What You’ll Need
– A white cloth tablecloth (nothing else will do). Make sure it hangs midway between the floor and the table.
– A wool cloth that goes underneath the formal tablecloth to keep it in place.
– white napkins you use “should be approximately twenty-four to twenty-six inches on a side.” The napkins should be folded in The Bishop’s Miter style. You can find the directions here.
For a historically accurate Downton Abbey dinner party, you would use the formal place setting. The place setting “must be balanced…[and] must be in line with the centerpiece and candlesticks.” For accuracy use a tape measurer.
In the diagram of a place setting, the dinner plate will arrive when the meal is served.
– Use either fruit or flowers (not both) for the centerpiece. If flowers, make sure they don’t have a strong scent.
– The only light source should be candlelight. Use long white candles; they should be a little taller than the candlestick. Ensure that their placement doesn’t conflict with conversation. If you need light while you are serving food, a small dim light like a side lamp is okay.
Seating arrangements are a very important part of the meal. Your guests should sit directly across from one another, and before your guests sit down the chairs should be one and a half feet out from the table so that people can sit down with ease. If you have an odd number of guests the host should sit at the head of the table, two guests on either side, and two at the end.,
– The head of the house generally sits at the head of the table.
– The guest of honor sits next to the head of the house. If he or she brings a guest, that guest sits on the other side of the head of the house.
– The other guests at the table should be arranged by their interests.
Before dinner you will hold a cocktail hour, which can include sherry or cocktails, but definitely not wine due to its acidity.
Make this cocktail, The Bittersweet Mr. Bates, with this recipe.
Tips For Wine
– During the meal there should be multiple kinds of wine: white wine with the fish, red wine with the meat, and champagne with dessert.
– After the meal is over, serve coffee. After coffee, serve dessert wines like sherry and port or a digestif. Ager particularly recommends orange Curaçao.
– In the most formal houses, Stanley Ager says the wine was always decanted (poured into a clear, usually glass, vessel) once it was opened. Decanting is visually appealing, prevents the wine from mixing with sediment, and thoroughly aerates the wine. Slowly (very slowly) pour the wine in order to insure it gets oxygen.
A formal dinner from the era of Downton Abby could include up to twenty-two courses. Here of 5 of them from the
Poached Salmon With Mousseline Sauce
French Green Beans to Dessert of
Raspberry Meringue Pudding
These tips are written for servants. We’re assuming you don’t have very many of those, but here’s what they’d (you’d?) do in a historically accurate scenario:
– Don’t talk to the guests, avoid eye contact.
– Walk clockwise around the table.
– Bend at the waist to serve and lower the serving plate to an appropriate height so the guest can easily serve themselves.
– Wear white gloves or hide your serving hand in a napkin so the guests do not see your skin..
And of course, be sure your friends understand that only formal attire is acceptable.
The photo of the place setting was reprinted from the book The Butler’s Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces by Stanley Ager and Fiona St Aubyn.