Traditional rituals

Dining Table

There is a traditional order of proceedings at formal functions but, inevitably, this may vary slightly from event to event. The established order of events would run as follows:

– grace is said, everybody sits down and food is served
– after dinner, before the toasts, a second grace may be said
– toasts are given after dinner
– speeches take place after the toasts (but occasionally speeches may be given before dinner or divided between before and after dinner).


Grace is usually said before a meal and guests should remain standing or stand if they have already sat down. There is no preamble to grace. The toastmaster announces only, ‘Pray silence for grace by your president’, or ‘by Canon Mark Brook’, etc. The member of clergy’s living should not be mentioned: that is, not ‘The Rt Rev John Jones, Bishop of Barchester’.

No one should sit down again until after grace; otherwise it is usual to sit down after the guest of honour, hosts and top table guests have taken their seats. Sometimes a second grace is said after the meal, in which case it precedes the loyal toast.


Loyal Toasts
The most usual toast, given after dinner (and the second grace, if said), is the loyal toast to the Sovereign. To obtain the necessary silence the toastmaster may say, without preamble, ‘Pray silence for your president/host/chairman’ etc. The principal host will then stand and give the toast. The variations are as follows:

– The first and principal loyal toast, as approved by The Queen, is ‘The Queen’. It is incorrect to use such forms as ‘I give you the loyal toast of Her Majesty The Queen’.

– The second loyal toast, which, if given, immediately follows the first, is ‘The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, and the other members of the Royal Family’.

– The loyal toast in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and at Lancastrian organisations elsewhere in the country, is ‘The Queen, Duke of Lancaster’.

– In Jersey the toast of ‘The Queen, our Duke’ (ie Duke of Normandy) is local and unofficial, and used only when islanders are present. This toast is not used in the other Channel Islands.

The National Anthem
Everybody else then stands up and the entire National Anthem may then be played (just the first six bars are played after a second loyal toast). When the music ends, glasses are raised and the toast is said – ‘The Queen’ – and drunk before everybody sits down again. Glasses should never be raised during the National Anthem.

Preamble to Other Toasts
A speaker proposing a toast (other than the loyal toast) should make this clear at the end of the speech in some such form as ‘I give you the toast of ……’, or ‘I ask you to rise and drink to the toast of ……’. This obviates any need for the toastmaster to say ‘The toast is ……’. The toastmaster should be given the form in which he is to make all announcements in writing.


Speeches are usual at formal dinners or banquets. Guests should sit quietly, be still and refrain from chatting during the speeches. It is customary to clap at the beginning and the end.

Announcement of the Speaker
A speaker is announced by name, followed by office where applicable. For example, ‘The Right Honourable Neil Green, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for ……’. For the first speaker the announcement should have a preamble, as for the toast, followed by, ‘Pray silence for ……’. For subsequent speakers the preamble should be omitted.

Preamble to Speeches
Speeches at formal functions always open with a preamble. It is impossible to give a comprehensive list of those who should be mentioned in the preamble to a speech, since this depends so much on those present at a particular event.

In general, however, the list should be kept as short as possible, avoiding any omission that would cause justifiable offence. The speaker does not, of course, include himself in this preamble.

The Queen
Should The Queen be present, a preamble begins: ‘May it please Your Majesty’.

The Host
With the above exception, a preamble begins with the host, who is referred to by office, for example, ‘Madam Chairman’, ‘Mr Chairman’, ‘Provost’, etc. A non-royal duke or duchess is addressed as ‘Your Grace and President’.

A peer other than a duke, who is hosting an event in an official capacity, is addressed as ‘My Lord and President’. It is incorrect to use the form ‘My Lord President’, except for the Lord President of the Council.

A woman, either titled or untitled, with the exception of a member of the Royal Family or a duchess, is referred to as ‘Madam President’, not ‘Lady’. An untitled man is referred to as ‘Mr President’.

When a vice-president takes the chair, he or she may be referred to as ‘Mr Vice-President’ or ‘Madam Vice-President’ as appropriate, with the relevant prefix mentioned above, but he or she is more usually referred to as ‘Mr Chairman’ or ‘Madam Chairman’.

