I am asked about the courses to serve at a formal dinner more times than I can remember each year. I realize that these occasions are few and far between for most folks, so I tolerate the repetitiveness. There is certainly nothing wrong with a little knowledge even if on repeat! I base my thoughts here on the advice and training I received from numerous etiquette books and apply these guidelines to my own entertaining.
Six courses is the maximum number to serve at even the most formal of gatherings. More than this and your place settings will be huge and your guests confused. Try to remember the food preferences of those you’ve invited, but certainly do not apologize if they don’t like something you serve. They may take a token serving and leave it on their plates.
- Choose one: Fresh fruit cup, soup, shellfish or melon. The shellfish selection may include oysters, shrimp, or clams. BEWARE those that do not like shellfish. It might be wise to stick with soup.
- Fish course (which you would omit if you served shellfish in the first course) or a dish such as sweetbreads (not sweet breads. Google if you don’t know what this is. As an aside, I prefer to serve the fish course as a matter of courtesy for those who will not eat sweetbreads.)
- The entree, which may be chicken, turkey, or roast beef. You may also consider a vegetarian option for those who are not meat eaters.
- Salad. The salad may also be served with the entree in a separate side dish. It is entirely correct to serve the salad after the entree, despite the custom to serve it first in restaurants.
- Coffee (or tea, port wine, brandy)
A well-balanced menu is imperative and should be easy to achieve with this number of courses. Strike a balance between rich dishes and the more simple ones.
The appearance of the food should also be considered. Think of color…don’t serve all white foods with white sauces on white plates (Ohhhh how boring!) Don’t serve all sweet or all savory dishes. Aim for a beautiful balance so that the foods may be enjoyed thoroughly.
Arrange vegetables neatly in the serving dish. Arrange the meats neatly, also, rather than just piling them high on a platter. Make it interesting for your guests. Appeal to all of the senses!!!
Best Dinner Wishes,
The Lady Hooper-Brackett