23 Comments

  1. Nancy Zechella

    I need a question answered. Last week I was told one does not use a bread/butter plate at “formal dinners,” but you do use a bread/butter plate at “formal lunches.”

    I have tried to research this and all I could find was a site referencing Amy Vanderbilt, saying at “really” formal dinners, the bread is wrapped in a napkin and put directly on the tablecloth beside your plate.

    Do you know the history of this practice or why this is done?

    • Daniel Post Senning

      Nancy, please refer to Sean-Thomas answer and my reply to him below for your specific answer for today. As far as the tradition of serving bread in a napkin and many other dining eccentricities I recommend a book called The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser. I have found this book helpful for answering my own questions about historical perspective around seemingly arbitrary dining choices.
      I referenced the original 1922 printing of Etiquette and in it Emily states in a parenthetical aside on page 197 “Bread should not be put in a napkin – not nowadays.” Her very current advice for her own time seems to indicate that she found what you reference as the Vanderbilt traditional advice, outdated. Let the etiquette maven dual begin. She goes on to say in her formal dinner don’ts section on page 199 “The only extra plates ever permitted are the bread and butter plates which are put on at breakfast and lunch and super above and to the left of the forks, but never at dinner.” We have changed the advice we give in regards to this as I mention below. Customs and traditions do evolve over time, thank goodness.

    • Ty'Johna

      Well Girl, the only time I use my napkin to rap my bread up is when I put it in my pocket as I am leavin’ the cafe.

  2. Lisa

    I checked your site for the first time with a question about whether it is mandatory to send a graduation gift when receiving an announcement–particularly to a high school graduate (family member). I have basically no relationship with the graduate because I have terminated my relationship with her mother. Your site gives the following contradictory information:

    Graduation Gift Etiquette Myth
    People who receive graduation announcements must send a gift. Announcements do not equal invitations. You are not obligated to give a gift, although you may choose to do so. Whether or not you send a present, a card or note of congratulations is always appreciated.

    Please advise.

    Thank you!

    • Daniel Post Senning

      Thanks for pointing this out. I am wondering where on the site you found this mistake, so that I can fix it as soon as possible.
      The correct answer is that while it is customary to bring a gift for the graduate to a graduation party it is not an expectation like a wedding where one responds to the invitation itself with a gift. Graduation announcements that do not include an invitation to an event carry no expectation of a reply. While you are welcome to respond with a card, short letter, or gift (showing thoughtfulness that is often greatly appreciated) it is not assumed. Announcements are a great way to share a moment of achievement and accomplishment among extended friends and family and place no burden on the recipient.

  3. Sean-Thomas Flynn

    Your question was so intriguing that I had to run for ETIQUETTE to check what Emily would say. In Part Five, while it doesn’t say specifically about that, I can say the place setting for an informal dinner does have a Bread/Butter Plate and it is placed to the left of the plate, above the forks. At a Formal Dinner, there is just a Butter plate, and it says it’s for butter. After that, the only other part about bread is that it said with Formal Dinning, you would have Servers and the Bread and Condiments are past from person in bowls and then taken back to the kitchen. I can only imagine then that the bread is place to the side of the main plate and not kept on the Butter plate.

    I have never been to, apparently, a truly Formal Dinner. And I can say that I personally don’t like to keep my bread on my dinner plate (I have a strange habit on not letting my food touch).

    I would be very intersted in what Mr. post would have to say on the subject.

    • Daniel Post Senning

      I love how specific this reply is. You have discovered some of the language in the 17th edition of Etiquette that is scheduled for change in the 18th. The terms bread plate and butter plate are essentially interchangeable and are used as such. This has created some confusion. A bread plate (described as a butter plate in the section you site) could be used at a formal dinner if the meal requires it. The questions that determine this are “What is being served?” and “How much room is there at the table?” If the meal being served is messy or has sauce or gravy it is nice to have a place to put the bread. The butter is not passed but is served up individually with the bread/butter plate.

  4. Nancy Zechella

    Hey Sean, I guess I have never been to a “really” formal dinner either. I always use bread and butter plates. I also have some antique “butter pats” which are china plates a little smaller than a coaster, just big enough for a pat of butter. But after studying diagrams, I don’t think when people refer to butter plate they are talking about these tiny little ones. I wonder if the White House uses bread and butter plates during formal State Dinners. The gracious Southern Gentleman who told me it was improper usually knows what he is talking about.

