When Should A Dinner Party Be Formal?

When should a dinner party be formal? You can make a dinner party formal anytime; there is nothing wrong with it. There are no set rules anymore. I think that a lot of people do formal dinner parties and don't understand what formal means.

Brian Hay, a chef and culinary instructor at Austin Community College and a sommelier who also teaches for the International Sommelier Guild, says, "You can make a dinner party formal anytime; there is nothing wrong with it. There are no set rules anymore."


When planning a dinner party you need to remember two important factors. First, it is your party and therefore you can do whatever you want. You are the one throwing the party, the one preparing for the party, and the one paying for the party. You can put in as much or as little effort as you deem appropriate.


However, the second thing you need to keep in mind are your guests and consider what they will want. For some people, a formal dinner may be more of a task than a pleasure. Formal dinners that require your guests to go to any sort of an extreme to prepare are not going to be quite as enjoyable to them as a dinner that is easily prepared for. Know who your guests are, what their likes and dislikes are. Will they enjoy dressing up for and participating in a formal dinner, or would they be more comfortable in a more relaxed atmosphere?

For special occassions such as weddings, most people will expect a formal dinner. The key is to let people know ahead of time just how formal your dinner is.

If you say you are going to have a formal dinner party, you need to know exactly what that means. Hay says, "I think that a lot of people do formal dinner parties and don't understand what formal means."

So what exactly constitutes a formal dinner?

According to Hay, "A formal dinner party, throughout the industry, is going to use entire fine China and silverware. The table will look immaculate. When everyone arrives, all the plates are going to be set up. There are going to be wine glasses, water glasses, coffee and tea glasses and all of those elements. Formal means that the guests are going to sit down and be completely served. We want them just concentrating on sitting at the table and relaxing and conversing. The food arrives and the drinks arrive and they enjoy it. To me, if you are going to be formal, someone should be serving the guests and there are certain procedures for serving that should be followed."

Truly formal dinners are not done nearly as often as they used to be. Hay says, "Five years ago I would have said that holiday times or wedding rehearsals and things like that are formal party times, but not anymore."

Most of the dinner parties we see today that we think of as formal, would be better classified as "semi-formal". We have some of the elements of a formal dinner, but not all of them are there. There are also some of the elements of a casual dinner, but not all of those elements are there either.

Hay concludes, "I think as long as your guests know what to expect ahead of time, then you can have a formal dinner party anytime you like."

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