The Hilliard Institute

The Hilliard Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation offering sensory education programing, experiential learning, and academic research and publishing while also supporting philanthropic initiatives through fundraising and educational training and activities—all under the umbrella of the concept of Educational Wellness

The Hilliard Institute. 4440 Savage Pointe Drive. Franklin, TN 37064

Email Dr. K. Mark Hilliard at

or Professor Jessa R. Sexton at

A Quick Guide to Dinner Parties

By Emily Mae Bergeron

Hosting a dinner party can be a way to impress important people in society and the industry, or to just have an enjoyable time with friends. Formality ranges from a delightful meal with a few co-workers to an extravagant homage to the Victorian era soirees like those portrayed in Downton Abbey, complete with a dashingly clad butler and at least ten courses. Whichever you choose, the food and drink menu is of utmost importance, along with details such as the guest list, décor, and invitations. The main point, no matter how big or small your party, is to create a pleasant and memorable dining experience.  

illustration by Sarah Keaggy 

illustration by Sarah Keaggy 

When I think dinner party, the first image that comes to mind is the grand traditional English dinners of the 1910s. The aristocratic families would gather round a long, hand-carved table with the head of households at each end. Whether guests, or just the family, were present, they had elaborately planned meals, spotless dinnerware, and impeccable attire; perfect dining etiquette was a must. A menu for a traditional English dinner party is comprised of six courses, according to the High Steward of Oxford University, David Woodfine, in his cookbook, From Kitchen to High Table: The British-American Edition (184):

Course One: light appetizers or hors d’oeuvres
Course Two: soup and bread
Course Three: main course, which usually includes meat or fish, along with vegetables
Course Four: salad (a British Tradition to serve after the main course)
Course Five: dessert
Course Six: cheese and fruit

If you are attending a dinner party there are a few rules of etiquette you should know:

  •  Place your napkin in your lap only after the host or hostess has done the same.
  • Use the silverware farthest from your plate first.
  • When leaving the table temporarily place the napkin on your chair.
  • You should take hints from the host or hostess in all things. 
  • If passing food, always pass from left to right. Do not reach across other guests.
  • If you drop a utensil, don’t pick it up. Ask for a new one. 
  • Hold your wine glass by the stem.
  • At the meal’s end lay your napkin to the right of your plate. 

These simple rules will help you be prepared the next time you host or attend a dinner party.

Bergeron references Dr. David Woodfine's cookbook. Sarah Keaggy's illustration appears both in this book and Dr. Woodfine's children's etiquette book: ABCs of Etiquette for Young People.