Introduction: How to Host a Formal Dinner

When you think of formal dinner, the following things come to mind: formal attire, proper behavior, formal dinner setting, and perfect arrangements. These instructions are for people who would like to be a great host at their home, who also have limited knowledge of how to organize a formal dinner, with all the small details and tips. This is not meant for the ambassador and his wife visit but it is a good start. This instruction is coming from previous experience of organizing a formal dinner for six people; following all these guidelines and tips, I managed to create an amazing atmosphere and a successful event for my friends and myself. I am sure these instructions will inspire you to host a magical event.

Step 1: Plan!


That is my biggest advice and tip, even though it is said that you cannot plan everything. It is a great feeling when your guests come in and they say:”Oh this was nicely planned”.

Firstly, start approximating some days when you can host the event, ask people on their schedules see what other events are going around at that time, and then finally make a decision on the date.  It varies from person to person on the amount of time needed to think through an event and make it beautiful. There is also always unpredictable things that can happen, which could be quite an obstacle for a formal dinner.

Secondly, shop for groceries, the budget for it is even more vital than the shopping itself. Be a smart shopper and go to the grocery store knowing what you need to get, how much and how much it will cost.  Depending on the dishes you are making, it is a good idea to go grocery shopping two-three days before the event.

Step 2: What Is a Dinner Without Food?

                 Food is essential for a wonderful dinner. Every host wants to impress their guests with their ability to cook!

You can either create a menu for your guest or have a rough idea of what you want to make so you can start making a list of groceries and making time to visit the grocery store.This menu is not necessarily to be distributed among your guests, but it would give you a great sense of organization.

        Making a menu is a hard thing to do because you need to include not only your desires, but also your guest’s preferences. For    
        instance,  allergies, likes and dislikes, and religious issues may come up. It will not matter if you killed, skinned, and marinated  
        a huge piece of cow by yourself and it took you five days if you have guests whose religion is Hindu, they won’t be able to
        appreciate your effort at all.

Setting up a menu can be a great challenge, but  what helped me is realizing what you actually like to cook.  There are people who can do magic with vegetables and make exquisite dishes with them, also there are people who like to spend hours marinating meat and choosing spices for the fish. After you decide the food you like to make the most make it the main course- which is the most important part of the formal dinner, then the appetizer can be something you like or  may have had in the previous. Dessert comes from the heart of each individual. Whereas I might not be obsessed with chocolate, someone might not imagine life without it.

Step 3: Create Proper Invitations

A formal dinner requires an invitation from the person who is hosting; it should not be word of mouth.  In today’s world everyone is busy and has a tough time replying to hand written letters or phone calls in a timely manner. So my proposition is to use E invitations. Those who have constant access to internet will appreciate your concern. Please don’t forget to mention the option of +1 guest for each of the invited guests; otherwise you will have a false perception of how many people are attending your dinner.
Today there are so many websites that use e-invitation in different designs and patterns; most of the websites are free, which makes it even better.  Above is an example of one that was sent to all my guests.

Step 4: Set a Table for Your Guests

Formal setting is essential for a dinner.It shows your guests that you have prepared well and know what you are doing. There are certain rules that need to be followed while setting the table set.

My personal tips:
 • The one unbreakable rule for how to set a dinner table is that everything must be geometrically spaced - all places must be at equal distances, and all sterling silver flatware balanced.
•  Although all forks or all spoons should be of the same pattern, it is understandable if you for your first dinner have the dessert forks and spoons of different style.
• The distance between places at the table set must never be so short that guests have no elbow room.
• The tablecloth is such a wonderful piece of an accessory for a formal dinner. The fabric is important, never purchase a vinyl tablecloth thinking that it will replace a proper  tablecloth- it won’t!

               In this specific photo I have shown an example of how to set a table. I will describe in detail from left to right all the items   
               placed on the table:

• The napkin must always be placed to the left of the plate; it is your choice whether you want a paper napkin or a cloth one.
• There are two forks on the table: the smaller one is for the salad and is called simply the salad fork. The other one is for the main course, which could be poultry, beef, pork or fish.
• The plate is centered and big enough to have white space after the food is placed. You do not want to over stuff the plate with food, because that would look messy.
• The knife and the bigger spoon go to the right of the plate, knife being closer to the plate. The spoon is for the soup, do not mix it up with the dessert spoon and fork.
• The little spoon and fork should be above the plate. Also the spoon should be looking west whereas the fork east.
• This photo has three sets of glassware: the glass for water/juice, wine glass for wine and a cup with a saucer. The cup for the hot beverage does not need to be placed in the beginning of the dinner, only when you are serving dessert and the beverage.
• Two extra things that I personally find exquisite to do is the center piece and the name cards, if you like being creative you can come up with any center piece as long  as it doesn’t prevent the guests from seeing each other while they are at the table and the name cards can be 3-4’’ card with the name of the guest just like depicted in the photo.

Step 5: Serve the First Course

The first course is usually a sort of  tease for your guests. It is small and not that filling, called appetizer/starter. It is served on the second plate that is on top of the main dish plate; It is taken away after the first course is done.

            It is your decision of what you would like to serve as your first course. There are certain guidelines that should be
            followed though, like the first course is supposed to increase the appetite.

I will include the following link for you, my readers, to look at appetizers and get inspired. This website offers every kind of appetizer from  finger food and dip to exquisite cheese plates and salads!
I would, personally, search for appetizers that are easy and tasty to make because the main course would take quite a bit of time

Step 6: Serve the Second Course

This is the moment that they all have been waiting for!

The expectations on this part of the meal are that meat or fish are served at this time. Do not forget that the plate should be balanced with colors and content, it must be pleasant to the eye of the guest to make it look even more appetizing. The image below is a good example. 
If an alcoholic beverage is served it can be done at this time.  Red wine is better with meat, white wine is better with seafood and Rose (pink wine) is better with dessert and in hot season such as summer with dessert preferably.

Step 7: Serve the Third Course

This is the time where you can serve the hot beverage with the dessert of your choice. At this time the "main course" plate and the extra silverware like the fork, knife and spoon should be taken away.

Usually dessert in a form of cake ice cream or any other food item that you associate with dessert. Baking a cake from scrath is showing full dedication, nevertheless buying sweets from a store is as amazing.  For the beverages everyone should be offered tea or cofee.

Step 8: No End to Imagination

The United States is a huge country, and people vary from place to place, depending on the location you go. It is common practice to invite friends for dinners and meals in general. In Europe inviting friends is a big deal, where everything needs to be planned, the house needs to be cleaned, and everyone needs to be warned.

Throughout times the arrangements of dinners have been very changed due to lack of time, money, and simply desire. So the problem, I feel, today is the lack of knowledge of how to organize a formal dinner, without paper plates and cups and vinyl tablecloth found in WalMart for $3.86 on sale.

I hope I reminded everyone of the simple skills that have been forgotten in order to host a perfect meal at a household.
These step-by-step instructions might inspire you for an even more formal dinners with 5 course meals and divine decorations

   Everything is up to you!