Read CHAPTER VII - THE DINER-OUT of The Complete Bachelor Manners for Men , free online book, by Walter Germain, on

When I speak of the “diner-out,” I include under this title the bachelor guest not only at dinners, but also at luncheons and at suppers. The formal breakfast is a festivity of the past, and the first meal in a household is purely a family affair. However, luncheons on Sunday at one or two o’clock are in New York frequently called breakfasts, because I believe many fashionable people do not want the impression to go abroad that even once a week they dine in the middle of the day. The luncheon after a day wedding ceremony is also called a breakfast, but this, like the Sunday meal, is simply a title by courtesy.

Luncheons, where men are guests, are popular entertainments at all the large summer resorts, such as Newport, Long Branch, Bar Harbor, as well as at the more celebrated of the Western and Pacific watering places and the winter cities of the South. In New York and other great centers, where there exists a number of gentlemen of leisure, these entertainments are greatly in vogue, and in Washington they sometimes assume the color of diplomatic functions.

The hour for a luncheon is half past one o’clock, and sometimes it is advanced to two. All guests are expected to be punctual to the minute and to take advantage even of the quarter of an hour latitude is bad form. Better a little too early than too late. However, do not make yourself ridiculous by appearing on the scene too soon. Bear in mind that the reputation of being the “late Mr. Smith” is not enviable. A tardy guest only accentuates his own insignificance. This rule applies to dinners and suppers and to all entertainments where you are a guest, with only one exception dances, where you have an hour’s grace.

Luncheons, as a rule, are informal affairs. Men have attended them in lounge suits, but it is more courteous to your hostess to appear in afternoon dress. Overcoats, hats, and sticks are left in the hall. Your gloves are removed in the drawing room. When luncheon is announced, unless it is a very formal affair, your hostess leads the way to the dining room, and she is followed by her guests, women and men, not in procession. The men, of course, must allow the fairer sex to pass before them through the drawing-room door and into the dining room. Luncheon menus consist of oysters, clams, or grape fruit with crushed ice and saturated with maraschino for the first course. This is followed by bouillon, an entree, a roast or chops with peas, or broiled chicken, salad with birds, ices and fruits, coffee and liqueurs. Sherry and claret are the wines, and sometimes champagne is served.

A luncheon lasts three hours at most, and the men are left to smoke at dessert. However, sometimes this formality is waived.

Dinner invitations are sent out at least a fortnight in advance. In the New York season sometimes they are issued a full month before the event. They must, under all circumstances, be answered within twenty-four hours, and cards left on your prospective host and hostess within a week.

The fashionable hours for dining are between half past seven and eight o’clock. Dinners being formal evening functions, formal evening dress is essential.

Except at very small houses and apartments, two rooms are reserved one for the men and the other for the ladies as dressing rooms. Your hat, coat, and outdoor attire are removed, and a servant will assist you in arranging your toilet. A nefarious practice of feeing these attendants, even at private houses, has been somewhat in vogue in a very “smart” and wealthy set in New York. It is not good form, and I would advise you against it.

The servant who announces you, hands you a small envelope on which is written your name. This incloses a card on which is the name of the lady whom you are to take in to dinner. After exchanging greetings with your hostess and removing your gloves, you should endeavor to find your partner and engage in some preliminary conversation. Should you not have been presented to her, inform your hostess of this fact, and you will be at once introduced. Dinner is announced by the butler entering the drawing room and saying, “Dinner is served.” The host leads the way with the woman guest of honor, and you are assigned your place in the procession by the hostess, who comes last with the man guest of honor. Each man offers his right arm to his fair partner. In the dining room, cards are placed at each cover with the names of the guests inscribed thereon. Even should there be a retinue of servants, pull back the chair of your partner and assist her to seat herself. In some old-fashioned houses grace is said, and it is always the rule when a clergyman is one of the guests. This blessing is asked after the company is seated.

During dinner you must devote yourself to the comfort and entertainment of the woman whom you have taken in. She must be your first care, although there may be some one on your other side, or opposite, who is more congenial to you. Talking across the table is very bad form. Let your conversation be pleasant and general, but avoid politics, religion, and personal criticisms.

There is no form for refusing wine, if it is against your scruples to drink it. Do not thus force your personal prejudices on your host by making any demonstration, such as putting your finger over the glass or shaking your head at the butler. Let him fill your glasses, but do not drink the contents. The question of waste is not to be considered; and if you are a man with firm principles regarding total abstinence, in your heart you should rejoice that at least a quota of the fluid will do no harm.

The hostess gives the signal at dessert for the ladies to retire to the drawing room. Everybody rises, and the ladies leave the table in solemn procession, the man nearest the door opening it for them. A prettier custom, and one much in vogue in New York, is the escorting of the ladies by the men to the drawing room, the host leading the way. When the drawing-room door is reached the men bow and retire again to the dining room, where coffee, liqueurs, and cigars are served. At the end of a half hour they return to the drawing room. Another half hour of conversation, during which sometimes there is dancing, and the guests make their adieus to their hostess and host and leave. On bidding good-night, always assure your hostess of the pleasant evening which you have enjoyed.

Progressive dinners are sometimes given, although now almost obsolete. Small tables are arranged for these with parties of four or six at each table. The guests change places at each course, the signal for this being given by the hostess ringing a bell. The ladies remain in their seats. As there will not be a fresh napkin provided at each course, a man brings his with him from his first table.

Public dinners, except when given by certain church, debating, or literary societies, are stag affairs. The guests assemble at the restaurant, hotel, or hall where the banquet is to be held, and deposit their hats, coats, and walking paraphernalia in the cloakroom. A ticket is given with the number of your rack upon it, and a small fee usually twenty-five cents is expected. The guests assemble in one of the smaller drawing rooms, and each one is handed a plan of the tables with the location of his cover designated by his name upon it. A procession is formed, the guests of honor and reception committee leading, to the banquet hall. After dessert, speeches are in order.

Dinner dances are a form of entertainment where dinner is followed by a dance, other guests coming in from other dinner parties and meeting at one house which has been agreed upon as the place where the dance is to take place. A short time after dinner, at each of the other houses, the guests are conveyed therefrom in carriages, or, better yet, in stages, to the general rendezvous. Calls are due within the week at the house where you have dined as well as at the one at which you have danced.

Supper etiquette differs but little from that observed at dinners. The occasion is a bit more informal and the menu not so elaborate. The etiquette of ball suppers is treated in the chapter on The Dance, and suppers after the play, at restaurants and clubs, being favorite bachelor entertainments, will be explained in that part of this book reserved for the Bachelor as Host.