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Social Graces: Dining at a Reception

The season is approaching. Designers, florists, bakers and calligraphers are busy as bees preparing for what Southerners call, “The Wedding Season.” As I am sure you are too, my Instagram is filled with pictures of proposals, shiny rings and “I’ve got my man, now I need my girls” posts. I for one, love opening my planner and penciling in my dear friend’s wedding dates.

With all the preparation that comes with “Wedding season,” have you ever thought of having a refresher on what is appropriate when you arrive at the reception and food is served? It’s been a few years since we have attended cotillion or Ms. Mary’s manners class, so let’s review, shall we? Ms. Emily Post will lend us a helping hand today in appearing as graceful as a swan while dining at your next friends wedding. (Don’t forget about the teas and luncheons as well!)

At a Seated Dinner

There are many kinds of receptions these days. You can have a formal dinner, a buffet or even a food truck come and cater your wedding (Yummy!) But what happens when you find your place card at the reception and the bride has placed you with a table full of strangers? Of course you want to make a good impression on your new friends! Here are some tips and reminders to keep in your head and practice until this moment comes. Then, when the inevitable does happen, you will be so confident in your manners, you can chat away and make that good impression.

When sitting down at a table and glancing at all the silverware that has been placed before you, remember that they are placed in the order that you will use them starting from the outside. For example, the first dish you eat, which may be a salad, use the fork that is the furthest away from you.

The forks will always be on your left and the knives and spoons to the right. (Hey, you never know when you may end up hosting a bridesmaid luncheon and you are in charge of setting the table.) A few other reminders in the event that this does occur is to keep all drinking glasses to the top right of the plate and the sharp side of the knife facing the plate.

So back to the reception, I bet you never thought there was a right way to hold your silverware. Me either! Just keep your fork or spoon resting on your middle finger. When it comes to eating, tines up or tines down is both appropriate (respectively known as American and Continental style). Use your dominant hand (the hand you write with) to hold your knife, when cutting meat. This way you will not lose control of your plate.

When you’re in the middle of your delicious wedding meal and Aunt Sally comes up to say hello and to tell you all about her latest Hawaiian cruise, remember not to place your utensils onto the tablecloth. Once you pick them up to begin eating, they should not go back there. Simply put down your knife and fork facing each other in a “V” shape. This shows catering staff that you are still enjoying your meal. Once you are finished, place your utensils at the top right side of your plate together in a diagonal position. Emily Post states, “If your plate were a clock face, they would lie at four o’clock” (Etiquette, Post, p. 385). This allows staff to be aware that they can clear your place and you can keep chatting with your all your new friends.

Being Graceful at the Buffet

So, onto the next type of wedding you may be attending this year. Buffets are favored among large parties on account of guests are able to choose what they want to eat and what they do not want to eat. Buffet lines can become super awkward within just a few seconds! You lose your BFF also attending the wedding, your ex-boyfriend is standing behind you waiting for food and becoming impatient; I think we all have been in some type of uncomfortable situation while in a buffet line.

Most importantly, it is crucial to remain calm and patient. No one likes the person standing behind them breathing heavily and becoming impatient. Remain at least a half arm’s distance from the guest in front of you. That way, they will not feel rushed, and you lessen the chances of them making a rash decision or having them so anxious they spill their plate all over the floor.

That being said, before you jump in line for the delicious wedding feast, check out what’s for dinner. There are multiple ways you could go about this, either glance at the buffet or look for signs explaining the meal options. Go ahead and decide if you want chicken or steak, potato salad or a baked potato. This will help the line keep a steady flow for all the guests attending.

If you have brought children to the gathering, make sure to go through the line with them before you go through the line yourself. Once you have them properly seated, you may tackle the buffet line again. This may seem time consuming, but it will be far less stressful and save you much embarrassment from being frustrated at your child’s picky or messy ways and trying to serve yourself at the same time.

Unless drinks are served at the table, it’s best to set your plate down at the table and then go to the drink station. By getting your plate prior to your drink, you free up your hands to serve yourself. No one wants to juggle sweet tea, silverware and a huge plate all at the same time!

If you desire to go back to the buffet line, place your napkin in your chair, not on the table. This shows guest and wait staff that you will be returning shortly. Just check and see that everyone in attendance has had a chance to go through the line once before you step in for the second time. Make sure to get a new plate each time you visit the buffet!

Waiting on Dessert

Once you have arrived at the reception, it is very tempting to sneak one of those coveted Baby Bites or one of those cute cake pops. BUT WAIT!! The cake has not been cut yet. Feel free to eat the dinner, but as for anything sweet, wait to eat until after the bride and groom have cut their cake and had their moment. It may seem silly, especially when the cheesecake flavored cake pop is calling your name, but you are at this celebration to honor the couple, a few minutes won’t hurt… get out on that dance floor and have a ball!

In Conclusion…

Enjoy the Wedding Season! Remember to practice these tips while you are out and about dining this year. They are all very simple tips that we most likely remember from our childhood; we forget to practice them.

CREDITS: Written by Kathleen Grace Cook | First two images by Mandy Busby | Photo of Buffet by Stephen Devries | Photo of Dessert Table by Stacy Richardson, Desserts by Cakes by Kim

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