The Evolution of Etiquette / Dinner Party

6 years ago by


Erik Melvin

It’s always good to have a friend to ask about good manners.

Even more if, like me, you come from another country with another culture and, well, let’s be honest, in your experience, more often than not a gathering means a big plate of pasta to share and that everyone will clean the dishes while finishing a bottle of wine, rather than picking the salad fork with a respectable air on our faces and waiting for everyone to sit…

So, ok. Good manners are as simple as being respectful in any situation, Met Ball dinner or crepe party at G’s, but there are some moments when you’re in need of a precise answer. “Should I bring flowers the night of (yes I know it sounds like an HBO TV show with a hot murderer in it but let’s get back to our subject) or send them the day after? Or the day before? Or bring a bottle of… Aaaaargh!”

Well, see, in these moments, I have Jeffrey Caldwell. Jeffrey is awesome, handsome, elegant, and a very good friend of Chris that became a friend of mine. He also is the Director of Strategic Branding and Events at Architectural Digest and he knows everything there is to know about etiquette in our modern world.

So, I thought I’d share the love and the science! Let’s start with our questions about dinner, and don’t hesitate if you have any questions, Jeffrey is here for you !


Jeffrey Caldwell | Director of Strategic Branding and Events, Architectural Digest

My family is certainly not one of the fanciest, nor particularly formal. However, manners and etiquette were instilled in my brother and I from an early age by our family and friends. I remember hearing and observing a multitude of instructions, rules, guidelines on how to behave in various situations. Manners and etiquette are about respecting and caring for people and being courteous and thoughtful in ways that make others feel better, appreciated, considered, and valued.

As I have grown up and spent over a decade living in New York and working in fashion and publishing, I learned that knowing the rules of the game empowers you to also know how and when to break them. Etiquette should not be a gilded cage restricting your life, instead it’s about thinking of others’ comfort and well-being. You learn good manners from being the recipient of another’s good manners, leaving a mark on you that will likely find its own unique way into your behavior and customs.

If you’re a host…

The Responsibility

When throwing a dinner party, your main responsibility is to ensure your guests are having a great time. Whether catching up with old friends or meeting new ones, you’ve brought people together for an entertaining experience which all should be able to enjoy. No pressure, though.

Who to Invite

Depending on the intention of the evening, you should assemble an interesting group of people that either already enjoy each other’s company or would enjoy the company of those invited. When putting together a guest list, consider shared interests; similar professional or leisure pursuits; and complementary personalities to make for a fun gathering that will allow everyone to contribute and glean something from the night.

Where to Sit

It’s a relief to arrive at any dinner party and see place cards at the top of each place setting. Quite simply, the guests shouldn’t worry about a thing. As the host, you’ve already devised a plan. For many reasons, a seating arrangement makes for a far more enjoyable evening. If nothing else, it helps avoid the awkwardness of people floating around the table trying to figure out who to sit next to.

jeffrey caldwell etiquette garance dore photo

Dealing with Dietary Restrictions

If one of your guests has a serious allergy, it is their responsibility to alert you to the situation at least a few days in advance. Should an uncharacteristically particular person insist on something else to eat, you can have a couple solutions at the ready:

1. Make an extra green salad, which you can lightly dress with a variety of vegetables or fruit.

2. Quickly boil some water and whip up an al dente pasta topped with chopped tomatoes, olive oil and basil leaves.

3. De-friend said person. After all, the host is meant to enjoy their soiree too!

Wrapping Up the Party, gracefully

If the dinner party is going well, guests won’t want to leave. Hopefully the evening will continue, games will be played, decibels will rise and a dance party might ensue.

However, if you’re ready for bed, “Closing the bar” is the universal way to signal it’s time to go. Once that happens, most people get the picture. Whether or not they continue to the club is their decision…

If you’re a guest…

What to Bring

It’s nice to bring a small gift or gesture to your host or hostess (and even nicer to receive!). The gift can be as simple or extravagant as you want to share. A contribution to the bar, a coffee table book on a subject the host enjoys, or a tin of caviar is always a hit!

Don’t bring anything that would require the host to divert attention away from the party. The popular gift of flowers would make the host feel compelled to cut and arrange them when they are likely focusing on other things. If sending flowers, have the florist deliver them the morning of the party or the next day.

When to Arrive

Depending on the party, arriving 30 minutes late is considered acceptable. If it is a large party where people are expected to come and go, don’t worry about the tardy factor. However, the courtesy of an RSVP (and sticking to it) is both polite and greatly appreciated.

Sitting Down

I still believe in setting a table the old-fashioned way, alternating male, female all the way around the table. In my opinion it provides a sense of occasion. In the past and in more formal dining rooms, the gentleman wouldn’t sit until all the ladies had taken their seats. Now, a good rule of thumb is to remain standing until both your dinner partners have been seated. If you’ve never met, introduce yourself and put those ice breaking skills to use.


