DO remember your manners at a dinner party
Just like dances, dinner parties were complex social events with their own specific set of rules. Breach the etiquette and you not only risked embarrassing yourself in front of your peers, but you might also find yourself with a reputation for being uncouth, with invitations suddenly drying up. Luckily, as with most things in the Regency era, it was relatively simple for a lady to do what was expected of her. Above all, the key was to keep quiet, let men take the lead and not to get ideas above your station!
If you were the hostess, then you would sit at the head of the table, with the (male) guest of honour to your right. The rest of the seating plan was up to the host or the hostess, though it was generally the thing to ensure men didn’t sit next to their wives. Additionally, when possible, men and women should be evenly distributed around the table. And, of course, it goes without saying that both a lady and a gentleman should dress for dinner. To arrive in day clothes would be regarded as a sign of utmost disrespect.
Dinner parties during the Regency era were as long as they were complex. Anything from between five to 25 courses were served, though the evening always started with a bowl of soup. According to the etiquette guides of the time, a lady must never refuse soup. If she wasn’t hungry or simply didn’t like the dish, it was considered far politer to simply toy with her food than to leave it completely untouched. If she was hungry, then soup should always be sipped from the side of a spoon, never from the tip. And, of course, the soup should be consumed silently. Slurping was regarded as the height of bad manners for a lady!
As the evening progressed, servants would bring new dishes, with cut meats being the main course. A gentleman was permitted to serve himself and those around him. However, he would never fill a lady’s plate too much. Neither should a lady ask for too much. After all, a big appetite was seen as being unladylike. Once her plate was full, a lady was expected to eat a little bit of everything at once. For instance, an ideal forkful would consist of a morsel of meat, a sliver of potato and a single pea. This could be washed down with wine; there was no rule against women drinking alcohol. However, a lady would never ask for wine, she would wait to be offered it. And even then, she should limit her intake lest she is judged for drinking like a man.
After dinner, of course, the ladies were expected to retire to a special âwithdrawing room’, leaving the chaps free to enjoy talk and conversation. Even in the company of other ladies, a hostess would never take obvious pride in her dinner party. Instead, she should remain silent, allowing her guests to compliment the quality of the food and company. Attempting to break with this convention was a serious social faux-pas, and indeed would remain so for many decades after the Regency era had come to an end.