It is expected that guests will be particularly punctilious in matters of punctuality, dress and behaviour. However, despite the formality of the occasion, guests should be sufficiently relaxed to make the atmosphere light and convivial. In fact it shows good manners to be appearing to have fun.
If the invitation specifies ‘and partner’ then the name of the person must be given to the host. Guests should not bring an unauthorised plus one. Additional guests should also be briefed, in advance, by the primary guest about the nature and purpose of the event.
Time of Arrival
Times of arrival as stated on formal invitations are strictly adhered to. If a formal invitation says reception 7.30, dinner 8.15 then it is best to arrive at or very shortly after the time given. In the case of a genuine delay then get a message to the organiser, especially when it is a seated dinner. In the case of a stand-up reception then guests running late need not notify the organiser but should try to slip in quietly.
Dress codes for formal events are normally clearly stated but it is best if there is any doubt to contact the organiser. Guests should always dress more formally and modestly than when among friends. This is particularly important where cultural sensitivities may come into play.
When there is a formal receiving line a guest may be asked to give their name to an announcer. In this case always give the full name, with title. (In some cases guests may have filled in a presentation card.)
– peers should give their exact rank, eg ‘the Duke of Mayfair’ or ‘the Earl and Countess of Aldford’
– professional titles should be in the form of ‘Professor James Hill and Mrs Hill’, or ‘Mr John Adam and Dr Jane Adam’
– married couples would be ‘Mr and Mrs John Debrett’
– titles such as ‘The Hon’ are not used nor are prefixes or suffixes such as ‘Bt’ or ‘MP’
Speak clearly, move forward promptly when announced and greet the hosts briefly, even if you know them well. If it is a long line a person may want to repeat their name as they progress, or vary their greeting, for example: ‘Good evening, it is so kind of you to have asked me/us’. Subsequently ‘How do you do?’
Food and Drink
If a guest has an allergy or is a vegetarian then it is important to say so on replying to the invitation. It is unacceptable to make a fuss on the night and best either not to take something from a dish or to leave food on the plate. Asking for special drinks or cross-examining waiting staff about ingredients is bad manners.
Avoid established contentious areas, such as religion and politics; personal remarks, including compliments, and jokes may be misinterpreted. Guests must make an effort to be sociable and include those who don’t know anyone (particularly in a business context) during the drinks and at the table. Keep the conversation flowing and be attentive to other guests.