  5. Sean-Thomas Flynn

    I am with you Nancy. I always like to have a Bread/Butter plate – even at informal dinners; even when out to dine. Not only do I like to keep my bread dry and away from my food, but I use it for my utensils. As a Nurse, I don’t like anything to touch the table that I am going to be putting in or near my mouth (I am sure they clean the tables, but so many viruses and bacteria live even after cleaning products have been used). However, so many places wrap the utensils in the napkin and then were do you put it? I set them on the Bread plate – the Knife is diagonal and the fork is placed upside down so that just the tongs are touching the side of the plate. Call me weird but I just find it hygenic. Of course, if there is a tablecloth, I am more likely not going to do this, but so many casual dining establishments have bare tables.

    I hope Mr Senning won’t scold me for misusing the Bread/Butter plate! LOL

  6. Louis

    My dearest Nancy,
    I checked your request on Google and found that Bill and Hillary did use bread and butter plates in the Blue Room when Tony Blair visited in 1998. Tony uses the English system of dining reversing the knife and fork and inverting the fork. It was noted that Blair simply stabbed his roll with his fork and of coarse as Emily Post dictates, a gracious hostess makes her guests feel comfortable, so Hillary stabbed hers too. The history of this practice goes back to Queen Victoria who was known to once have drunk water from a finger bowl because an unknowing guest has done so. The key to it all Nancy, is the gracious Southern Lady must not let her guests know when they make a faux pas. Keep this is in mind always and we will have a better world. Keep up your good work.

  7. Louis Smith Tarrington

    Nancy,

    My dear late wife always used a bread and butter plate at her dinner parties. She took great care to follow proper etiquette and always was a wonderful hostess. When I smell true yeast rolls I think of her. It’s funny how your question brought back fond memories!

    Lost in reverie,

    Louis

  8. Louis Smith Tarrington

    Nancy,

    My late mother loved her Wedgewood china and always used it for her dinner parties. She had an incomplete set of china, so she just used a large bowl lined with a napkin to serve bread. So make do if you have to. Better to have a gathering with fewer accoutrements than to have no gathering at all. No need to be too fancy, Nancy.

    Fondly,

    Louis

  9. Louis Smith Tarrington

    Nancy,

    Your question also brings another question to my mind. If you have a three or four course dinner, when would the bread and butter plate be brought out?

    Oh the numerous duties of being the perfect hostess!! Some people just don’t realize!!

    Louis

  10. Graceandhonor

    The bread and butter plate is placed at the beginning of the meal, and removed before the dessert course.

  11. Barbara Miraldi

    my daughter’s friend is celebrating her sweet 16 by bringing four girls on vacation. the girls pay for their own airfare and the friend’s parents pick up the rest of the tab. we are close with her family and her mom asked me to go along on the trip with them to help supervise the girls. it’s just mom and me and four girls. i also had to pay my own airfare. airfare for two and passports have so far cost me nearly $1100. what should i be expected to pay for during the trip and how big of a gift should we give the birthday girl? their family of four was invited to my daughter’s sweet 16, a traditional catered affair, and gave her a $200 gift.

  12. Graceandhonor

    Dear Barbara,

    Its regretful that your hostess has not clarifed exactly what she is covering for you, i.e. your meals and transfers and other incidentals; though it is reasonable on your part to assume she’s picking up the rest of your tab, as she is for the girls, I would still be prepared to pay for them, should she not step forward.

    As for a gift, why not a beach tote and towel, t-shirt, flip-flops and hat and sunscreen? It would be commemorative and in view of your expenses, entirely reasonable.

    One wonders what is left for a child to experience as an adult who has had such an opulent birthday at 16. I hope she appreciates the gift of your presence.

  13. Louis Smith Tarrington

    Nancy,

    How did your formal dinner go? It’s people like you who really know what our troubled world needs. The importance of etiquette is getting lost in all the muddle of recession, unemployment, war, terrorism, and genocide. Sometimes what a starving child needs is a contented parent who’s just been to a formal dinner party. Keep up the good work! The world needs more humanitarians like you!

    Louis

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