Essential Etiquette for Attending a Formal Dinner Party

These days, the word “party” conjures up some raucous imagery: loud music, wild dancing, and copious amounts of alcohol. However, a party can also mean elegance, fine China, respectable conversation, and greater expectations than a Dickens novel.

We’re talking about the formal dinner party. These are the shindigs thrown by someone noteworthy, such as an employer, client, or anyone else you’re trying to impress. Because of that, checking off every box on the checklist of manners is vital. Here is some essential etiquette for attending a formal dinner party.


Communication is, arguably, easier than ever before. Even so, the tradition of telling someone whether you plan on attending an event has seemingly gone out the window. While not RSVPing may be acceptable for a casual party, it can’t be your norm for formal parties.

The RSVP helps inform your host how much food they need to prepare and how many places they need to set. And since the food is likely more expensive and the table seating arrangements more significant, this is especially important.

Keep to the Dress Code

Clothing etiquette for attending a formal dinner party will differ from party to party. Some parties may require a full evening dress, while others may lend themselves more to a business casual clothing style.

Many formal parties will include a written dress code on the invitation. If there isn’t one, it’s best to ask the host if you aren’t sure what to wear. If you can’t reach the host, always lean toward dressing more formally than less.

Pro-Tip: Clothing Etiquette

Remember, clothing etiquette doesn’t just mean wearing the right thing. For example, proper etiquette states that gentlemen wearing suits should keep their jackets buttoned until they sit. Hats especially have many rules, so be aware of the rules for every part of your attire.

Remember Basic Table Manners

There are many table manners that we let go to the wayside when we’re eating in our own homes or at informal events. Before you go to the party, it helps to review basic table manner rules, such as:

  • When you see the host or hostess unfold their napkin, you may unfold yours and place it in your lap
  • Wait until everyone has been served their food before you start eating
  • Keep your phone off at the table, and don’t check it until you’ve left the table
  • Don’t hold your fork and knife like a pencil
  • Always ask for someone to pass you food instead of reaching across the table
  • Avoid blowing on your food. Just wait for it to cool off
  • Don’t place your elbows on the table

Not every host will subscribe to every table manner rule. When in doubt, take your cue from the host or hostess. If they do something, it should be OK for you to do so as well.