A chairman is called ‘Mr Chairman’, or ‘Madam Chairman’, irrespective of his or her rank, with the exception of a member of the Royal Family, who is referred to as ‘Your Royal Highness’. A peer should not be called ‘My Lord Chairman’, simply ‘Mr Chairman’.

If a vice-chairman, managing director or other officer of the organisation takes the chair, he or she is still referred to as ‘Mr Chairman’ or ‘Madam Chairman’. The use of these styles is not restricted to the actual chairman of the organisation.

If a member of the Royal Family is also the president or patron of the society that is holding the event, he or she is styled ‘Your Royal Highness and President’.

Order of Precedence in Preambles
Most people will be familiar with such expressions as: ‘Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen’ in the preamble to a speech. However, at an event where a number of illustrious guests are present, it is not inevitable that the usual sequence of precedence is followed.

Adjustment may need to be made in order to give due respect to a patron, president or guest of honour. Courtesy and common sense will overrule conventional correct form.

If in doubt, there is no reason why the host or planner of any given event should not contact the dignitaries concerned before coming to any hard-and-fast decisions regarding matters of precedence and protocol. If there is a member of the Royal Family involved then it is best to contact their office. Homework and research are always advisable.

The following list gives the form in which important guests should be included in a preamble in order of precedence, with the exception of those already mentioned above:

Your Majesty and/or Your Royal Highness
My Lord Mayor, My Lord Provost etc: applies only to the civic head of the city, borough, etc, in which the event takes place. A civic head from elsewhere is mentioned after ‘My Lord(s)’. More than one lord mayor or lord provost may be covered by ‘My Lord Mayors’, ‘My Lord Provosts’ or by naming each. There is no plural for ‘Mr Mayor’ so ‘Your Worships’ is used.
Mr Recorder (the Recorder of London only has this precedence within the City of London, for example at Guildhall)
Mr Chairman of the Kent County Council
My Lord Chancellor
Prime Minister (or, more formally, Mr Prime Minister). Also at this level: My Lord President (that is, of the Privy Council), My Lord Privy Seal, Mr Chancellor (of the Exchequer or of the Duchy of Lancaster), Minister(s). This covers a secretary of state; other ministers are not mentioned in a preamble when the Prime Minister attends an event).
Your Excellency(ies) (this refers to ambassadors and high commissioners)
Your Grace(s). This covers dukes and duchesses. If the Archbishop of Canterbury is present, ‘Your Grace’ (or ‘Your Graces’ if a duke or duchess is also attending) should be mentioned before ‘My Lord Chancellor’. Similarly, the Archbishop of York is covered by including ‘Your Grace’ immediately after ‘My Lord Chancellor’. Archbishops rank before ambassadors and high commissioners.
My Lord(s). For peers other than dukes, peers by courtesy, for diocesan bishops by right and for other bishops by courtesy. In the absence of any peers, the form ‘My Lord Bishops’ may be used.
Ladies and Gentlemen. When only one woman is present the form should be ‘Lady (or ‘My Lady’ if titled) and Gentlemen’, or ‘Mrs/ Lady Blank, Gentlemen’; never ‘Madam and Gentlemen’. The phrase ‘Distinguished Guests’ is also an acceptable alternative in this circumstance.

Roman Catholic Dignitaries
A cardinal archbishop may be included in the form ‘Your Eminence’, placed by courtesy after ‘Your Grace(s)’. Other archbishops and bishops are by courtesy mentioned in the same way as those of the Anglican Communion.

Other Clergy
Clergy, other than archbishops and bishops, should not be included. In particular, the forms ‘Reverend Sir’ and ‘Reverend Father’ are archaic.

Exceptionally ‘Mr Dean’, ‘Madam Dean’, ‘Mr Provost’, ‘Archdeacon’ or ‘Madam Archdeacon’ may be included.

Guest of Honour
When the guest of honour is not covered by one of the above terms, he or she is included in the preamble by office immediately before ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’. This specific mention also applies when an individual who is present has provided the building in which the event is taking place, such as the director of the National Portrait Gallery.

Aldermen and Sheriffs
Within the City of London it is customary to refer to ‘Mr Alderman’ or ‘Aldermen’ and ‘Mr Sheriff’ or ‘Sheriffs’ immediately before ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’. Elsewhere ‘Councillors’ may be included at civic events immediately before ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’.