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Alexandra Messervy founded The English Manner in 2001 after a career working in the Master of the Household’s department for the Royal Household of Queen Elizabeth II.

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Published

1 June 2023

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Key ingredients for successful entertaining are a warm environment, a welcoming atmosphere, interesting guests, stimulating conversation, good food and service. Here are some of the concepts we instil in our social etiquette classes when it comes to entertaining etiquette.

Guest List and Invitations

Plan invitations carefully and think about who will get on best; have things in common and create a congenial atmosphere without having to steer conversations!  State the date and time on the invitation (and an end time if a cocktail party) and ask for dietary issues.

Menu Planning

Plan your menu to suit your budget.  Quality is key so better to offer less expensive foods generously than micro portions of lobster.  Go for local seasonal foods for value, and ensure you know of any allergies and dislikes beforehand.  It is impolite for a guest to turn up and refuse to eat something if they have not told the host of issues in advance, and whilst the onus is on them to tell the host, you must nudge a reminder with the invitation.

Drinks

Serve the best you can afford and ensure there is plenty of it!  There is nothing worse than guests ‘going short’. Always offer a few alternatives, so tap water with an interesting cordial if you cannot stretch to mineral waters, and a bottle of white and red wine – don’t worry about matching wines to foods in terms of red and white as nowadays anything goes really – just ensure that you have the menu in mind to make appropriate choices in both colourways.  It is fine to place bottles on the table for guests to help themselves in an informal setting, but nice to serve aperitifs on arrival.

The essence of the table

Nothing makes a better impression than a nicely laid table with napkins, china, glass and cutlery, which don’t have to match.  Lots of pretty flowers or unscented candles, tealights and low-level lighting creates the best atmosphere.  A pretty bowl of fruit or vegetables as a centrepiece will work just as well as more expensive flowers.  

Running Order and Timing

Ensure your guests know when to arrive and create a running order for your own reference either on paper or in your head.  What time to start cooking, oven timings, how long for pre-dinner drinks, the time to serve the first, second courses and pudding/cheese etc and you will be much more relaxed with an easily flowing event.  If you have a hot main course consider a cold first course and pudding for ease and freeing up hotplate space, and less stress.  Offer cheese after pudding for British guests or, as an alternative, perhaps with some fresh fruit.

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