What is the etiquette? the protocol?

The White House's State Dining Room redecorated after the Truman renovation as it appeared set up in 1960 for a dinner for the king and queen of Denmark. Illustrates WHITEHOUSE-DININGROOM (category l), by Jura Koncius © 2015, The Washington Post. Moved Friday, June 26, 2015. (MUST CREDIT: White House Historical Association)

The photo above shows how the White House state dining room table was set up in 1960 for an official White House state dinner for the king and queen of Denmark. Up until 1960 state dinners followed the formal table seating arrangement shown with strict rules of seating protocol. Long tables were arranged in a horseshoe with the President’s seat in the middle. In the 1960’s Mrs. Kennedy dispensed with that arrangement in favor of smaller round tables that enabled guests to have an opportunity to “rub elbows” and allowed for an interesting, diversified group at each table.

A Step Back in Time

Let’s step back to the 19th century to experience what it was like to be invited to a State Dinner at the White House. You are the lucky recipient of an invitation written by the official calligrapher and issued by the President’s Secretary by direction of the President. It is a black tie affair. (Gentlemen’s dress is a tuxedo with a black —not white— tie; women’s, a gala ball gown.) What will happen when you arrive?

a8cccc31ec8a0205c9b094a4d771d07f(The following details are from the White House Cookbook, © 1877.)

The Usher in charge of the cloak room hands to the gentleman on arrival an envelope containing a diagram of the table,


wherein the name and seat of the respective guest and the lady he is to escort to dinner are marked.

A card corresponding with his name is placed on the napkin belonging to the cover of the seat he will occupy.

The President’s seat is in the middle of the table. The most distinguished guests sit on his right and left. If their wives are present they will occupy these seats, and the gentlemen will be seated next to the President’s wife, whose seat is directly opposite the President.

[Dinners are served French style and are divided into three parts. Two of them are served from the kitchen and the third from the pantry.]

The first part of the dinner includes from oysters on the half shell to sherbets; the second continues to the sweet dishes; the third includes ice, cakes, fruits cheeses (which are all understood as desserts and are “dressed in the pantry.”)

Bon appetit!

Table round

(Want more details about dinner at the White House — how to lay the table, choose the centerpiece , fold the napkins serve the cigars, and so on — watch for the next episode.  Plus, you’ll find the answer to the question, “Where do you place those six glasses, and what is each one for?

Don’t forget to check out our Presidential trivia quiz and reference: The President Did What(Available in paperback, Kindle and  Audiobook!)






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