A Few Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is next week, and you may have invited friends and/or family to dinner. Of course, you’ll want to employ proper etiquette. I happen to own a little book, handed down from Pete’s grandmother and brown with age, titled Table Setting and Service for Mistress and Maid. It was written by Della Thompson Lutes, who is also billed as the author of The Gracious Hostess and A Home of Your Own, and Housekeeping Editor of Modern Priscilla and Director of Priscilla Proving Plant. In 155 pages, Mrs. Lutes outlines all the things the proper homemaker of 1928 needed to know about the art of furnishing a dining room, setting a table, hiring a maid (or waitress) and cook, and properly serving her family and guests.

[The maid] should have plenty of underwear to allow frequent change. … Stockings should be changed daily, for the sake of cleanliness and also to lengthen the life of the stockings.

For the family breakfast table the centerpiece may consist of a single flower so long as it is fresh and lovely and the vase that holds it is a fit accompaniment. … For the noon meal which is served in the average family, when only mother and children are present, a bowl of flowers or fruit is sufficient.

…[I]f you want more decorative flower pieces on the table than just the centerpiece, choose two or four smaller receptacles—all alike—and place them symmetrically at exact distances from each other.

Compotes holding bonbons, nuts and fruits are added to give beauty and balance to the table.

The dinner table should, by preference, always be lighted by candles. For luncheon, only natural light is suitable unless both room and day are dark. Then use candles.

Our culture has changed in so many ways since this volume was published. I found it hard to read without indulging in some self-righteous smirking. They were so insufferably formal! I’m amazed that anyone managed to get it all right. I can imagine my mother, seven years old when the book was published, sitting stiffly in her chair while trying to remember which fork goes with the fruit compote.

Is it correct to use doilies on the table for dinner when there are guests?
It is not correct to use doilies on the dinner table whether there are guests or not. The long white or pastel cloth is the only proper one for dinner. For the family dinner, however, where laundry work is an item to be considered, place mats are sometimes used.

Is it considered bad manners to lean one’s elbow or elbows on the table?
That depends on how it is done. To sprawl one’s arms along the table, or to lean an elbow on the table while eating is rude because it is ungraceful. To lean an elbow on the table while talking or listening is not considered rude, and in an informal luncheon to lean both elbows on the table is not unpardonable.

Where will be no bread and butter plate, for with dinner butter is not served. … Rolls, unbuttered, are passed from the serving dish, placed on the cloth and eaten without butter. … Bread and butter do not belong on a dinner menu, and even rolls are not needed.

Still, that generation placed an importance on sitting around the table as a family for three meals a day, enjoying one another—a priority that we’ve lost, to our detriment. While we laugh at some of the advice Mrs. Lutes has to offer, perhaps we can also recapture the value we placed on spending quality time together. At one time we considered one another worth the hassle of using a different tablecloth and lovely centerpiece for every meal, worth polishing up to a dozen pieces of silver for each place setting.

Is it permissible to ask for cream for the after dinner coffee if none is supplied?
No. One is not supposed to have cream with the after dinner coffee. Black coffee is claimed to be an aid in the digestion of a heavy dinner.

Is the dinner gong used for luncheon or dinner when there is no maid to announce the meal?
For family meals, yes. When there is company, no. The hostess herself then announces the meal ….

A woman does not take a man’s arm in going to dinner, but merely walks beside him. The host leads the way with the woman who is chief guest, and the hostess brings up in the rear with whatever man she most wants to honor.

Thanksgiving may be one of the few times when we pull out the best dishes, special linens, and fancy flatware (whether it be silver or stainless). I’m glad I don’t have to do that every day, but I admit it does make the occasion special. It also honors our guests (both friends and family); that is certainly worth a bit of extra effort.

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