It’s time for another installment from the “Emily Post Meal Time Etiquette” of 1963. This comes from a chapter titled “Responsibilities of the Hostess.”
The hostess (or mother of the family) has many responsibilities at the table. It is she who initiates most of the activities of the group. Much of the success and pleasure of the meal will depend upon her recognition and deft handling of her duties.
Preparing to Greet Guests
The hostess should be ready to greet her guests at least five minutes, and preferable 15, before they are due to arrive. If she must choose between having every detail settled in the dining room and kitchen, or having her appearance well in hand, she should choose in favor of the latter. She can always excuse herself for a few minutes to take care of details in the kitchen or dining room, after her guests have arrived and are comfortable. It would be difficult, though, to erase the feeling that their arrival had been inopportune if she were not already carefully dressed and groomed and at the door to greet them warmly.
Sitting Down with Family and Guests
The hostess must be prepared to sit down when all are gathered at the table in order to spare her guests an awkward delay of waiting for her. This may require careful management in the kitchen, if she is cook and waitress as well as hostess. It is more important, though, for her to perform her role of the gracious hostess than for her guests to be served an elaborate meal. She should plan her menu accordingly. If she has not kitchen or serving help, her meal should include only a few simple dishes, excellently prepared, that do not require much last-minute attention.
Remaining at the Table
Having seated herself with her guests (or family), the hostess should be prepared to remain at the table. She should not jump up in a moment or so for some detail in the kitchen. It is she who requests the host, or perhaps a guest or some other member of the family, to give the blessing, if such is the habit of the family. It is the hostess who will be the first to pick up her napkin and lay it across her lap. And it is she who will be the first to pick up the proper piece of silver at her place to indicate to her guests (or family) that the first course is to be started. In addition, she may serve part of the meal at the table.
Acting as the “Initiator”
The role of the lady of the house (and hostess) is both a privilege and a responsibility. She is, in effect, the “Initator” of most activities at the table. The grace and ease with which she performs this duty will materially affect the comfort and ease of everyone else at the table. The hostess is responsible for a very awkward situation when she forgets (or does not know) her guests are awaiting her signals. If she must absent herself from the table momentarily, she should at least start the course being served, and then quietly ask to be excused. She may ask her guests to continue eating without her, in which case they should do so.
The Cue to Begin
The hostess’ cue to her guests (or family) to begin a course is simply to pick up the proper piece of silver at her place and then either start eating or place the implement on the side of her plate. If need be, she may then excuse herself from the table, and others are free to continue eating. Though she need not even take that first bite of food, her signal to others to begin eating seems more clear-cut if she does.