PARIS — In her book “Mistress of Ceremonies,” Françoise Dumas reveals the secrets to a successful formal dinner party. The French event organizer has planned parties for the likes of luxury magnate Bernard Arnault, designer Karl Lagerfeld, Princess Caroline of Monaco and hedge fund billionaire Stephen Schwarzman. Here is her advice for hosts:
- Invitations should carry all the necessary information, including the date and time of the event, the dress code and the mention RSVP.
- The menu should be sober and easy to understand. Vegetables are always popular, and poultry is the diplomatic meal “par excellence.” Offal, venison, dishes cooked in sauce and stews should be avoided. Anything that could soil or inconvenience guests is prohibited: no shrimps that need peeling, nor excess garlic. Meals should respect guests’ culinary sensibilities and religious dietary restrictions.
- The choice of dishes must match the circumstances of the event. Caviar and truffles should be saved for special occasions; excessive opulence is unseemly, especially for charity dinners, where guests would prefer that the money is used toward the cause.
- Female guests of honor should be seated on the right of the male host. Their spouse should be seated on the right of the female host, or the partner of the male host. The seats on the left of the hosts are considered the second-best placements for guests of honor. At a long table, French tradition requires the hosts to be seated in the center, facing each other. Other guests are seated according to precedence: women before men, the old ahead of the young, members of the church before ministers and people with official roles ahead of ordinary guests. If possible, women and men should be seated alternately.