Mighty Life List
Sep 17 2007

Attention to Detail

The September 2007 issue of Domino has an article about how fashion designer Valentino likes to entertain. He mentions an interesting point of etiquette I’d never thought about before:

“I follow the rule of dividing my time evenly throughout the meal–first course to my right, second course to my left. Far too many young ladies in America get caught up in the media and forget to pay attention to their manners. When seats are assigned, it is for a reason. I expect my guests to show hospitality to their host and table companions throughout the meal.”

Dinner parties aren’t particularly common in our social circle, but I love the idea of hosting a smaller gathering with the intent of introducing people who will enjoy each others’ company.

21 Responses to “Attention to Detail”

  • amypt Says:

    I love dinner parties!
    Interesting guideline from Valentino. Hope it doesn’t catch on too much, or there would be some silent dinner parties. If you turned to the right, you’d see the back of someone’s head who also turned to the right. All the way around the table.

  • Nancy Says:

    Hmm..I can’t help but think that Valentino is over-thinking it a bit. Invite your friends, let them eat, drink and enjoy, and what will be, will be.

  • aimee/greeblemonkey Says:

    Yeah, I do think he is overthinking it a bit much – but I love his point about spreading the wealth, but we love having smaller, more intimate dinner parties. Less stress, more time to really chat! I feel like when we have bigger parties all I do is flit around.

  • Meg Says:

    Ohhh… read Miss Manners on this. She has a really cool formula for inviting to dinner parties. Two “sparklers” from different fields, some listeners… and goodness, I can’t remember the rest. But her description is wise, and of course filled with wit and irony.

    And I dare say she would point out the critical back of the head flaw in Valentino’s plan.

  • Samilja Says:

    I actually like the finer point here, about everyone interacting throughout the evening, and your idea about hosting small parties specifically to introduce people who you think will enjoy each other.

    Although not a dinner party, one of my closest friends put together an intentional table of eight, including my husband and I, for her wedding reception. Although all 8 of us live in the same city and had mutual friends, somehow we’d missed each other. It was a brilliant night and four years later the lot of us are a close knit group.

  • melissaS Says:

    After years of entertaining either one other couple or a giant load of people and no one gets to really get to know each other.

    Must read Miss Manners advice on who to invite.

  • shy Victoria Says:

    I should probably know how to cook first, eh?

  • Valentino Might Have Felt a Bit Out of Place « Says:

    [...] 17th, 2007 · No Comments Mighty Girl Maggie Mason presented an elegant sliver of social etiquette on her blog today. Shequoted fashion designer Valentino, who insists on meting out his attention at dinner parties equally, talking to the guest on his right for the duration of the first course and to the guest on his left for the duration of the second. [...]

  • Nad *mother of hana* Says:

    I totally agree with you.

  • Ariella Says:

    We do this all the time. Sometimes it works smashingly, and other times, even when we think the people will get along, it doesn’t. Those are slightly awkward evenings, but the good thing is that it’s not the end of the world if those two friends don’t blend.

    We didn’t do any kind of seating arrangements for our wedding, but for dinner parties I will put out little placecards to tell people where to sit.

  • Nicole Says:

    The dinner party is a lost art. Even if you don’t cook (and why should you, just get good take out or deli food and put it on your own china!), the fun is in the guest list and planning the drinks and dessert.

    I suppose the “right/left” thing would work if you, as host, sat at the head of the table. Or at a round table (it might not be so bad). I agree, everytime we have a huge gathering, you don’t get to talk to half the people, and they end up clumping. So if your intent was for strangers to meet, it doesn’t happen.

    Note to self: buy place cards for next dinner party.

  • Barbara Says:

    I think Valentino’s point is to have some thought to what you are doing with respect to others. Which is the point of manners. I don’t think he is suggesting everyone turn this way or that, it is to have some regard for your guests, be a respectful host. A little planning goes a long way.

