COLUMN: How to host the perfect dinner party


For the past 18 years David Edney has been head butler at Goodwood House near Chichester - one of the finest country houses in England and home to the Earl and Countess of March and seat of the Duke of Richmond for more than 300 years. Here the real-life counterpart of Downton Abbey head butler Carson shares some of the secrets to the success of running a large household.

Most people who live in West Sussex, the surrounding areas - and further afield - will be familiar with some of the major events held at Goodwood throughout the year.

Fine dining at Goodwood

Fine dining at Goodwood

These include The Festival of Speed and The Goodwood Revival Festival, both of which involve two of the biggest and the best dinner parties in the world, where we deliver immaculate service to over 1,500 guests, where the service is so slick and professional that the guest’s every wish is dealt with as they hardly notice we are there.

The house is constantly busy entertaining at the highest level, with weddings, birthdays and anniversaries for the rich and famous.

My aim is to guide you through the etiquette of hosting the perfect dinner party in style. Rest assured, it doesn’t have to be for 1,500 guests!

Holding the perfect dinner party is something we all have aspirations for and over the next few weeks I hope to be able to share with you some of my top tips for being the best host/hostess.

I will also let you into a few butler’s secrets about how to get yourself out of a difficult dinner party situation, should one arise …

The first thing to consider once you have decided to hold a dinner party, is how to design the invitation for your guests.

There are several details which should be mentioned on the invitation in order to set the tone of the evening and to make certain your guests feel comfortable about the sort of occasion you are inviting them to.

The invitation delivers the first impression to your guest of the evening you have in store for them, so formally personalising it is very important.

Your invitation might be engraved on a good textured card of about 6 x 4.5 inches and be prepared in the name of both the host and the hostess.

Traditionally, the style of the invitation is worded in the way that the host and hostess “request the pleasure of the company of ...”

Depending on the style of the invitation, the guest’s name may be handwritten in fountain ink pen on the next line of the invitation. Alternatively, guests’ names can be handwritten in the top left-hand corner.

The detail of the celebration should be stated, along with the address of the venue and the time of the arrival. The dress code for the ladies and gentlemen should be mentioned along with a request for any special dietary requirements.

Finally, the host and hostess should put the time for carriages on the invitation - and be sure to send the invitations out to guests six weeks prior to the event.

Next week I will tell you about how to start planning The Perfect Dinner Party, including the perfect number of guests to invite, as well as looking at the table plan, place cards and menus.

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