To ensure you spend equal time talking with both your dinner partners, engage the person to your right during the first course and then shift and speak to the person on your left during the main course. If you notice someone around you is not part of a conversation, extend your conversation to include them. The goal is to be inclusive of the other guests and help create a festive atmosphere, which will make for a memorable night.

Remember, knowing the rules makes it easier to know when to break them. The most important thing is to not worry too much, let your conversations and interactions flow naturally. Enjoy yourself and the company of the others that have been assembled by the host, likely for very good reasons. Cheers!


Add yours
  • How civilized and how charming! I learned a lot, thank you. I’ll be sending my thank you note shortly….
    But seriously, can we have more of these etiquette lessons? On say, dating and dating apps?!?

  • Elizabeth December, 7 2016, 12:47 / Reply

    Love this. I would add some guidelines for when it’s appropriate to leave a party with or without saying goodbye to the host. I’ve learned that for smaller, intimate parties (under 20), you should always say goodbye to the host. But for larger parties (when you won’t necessarily be missed), you can just leave without notice and send a text/note the next morning thanking the host for the occasion. As a host I appreciate that because you don’t always want to be interrupted to hear all the goodbyes toward the ends of the evening if there are still many people around.

  • Pas mal du tout. C’est pas sorcier et répond à bien des questions. J’en ai tout de même une concernant ce conseil:

    “une bonne règle, c’est d’attendre que vos deux voisins de table s’asseyent pour s’asseoir aussi. ” Mais s’ils attendent aussi, comment ça se passe :) C’est de l’humour et en même temps pas tout à fait, c’est le genre de situation qui m’embarrasse!!

    A part ça, j’ai les plans de table en horreur. Il n’y a pas de meilleure ou de pire place puisque tout le monde est supposé plus ou moins s’apprécier et/ou au pire ne pas se connaître. Je n’aime pas les faire et pire, je n’aime pas qu’on m’assigne une place présumant de mes affinités. Situation également embarrassante où vous passez une soirée pourrie quand d’autres se marrent .

    Si vous voulez passer un bon moment de lecture sur les bonnes manières “d’autrefois” lisez à voix haute avec justement vos amis le livre de Nadine de Rothschild. à ce sujet. Bonne soirée en perspective

  • This is great. It all comes down to putting people at ease. As Margaret Tan says: Encore!

  • Sandrine Vaillancourt December, 7 2016, 1:01 / Reply

    Yes more etiquette lessons!!!

  • This will come in handy, it can be so awkward when you are not entirely sure. And this puts me already in the party mood!

  • Caroline December, 7 2016, 3:18 / Reply

    Je n’aime pas les plans de table (ça me fait penser à ma mère) et apprécie qu’on m’offre des fleurs… Sinon, c’est bien de rappeler les basiques.

  • Thank you for the tips some of them I knew and others I didn’t.

  • un petit commentaire sur le fait d’apporter quelque chose lors d’un diner
    Normalement, en France, on n’apporte rien sauf si on ne peut rendre l’invitation
    et seulement dans ce cas, on arrive avec quelque chose
    mais si je suis invitée chez des amis et que j’ai vu quelque chose dans une boutique qui, il me semble leur plairait
    je fais un petit cadeau mais j’évite les fleurs (il faut chercher un vase…)

  • mademoiselle mauve December, 9 2016, 11:28

    suis pas d’accord en France quelle que soit la suite on n’arrive jamais les mains vides voyons.

  • I hadn’t considered that bringing flowers was distracting for a host, but i suppose it actually is. that’s an interesting one.

  • Why isn’t that amazing birthday cake in the “shop the story”???

  • The cake is from Dean & Deluca!

    Tori x

  • anna amendola December, 7 2016, 6:56 / Reply

    I love it!
    I never know if I should open my presents when I receive them, or after the party?

  • As someone with food allergies, I don’t think Jeffrey Caldwell’s advice is quite on the mark. Here’s the thing. Whenever I go to anything social, there’s food. And with food there’s a host trying to feed me. This comes from a good place — we have a culture where people take care of you when you’re in their home — but can be super awkward to deal with. What hosts often don’t realize is that for some guests, there’s nothing they can make that will necessarily be safe to eat. They’re not in practice of checking for the many names allergies go as on food labels, or avoiding cross contamination (it’s super easy to slice some cheese or bread, and then a tomato, most people won’t notice they’ve used the same knife for both, it’s not on their radar). If you’re me, you’ve gone home sick a fair number of times when food was supposedly ok for you to eat. So I’ve found it’s safest to just eat ahead, or bring something along. This is no big deal to me. What is a big deal is how awkward most hosts make you feel about it, running back and forth from the kitchen, asking you repeatedly if you can eat this or that, making you feel like you’ve put them out, trying to force you to eat *something*. Not accepting you at your word that you’re not hungry and don’t need anything. Here’s my advice to hosts. If you have someone with allergies and they tell you in advance, ask them what they would like you to do. If it’s nothing, then don’t do anything further. If a guest shows up and says they’ve eaten, accept it and don’t press them. Treat them just as you would if they were stuffing their face with your homemade cassoulet. People with food allergies want to be able to see people and go to social events just like anyone, but without their allergy being the center of attention. Let them. They really don’t care that they’re not eating, they’re just there to visit. Please please don’t not invite them because their needs in this one domain are slightly different than yours.

