The Art of Entertaining

The month of December is the time for us to come together during the Holidays. The dinner party is a seemingly simple part of the American culture. At its core, a dinner party is a gathering of family, friends or honored guests, who come together to share in food, drink and conversation. Over the course of the years, the traditions of entertaining have shifted into what it is today.

During the holidays, we spend so much time preparing and planning to have the perfect party for our family and friends. In the late 19th Century ongoing to the 20th Century, there were etiquette rules which a host was to follow when receiving guests. With each year standards were shifting on the rules of etiquette and social gatherings.

19th Century dinner parties

Before the time of social media, there were newspaper publications on the events that were hosted locally to keep people informed and entertained. To have the latest fashions, dinnerware, proper food service as well as public relations on the attending lists was the main goal of attraction.

It was important for people during the 19th century to host dinner parties where they could to celebrate an event or person. The guest list was also completed with the utmost care,

“Conversation will be the sole entertainment for several hours, and if your guests are not well chosen, your dinner, no matter how perfect or costly, will prove a failure.”

Ladies Book of Etiquette (1872)

According to the current traditions of the time, the lady of the house should always be in the drawing room, ready to receive her guests. Everyone was expected to wear their most formal attire when attending. Diners most commonly were served between 9-12 courses and lasted over 4 hours. Once dinner was done, men and women would separate into their different drawing rooms, whether for drinks or gossip, and reconvene together by the end of the night.

20th Century Dinner Parties

In the beginning of the twentieth century, a new form of dining emerged, the semi-formal or company dinner. There was less of a formality in hosting friends or family, thus allowed for middle- and lower-class families to entertain without the previous cost. Hostesses were still expected to be the picture of elegance while preparing and serving dinner, entertaining guests and keeping the flow of the party continuous.

It was important, especially for men of business during the time, that their wives would be the perfect host when entertaining company dinners. There were themes laid out as the food was presented and the conversation was controlled.

Modern Entertainment

For the modern dinner party during the 21st century, roles have started to shift in social gatherings. It is a time of less formality with the roles of the host entertaining, to the roles of the guests becoming more involved and included. Dinnerware dress has become more casual in its further relaxed setting when friends and family are gathered together. It is so common now to leave the comfort of your home and host celebrations at restaurants and outdoor settings, thus continuously putting less responsibility on an event.

The history of entertaining has changed throughout the years and society will continue to evolve on how people gather together with friends and family, while still incorporating different traditions from previous generations. The art of entertainment will always be adapting.


Vanderbilt, Amy. Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living. Doubleday, 1952.

Thomas, Nick. “How to give an after dinner speech.” Osceola News-Gazette, November 12th, 2017.