    I always think it interesting when I am invited for dinner but required to bring food or beverage or money. I like to bring a hostess gift, say a bottle of wine, but nowadays hosts ask for you to bring everything from meat, cash to your own beverage. For example, we were just invited to Octoberfest. Last year the same hosts with a huge home – (SITCOM-ers Single Income Three Children Oppressive Mortgage) “entertained” 100+ guests in their garage/driveway (it rained so they had a small tent), we were served hot dogs or brats and each couple was asked to bring “your favorite beer.” The host complained to me later what a huge expense this party was.

  • KP Says:

    Valentino is actually following an old etiquitte custom. Back in the days when formal dinner parties were the norm, people would be seated guy-girl-guy-girl, around the table. The rules for which way to turn during each course were reversed for men and women. So, when Valentino is turning to his right during the first course, the woman to his right was turing to her left.
    Supposedly, everyone knew this rule, and this way no one was left with no one to talk to.

  • B Says:

    I don’t understand what Valentino refers to with “get caught up in the media” — but whatever he does mean, how would that be the opposite of, or how would it hinder, paying attention to one’s manners?

  • CLH Says:

    While these things can’t be controlled, having an intention and a good plan to create that atmosphere is something definitely worth doing, I think. I once hosted a small dinner party with folks from different parts of my life who didn’t know each other but I felt should know each other! I made place cards (kinda large, with “to your left” & “to your right” columns) with curious little facts about their dining partners, as a way to help them break the ice (lots of introverts in my life). For instance, one of them had been an online advice columnist briefly, had lived in Texas, Minnesota, Arizona and California, collected the most ridiculous, failed examples of sock monkeys, and had dinner with the poet John Ashbery when she was 19. Anyway, like that, around the table. I think it helped.

  • misstraceynolan Says:

    Hey Valentino – it’s far too many – isn’t it?

  • Laural Says:

    All of my dinner parties have turned into disastrously humorous occassions, where my husband and I fall exhausted on the couch when everyone has left, laughing over all the ways in which things went wrong. The eventual conclusion was to leave the dinner parties to the people who know how to do them best, which was NOT us. Now I just throw BBQs and let everyone mill about on the back patio. Less work, less stress, but in a way, I do miss all the preparation involved in inviting, seating and entertaining guests. It’s exciting! Maybe we’ll give it another try in a few years.

  • Anna Says:

    My blog reading today follows a trend. First there was the delicious cocktail chatter blog:

    http://theerrantaesthete.com/

    Everyone needs a worthy tidbit, a gleaming pearl of an item to start a great conversation, which one presumably would have at (continuing my blog reading trend that took me from cocktails to dinner parties) a dinner party at Valentino’s. I totally get his intention. It’s easy sometimes to settle in with the one or two people you know at a party; the real adventure begins when you take the time to discover who else your host has invited. Mingle, people!

  • Cynthia Says:

    I work at a sprawling academic library with a diverse and interesting staff.

    Last year I cultivated a friendship with a charming and jaunty young woman (21), not long out of college. (I’m 46). I don’t pretend to be young and she isn’t averse to middle aged friends/acquaintances, and generally runs around with smart, artistic people her own age.

    Not too long ago, she told me about a largish dinner party that she and her five (6?) roommates had just had. She said it was electric. There was a special tension but nevertheless the hosts and guests were all giddy.

    The rule: upon arrival, all attendees were required to strip down to their undies (no one went braless). The girls did not wear lacy lingerie. Everyone wore their, well, regular underwear. If they refused, they couldn’t attend. No underwear attire? No crudites.

    She reported that at this party, the conversation just flowed. A good time was had by all.

    No orgies here folks. Just good clean fun for the twenty-somethings. (Sorry twenty-somethings, I know that’s a lame label!!). I loved the idea of this party. But I also told her that I did not want to see my friends in their underwear. That the food was much too important to me–to visually place it near someone’s hairy belly roll. (Sorry belly rolls! In all other contexts you are cuddly and considered friend not foe!)

    Hats off to unusual dinner parties though!

  • All Adither Says:

    Oh, how I hate to entertain.

    But I love your blog. The design is sublime.