Formal Dining: A Survival Guide

To clink or not to clink, that is the question
By Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
November 12, 2021 Updated: November 12, 2021

Formal dinners can be a lot of fun, but if you’ve never attended one, it can be a bit daunting to know how to behave and what to wear. No need to worry; we’ll make sure you have a great time.

Watch Your Host or Hostess

If the dinner isn’t formal, men should wear a long-sleeved dress shirt, tie, and a jacket; you can remove the jacket and tie if the host isn’t wearing either one. A cocktail dress is perfect for ladies, but leave the huge purses at home. Allow the hostess to direct you to your chair and while dining, eat to match her pace. If unsure which utensil to use, watch to see what the hostess uses.

Clink Your Drink?

“Rather than clinking glasses when a toast is made, raise yours while making eye contact all around. If you are the subject of the toast, raise the glass in acknowledgment, but don’t take a sip,” Justin Trabert of Artful Matters says. Clinking and reaching across the table to do so can lead to spills as well as cracked glasses. Trabert says not to bring wine for the meal; allow the host to make that choice.

Dos and Don’ts

Do pass the salt, but always with the pepper, passing it—and any food—around the table in a counterclockwise direction. Trabert says, “If the dinner is not a birthday or anniversary celebration, there is no need to bring gifts, flowers, or wine.” He says to make sure to send a handwritten thank-you note—not a text or email. Tea or chocolates accompanying the note may result in receiving future invitations.

Be Thoughtful

If COVID vaccination isn’t required to attend, decline if you are uncomfortable dining with others who may not be vaccinated. Myka Meiers of Beaumont Etiquette says: “Notify your host of any dietary restrictions when you RSVP and arrive on time. Put your napkin in your lap when the hostess does and offer to help clean up afterward; it is appropriate to leave 30 minutes after coffee and dessert are served.”

Hold Your Calls

Meiers and Traubert both agree phones must be muted; taking calls during dinner simply isn’t done. It’s also impolite to respond to texts unless it is a true emergency, in which case you should discreetly excuse yourself from the table. Resist the urge to rummage through a purse or suit jacket. Unless you dropped a fork or knife, there’s nothing in there you need while dining. Stay seated for the entire meal.

Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.