  • I get it but I think it would be quite weird to have a guest who sit at the table and doesn’t eat anything, that makes me feel akward.. I like the option were the guest comes with his.her food or ask a specific meal (I always have gluten free pasta and olive oil in my cupboard)

  • Lovely! I love the tip about sending flowers the morning of or the day after. Even better if the flowers come in a vase :).

  • En France, les plans de table restent assez rares, sauf pour les très grandes occasions ! Et j’ajouterai qu’en France aussi, il faut attendre que la maîtresse de maison soit assise pour s’assoir, enfin dans les règles de bonnes manières.

  • Really liked this post! I would love to read more on etiquette.

  • albagraciosa December, 8 2016, 5:52 / Reply

    Dans la bonne bourgeoisie provincial au pays de Rabelais et du fromage qui a du goût – bref dans le monde ringard, on n’ apporte pas de bouteilles sauf si on connait très bien son hôte et ses goûts (par exemple il ou elle adore le whisky et justement on rentre du Japon avec un flacon local), généralement c’est une faute de savoir vivre grosso modo on dit j’ai apporté de quoi picoler parce que chez vous on ne sait pas si ce sera bien pourvu.

    En principe on n’apporte rien lors d’une première invitation on peut le lendemain envoyer des fleurs ou mieux un mot manuscrit (et pas un courriel ou pire un sms) pour remercier – communément appelé “lettre de château” n’est-ce pas ravissant ?
    Si on envoie des fleurs on évite surtout la sempiternelle orchidée blanche dans son récipient insipide ; si on a été observateur ladite plante se trouvait en x exemplaires dans la maison et dans tous les états fleurie ou décapitée en attente d’une renaissance.

    Quand on connait bien ses hôtes, un livre bien choisi, un bouquet de roses anciennes de votre jardin ou mieux une bouture rare ou des graines assorties de préférence bio si votre hôte jardine, un présent introuvable sur le marché mondialisé des boutiques en ligne – bref on essaie de se distinguer à défaut de l’ être.

    Le plan de table est un casse-tête chinois surtout si on a un ou deux taciturnes à placer et que dire de ces hommes qui ne supportent pas d’ être assis à côté d’une femme au visage ingrat ou pire d’une femme qui aura de l’esprit et se vengeront en se comportant comme des goujats ou encore d’ une oie qui gloussera à la moindre blague et vous attrapera le bras à chaque prise de parole beaucoup trop nombreuses à en juger pas vos bleus le lendemain. Le plan de table est un sport à hauts risques.

    Et quand on reçoit, toujours prévoir dans la salle de bain un ou deux vases à remplir en vitesse on peut se débarrasser vite fait de l’emballage dans la baignoire ou la douche. L’ aventure devient périlleuse si on vous a offert des fleurs d’ un mètre de long et que vous n’avez qu’un coupe-ongles sous la main pour raccourcir les queues.

  • Merci pour cet interview ! C’est très instructif ! :)

  • Madame Stramash December, 8 2016, 10:09 / Reply

    I’ve always heard that about not giving flowers on the day and yet, I adore receiving flowers, absolutely love it, and have never found it the tiniest distraction to look after them. It takes a second to stick them in water and you can arrange them later. So I always ignore that rule, as do many of my friends. Often, too, flowers are presented in hand-tied bouquets so they need minimal arranging, if any.

  • C’est donc pareil qu’en France, Angleterre, pas étonnant, ces us et coutumes viennent donc du vieux continent! Sauf que nous attendons que la maîtresse de maison soit assise pour passer à table et non nos 2 voisins de table… D’ailleurs c’est étrange cette règle, si on la suit à la lettre, personne ne s’assoit jamais???!?

  • Je n’invite et ne suis invitee que chez des amis, ce qui facilite la tache. J’apporte des fleurs, du champagne ou ce que l’hotesse desire. Pas de plan de table, pas de casse-tete, rien qu’une bonne soiree !

  • Super intéressant plus d’articles sur l’étiquette s’il te plait Garance! Question: comment gère t-on les invites toujours sur leur smartphone?

  • On fait une soirée à thème sans smartphone ou on instaure un nouvel usage: au lieu de laisser ses chaussures dans l’entrée on laisse son tel avec panier personnalisé parce que c’est vraiment insupportable d’autant plus quand les gens le posent sur la table

  • Jennifer December, 8 2016, 9:04 / Reply

    I love this post!

  • Love the topic! And a thousand times agreed on the flowers!

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