There’s dinner and then there’s dinner at Donwton Abbey.
While I am quite sure there will be no butler or footman added to my staff in the near future (actually I’d have to have a staff before I could add anyone to it), I long to sit down to a dinner with all the elegance of being wined and dined at Downton Abbey. I think it might be rather fun to have a Downton Abbey Dinner, although there would obviously need to be some changes. For instance, I am fresh out of monogrammed china and the sterling is, well, nonexistent. However, it occurs to me that there can be a great deal of enjoyment gleaned from a formal tablescape, scrumptious food and a group of friends who do not mind dressing in their best for an evening dedicated to the finer things in life.
Suggestions for a Downton Abbey Dinner
- A white linen tablecloth is an absolute necessity. Note: a wool cloth underneath the formal tablecloth will keep it from sliding.
- White linen napkins folded using the Bishop’s Mitre fold.
- Set the table for a formal dinner.
- A floral centerpiece. When choosing your arrangement make sure the scent is not too strong. You do not want the floral scent to overpower the aroma of the food.
- Candlelight. It is preferable to use only candlelight while dining.
- Menu Cards. If you want to be very Edwardian, the menu cards would be written in French as it is tradition carried over from the time when French was the language of the royal court. Have one card for every two guests.
- Dinner Time: 8:00pm
- Dinner Attire: Upper class Edwardian attire required men in dinner coats, matching pants, and white waistcoats. Women wore elaborate gowns complete with gloves that were removed once they sat down at the table. If you would rather not impose such a strict dress code, suggest, at the very least, men in either a suit or a sports jacket, complete with tie. Women should wear dressy dresses and, if possible, gloves.
- The Processional to Dinner. After everyone has arrived, the host takes the arm of the highest ranking female and leads the way to the table. Following behind, the hostess takes the arm of the highest ranking male and proceeds to the table. In the United States, defining social rank by the order one is escorted to the table would probably be considered rude, especially among close friends. Therefore, might I recommend escorting the oldest couple to the table or the couple married the most recently, etc.
- Seating Arrangements. The host sits at one end of the table with the woman he escorted seated to his right. The hostess sits at the opposite end of the table with the gentleman she lead to the room seated on her left. In Edwardian times social ranking determined who sat where from that point. Today’s recommendation would be to continue the tradition of alternating men and women around the table; however, seating them in such a way as to group people together with similar interests. Conversation is the key to a good dinner party, so plan your seating arrangements accordingly.
- Serving the Meal. This is the trickiest part to hosting an upper class Edwardian dinner, unless, of course, you happen to have a waitstaff on your payroll. If not, a little ingenuity can go a long way. If your dinner is just for your immediate family, why not have a different family member serve each course? If you are hosting a dinner party, consider hiring one to three local teenagers to serve the meal and remove the dishes after each course. If you know of a church youth group, there may be some volunteers in the group who would like to raise money for a missions’ trip or some other worthy cause. Get creative with this part and have fun with it. The main goal is that you, as the hostess, should not end up serving all of the courses, even if it is just for your family. After all, you want to be pampered a little on this night, too.
- Sample Menu: A formal dinner at an estate like Downton Abbey could include up to 22 courses. A typical dinner might include: First Course– a smooth soup such as Watercress Soup or Cream of Fresh Pea, Second Course– Fresh Oysters, Third Course — fish such as salmon or haddock, Fourth Course — meat and poultry with sauce, Fifth Course –Turkey, Leg of Lamb or Ham served with side dishes including a vegetable, Sixth Course — a roasted game bird and a fruit dish and the Seventh Course — at least two desserts. Today, I daresay our guests would be uncomfortable with so much food being served. A formal dinner could easily be scaled down to Four Courses: soup, salad, meat and poultry dishes served with sides, and a selection of desserts.
- After Dinner. The lady of the house would rise, signalling the end of dinner. All the women present would rise and follow their hostess to another room. The men stayed seated at the table to continue their robust conversation. This, by the way, is the perfect time to serve coffee to your guests.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain. Includes a number of recipes that the producers of Downton Abbey have used on the show. Original recipes written for the time period.
The Butler’s Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces written by one of the most esteemed butlers of the twentieth century, Stanley Ager offers insights and techniques in how to properly run an English household.
Last Dinner on the Titanic Recipes from the fateful voyage written in an easy-to-understand way. Perfect for a Downton Abbey dinner.