placing their napkin on their lap or instructing everyone to begin. It’s important to wait until everyone has been served before starting your meal.

Napkin Etiquette

Napkins are an essential part of a formal table setting. Once seated, place the napkin on your lap, unfold, and never tuck it into your shirt collar. If you need to leave the table during the meal, place the napkin on your chair. When finished with the meal, place the napkin to the left of your plate, neatly folded.

Proper use of utensils

When it comes to formal dining, an array of utensils is often placed on the table. It can be confusing to know which one to use for each course. Generally, start with the silverware on the outside and work your way in as the meal progresses. For example, start with the soup spoon on the outside, then move to the fish fork, and then to the meat knife and fork.

Do not use your hands to eat, and avoid blowing on hot food or slurping soup. Chew with your mouth closed and avoid speaking with food in your mouth. It is also important to keep your elbows off the table and to use the cutlery provided rather than your hands.

The knife should always be placed on the right-hand side of the plate with the fork on the left. Hold utensils correctly, with your wrist slightly bent and your fingers wrapped around the handle. Also, never lick or suck on your utensils. Instead, wipe your mouth with your napkin before reaching for your glass or utensils.

To indicate that you have finished your meal, place your fork and knife on the right-hand side of your plate, diagonally, with the tines of the fork facing up. This act signals the server that they can remove your plate.

Handling glassware

You may be served different glasses for different beverages during a formal dinner. Always hold a glass by the stem or base, never the bowl, to avoid warming the drink. Wine glasses should be filled at most a third full to allow room for the aroma to develop. Remember to sip, not slurp your drink, and always say “excuse me” if you need to leave the table to use the restroom.

Bread and butter

Bread and rolls are often served during a formal dinner, but there are proper ways to eat them. First, always tear off small pieces of bread, butter them one at a time, and then eat them. Never cut the bread with a knife, and do not butter the entire piece at once. If there is a bread plate, place the bread or roll on it instead of directly on the table. When you have finished the bread, place your used butter knife on the bread plate, never on the table or your dinner plate.


At a formal dinner, it’s common to make toasts. The host may welcome their guests and thank them for attending. If you are a guest, wait for the host to make the first toast, then respond accordingly. Raise your glass, make eye contact, and clink your glasses gently. It’s important to keep your toasts short and sweet.

Conversation dinner etiquette

During a formal dinner, conversations are expected to be polite and engaging. Avoid talking with your mouth full, and never interrupt someone else who is speaking. Instead, wait for a pause in the conversation to share your thoughts.

Do not discuss controversial topics such as politics, religion, or any other sensitive subject that could discomfort your fellow guests. Avoid talking about your problems or complaining about your life. Instead, try to initiate conversations about current events, travel, hobbies, or interests that you may have in common. Listen actively to what others say, show genuine interest in their stories and avoid using slang or profanity.

Thank you notes

Sending a thank you note after attending a formal dinner is a polite gesture that shows appreciation for the event and the host. Make sure to send the note within a few days of the event and express your gratitude for the invitation, the food, and the company. It’s also a good idea to mention something specific that you enjoyed about the event, such as the entertainment or the décor.


Formal dinner etiquette is essential in any situation that calls for it, be it a business dinner, a social event, or a family gathering. Remembering the proper manners and protocols will help you make a good impression on your fellow diners and create a comfortable atmosphere for everyone. In addition, by following the tips mentioned above, you can ensure you will handle the situation confidently, gracefully, and elegantly.

[text_output]Image: Lina, Adobe Stock[/text_output]
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