Modern Manners 20th October

Dear Thomas,

Please advise on dinner party etiquette. When is the time for guests to leave – from the table immediately after dinner? Or should they be encouraged to relax in the lounge for chatting? Karen Peart, by email


Dear Karen,

Traumatic subject. Leaving in itself is a trauma – or can be. Some hosts hate that their guests are leaving. They feel despised and rejected. Others can’t wait for them to leave. They’ve even been known to shovel them out of the door bang on 10pm, claiming it’s a ‘school night’.

Left to their own devices, guests can reach a point beyond which they’ve lost the will and the energy to leave, having previously perhaps been wishing to leave but feeling it was too early and all their energy went into that agony, so there is none left when the time to leave has long passed. Especially if the hosts, rather hoping that the guests will leave, offer them more and more, such as hard drink like brandy, diminishing almost to vanishing point any hope of departure.

Leaving can of course be too abrupt. Or some guests talk of nothing from the time of arrival but the elaborations of their forthcoming departure – when the taxi is coming, where it will pick them up, how much it will cost, etc. The best leaving occurs naturally, but ideally should be about 10.30 if the dinner is on a weekday and 11.15 if at a weekend. Younger guests might have more stamina.

It’s best if they all leave more or less at once. Usually once one guest has got the idea of leaving, others follow suit. These days, for practical reasons, the dinner usually ends at the table and the guests decant from there to their various abodes. Unless you have a parlour maid or a live-in partner/husband/wife who is also a slave, who will have somehow invisibly got the lounge or sitting room back into shape after the pre-dinner drinks, it’s not really practical to go back there after dinner. If you do offer an interlude in your lounge or sitting room for coffee and further drinks, then expect a tremendous settling in to armchairs and at least another hour of conversation, especially if chocs are anywhere about.

But be assured, it’s not in any way rude to keep your guests at the table and to serve coffee or tea there, even if it is for your convenience. I have to confess, I do find the production of after-dinner beverages just about the last straw at my own dinners. Having pushed out three courses for eight people, I’ve not an ounce of strength left to get the kettle on. I wonder if a new form of dinner invitation would be possible: ‘Do come to dinner. No coffee or tea afterwards. Bring your own if required.’ 

Please send your questions to thomas. or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER