Dear Miss Manners: Over the holidays, we will host several good friends for dinner and two acquaintances whom we would like to get to know better. While my dining table comfortably seats eight with regular place settings, it may be a little cramped with the extended tableware and stemware for the five-course dinner I am planning.
In addition to a regular five-piece place setting, the guests will each have an iced tea spoon, a cocktail fork, a steak knife, and dessert fork and spoon, plus accompanying extra china and stemware.
Rather than cram the table with everything at once, would it be appropriate to present each guest with the china, silverware and stemware for the appetizer and dessert courses just prior to service, clearing away these items as each guest finishes? Alternatively, I could serve the appetizer and dessert courses from my buffet sideboard.
The two acquaintances are a delightful young couple who admire our social group. This is an opportunity for us to serve as a good example for them in their future entertaining.
Gentle Reader: That is a reason for making sure that you do not overwhelm them. Miss Manners is all for big, festive, formal meals, but hopes that you will not be sending them away reeling from too much all at once and the challenge of “OK, top this!”
Therefore, etiquette has a rule that forbids issuing more than three forks and three knives to each diner at a time, with other tools supplied as needed. So much for people who claim to be bewildered by a vast choice of forks. They are just showing off.
As far as Miss Manners can puzzle out, your menu is: seafood cocktail, then (because you wouldn’t follow that with a fish course) soup, a main course of steak, salad and dessert. All well and good. To the left of the plate would be (from outside in) the forks for the meat course and the salad course; to the right (outside in) the seafood fork nestling in the soup spoon, then the steak knife, with the dessert fork and spoon horizontally at the top of the place setting. Not an outlandish setting, but you could pare it down by bringing the seafood fork on that plate and the dessert service on each dessert plate.
You are probably not serving five wines, not if you value your dining room carpet. Yet taking glasses off the table is oddly off-putting, even if not directly associated with a bartender’s saying, “OK, you’ve had enough.”
Two wines would seem reasonable with your menu, a red with the steak and a white with the seafood, which those who get headaches from red could continue to drink if their glasses weren’t snatched. So unless you are having a dessert wine, that is only three glasses, the third being for water.
Oh, yes, the iced tea. Miss Manners doesn’t quite get that at a formal winter holiday dinner, but you know your guests. Couldn’t you just have that ready to hand to anyone who asks, and let that person figure out where to put it?
But do, please, give that person a saucer, or a tiny spoon rest, on which to park the wet iced tea spoon. For the sake of your guests’ peace of mind, as well as of your tablecloth. You want them to go away thinking, “What a pleasant way to dine,” not “I thought we’d never finish.”
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