19th Century Advice for Hosting a Meal

by Sandra Merville Hart

Most of the dinners I host are for family and friends so it was fun to read the following advice from the 1870s. Much of this is sound advice for today’s dinner parties.

Warm the plates in winter but don’t let them get hot.

It’s considered vulgar to overload a guest’s plate or to insist on second helpings.

Don’t offer too many dishes for the meal. It makes a coarse display. The author suggests soup, fish with one vegetable, a roast with one or two vegetables, a salad and cheese, and dessert as a sensible meal.

Sauces and jellies aren’t side dishes. Serve them on the dinner plate.

Invite congenial (friendly) folks to your parties.

Never overcrowd your dining table.

Novel dishes are a fun addition at parties, but NEVER experiment on your guests by serving a dish you’ve made for the first time. (Wise advice.)

Pour water from the right side and serve everything else from the left.

The hostess continues to eat until all the guests finish.

Use individual salt dishes at breakfast. (Salt and pepper shakers weren’t commonly used until the 1920s.) Serve salt in a cruet with a dish and spoon, set on each end of the table at dinner to give “less of a hotel air.”

Serve fruit after pudding and pies.

Coffee is served last. Place cream and sugar in the cup before pouring the coffee. If guests like milk in their coffee, serve it scalding hot.

When serving hot tea, pour the tea into the cup before adding cream and sugar.

Some of these hosting tips from the 1870s have stood the test of time while others—like the individual salt dishes—have changed. As an author of historical novels, these tips enhance my understanding of the time period.


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.