Top 10 Rules – 1920’s Dining Decorum.


Imagine it’s 1920 and you’ve received an invitation to dine with the wealthy Earl and Countess of Grantham. With their power and influence your social standing could be raised a hundred rungs up the ladder. This is your lucky day. Or is it?

article-1320949-0B4D947B000005DC-877_472x307#10: Don’t be late.
Dinner is at 7:00 pm. If you are more than 15 minutes late, the lady of the house can turn you away. She already has a B list of guests who she can call and immediately fill your chair at the table.

Downton Abbey#9: Butler and Hostess control dinner – nod of the head, blink of an eye.
The hostess already has a list of your likes and dislikes including food, books, interests, accomplishments and failures recorded in her Dinner Bible. How did she do it? Gossip in the community – and the eavesdropping Butler.

#8: How do you do? – Not really.
The Butler guides you into the Drawing Room where the lady of the house will ask you, “How do you do?” You reply, “How do you do?” She is not really interested in how you are – it’s just a formality. Men escort women into the Dining Room, spouses are separated. The seating plan at the table has been strategically set for her control of the guests and her goals of the evening.

Downton-Abbey-Dinner-11images (5)#7: Courses Set The Conversation:
1st course Hostess talks to guest on right. 2nd course she turns left. Everyone follows. It’s called, “The Turn of the Chair.” Conversation is restricted to the weather, sports and travel. No talking across the table. Chew 20 times, no elbows on the table – everything is “over the top” performance.

article-2124785-0F4A22D300000578-551_634x360#6: Wear your DEPENDS:
Dinner is 5 courses, 4 hours, continuous wine, corsets, high collars. Bathroom break not allowed. It would upset “The Turn of the Chair.” There are no reported “accidents” but with bladder infections and incontinence, they must have happened. It would be impossible to get out of the corset and dress in time.

#5: Just close your eyes.
If you see something offensive at the table, such as the servants clearing the table and stacking dishes (they are to take one plate in each hand and remove them from the table) just close your eyes.

#4: Left handed?
No problem. That would’ve been beaten out of you long ago.

SONY DSC#3: The Drawing Room:
After dinner, women withdraw to the Drawing Room for coffee and drinks. The men move to the billiard room to talk politics, business and smoke cigars.  In thirty minutes, they all convene in the Drawing Room for drinks and more relaxed conversation.

downton-abbey-itv#2: Ignore The Staff:
While the guests are in the Drawing Room, the staff would begin to clean the Dining Room. Partying in the Drawing Room could go to 3 am. The staff then have to clean the Drawing Room until 4 am. Then they have to get up again at 6 am to light fires and clean the house.

And the #1 Top 1920’s Dining Decorum Rule:

ftr-anaa DOWNTON_ABBEY_EP5_08.jpg#1: Just say yes.
Dinner has a cost. At the end of the evening, the hostess will tap you for a cheque for her favorite charity or will ask you to volunteer at her next event. Just say yes.

*** Many Thanks to Samantha George, Curator at Parkwood Historic Site, Oshawa and Vice President of the Culinary Historians of Canada for her excellent Dining Decorum presentation.

3 thoughts on “Top 10 Rules – 1920’s Dining Decorum.”

  1. Thanks you for this, so instructive and entertaining! So glad we have moved on from all this although I do miss the dressing up part! A few things I am grateful for based on the above: I am right handed, so no beatings – no corsets, thank goodness, and bathroom breaks allowed – conversation a lot more varied, although these days definitely stay away from politics if you want to have a peaceful dinner.
    I am totally intrigued by the hostess Dinner Bible….
    Enjoying your course at Curious Minds…

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