Considering how much we southerners love to eat and socialize, it’s no surprise that we spend a good deal of time gathered around a dinner table. While we may have relaxed standards of formality in our own homes, we know it’s important to put our best southern foot forward when attending or hosting a formal dinner party. Most of us have experienced that slightly awkward moment of hesitation as we gather around a dining table and wonder where we should sit and who should sit first. Let’s break down the rules. Actually, “rules” may be too harsh a word. Let’s call them “gently offered guidelines for maintaining your stellar reputation as a civilized southern dinner guest.” Sounds much better we think. Here we go:
- Your host or hostess will announce when dinner is served. Only then is it time to approach the table.
- If place cards are set, then simply find your place and stand behind your chair. If there are no place cards, your host may direct you where to sit. If she doesn’t, it is acceptable to ask her if she has a preference before you select your place.
- Unless directed by your host to do so, never – ever – seat yourself at the head of the table or the opposite end. These places are traditionally reserved for the host and spouse or the matriarch/patriarch of the family.
- Gentleman, don’t you dare place your rear ends in those chairs until the ladies are seated. Your honor as a southern gentleman depends on this. Take your cue from your hostess. When she sits, so may the rest of the group. Or, if she is busy attending to dinner matters, she may direct you to sit before she does, which is fine.
- Male partners should hold out the chairs for their dates. Furthermore, any gentleman who also holds out the chair for an unattended female guest will elevate himself to the status of “super-gentleman.” We love super-gentlemen.
- Never begin eating until everyone is seated at the table. Often a blessing or prayer will be offered first. Once again, follow your host’s lead. Once she begins eating, you are good to go.
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