What you need to know when attending a formal dining event

If you are ever fortunate enough to be invited to a high profile or extremely formal dining event, your excitement can quickly turn to dread as you think about all the rules you have to heed. Not only will there be a dress code that you need to follow, you will also have to remember the rules of formal dining. Everything can seem complicated at first, but you can pick up everything you need to know in just a few minutes. You might want to read the information through several times though, just to make sure you definitely have it committed to memory. You do not want to embarrass yourself by panicking in the heat of the moment and forgetting what you are meant to do!

Dress code for formal dining events

Men have it a lot easier when it comes to attending formal events. Your choices are limited to: tuxedo. Whether you need to wear a black or white tie will be specified on the event invitation. For women, there is much more choice, which can be both liberating and stressful at the same time. You’ll want to wear a long dress or cocktail dress – something elegant.

Dining etiquette for formal events

The rules of the dinner table can seem scary, but they’re quite simple really. Start by learning the basics of formal dining, and you’ll never be confused by things such as which fork to use again.

At a formal dining event, plates are removed by a professional staff.  You will know that dinner is concluded when the host, lays her napkin on the table, rises from her chair and suggests that everyone go into another room for coffee and after-dinner drinks. When it’s time to leave, say thank you to your hosts – all of them. However, rather than detain them with a lengthy good-bye, make the departure brief and cordial. If the event is large and you must leave but your hosts are in the middle of entertaining other guests, you could slip out without saying goodbye directly – in these situations it is prudent to follow-up with a call or message explain why you departed without saying goodbye and thank them for the lovely formal dining event.

Final Tips for Formal Dining Events

  • Relax and enjoy yourself. You may have a few drinks, however stay of sober mind and polite conversation.
  • Leave the cell phone in the car. Enjoy the physical interaction with others. If you must carry it on you, place it on silent and only reference when receiving important phone calls.
  • Smile and engage with everyone.  Be willing to introduce yourself to new people and talk to them! Engage with them to have a good conversation, ask them about themselves and their interests.  Meeting new people is a great way to network and learn about new things.
  • Try new foods. Don’t be afraid to try foods that are new to you. If you have a food allergy of any kind, it is best to tell your hosts in advance. If you can’t eat something for health reasons, politely explain to your hosts why.
  • If you aren’t sure what to do, watch what others are doing. Also feel free, to ask your host discreetly about what is appropriate. You aren’t expected to be Emily Post and know all the rules.


The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet. ~Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners
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