Etiquette Dinner Party Report

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

For those of you who have been asking, I’ve got a little report on Olive’s Etiquette Dinner party to share. There are 3 main things to tell you about:

1) The Meal

As we planned the menu, we had a few considerations on our mind. First, we wanted something the guests would enjoy and really want to eat — so nothing too crazy, but we also wanted to include at least something that felt adventurous. Second, we knew we needed to have a vegetarian option. Third, we knew we wouldn’t have a ton of time to prep the food, and we don’t pretend to be gourmet chefs, so we also wanted something doable.

We ended up with a fairly simple menu, but split it into 7 courses and made it sound really fancy by throwing in French vocabulary and lots of descriptors on the printed menu.


This is what we served:

Hors d’oeuvres
House Specialty: Assortment of Local Produce & Miscellanea

Soupe de la Tomate with Crème and Ciboulette

Greens with d’Anjou Pear, Walnuts Sucré, Vinaigre de Balsam, and Native Huile d’Olive

Sorbet of Lemon

Main Dish
Pasta a la Crème with Lardons, Grated Parmesan and Fresh Pepper
served with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cheese Course
Havarti of øverød, Amish Bleu, Brie de Normandie

Moulleux de Chocolat with Crème Congelé
Fresh Berries served over Meringue


In reality it was veggies and dip as an appetizer, then store-bought tomato soup, then salad, then a palette cleanser — a pint of lemon sorbet, then pasta carbonara (with optional bacon), then a cheese course, and then they could choose a dessert — brownies with whip cream or berries over store-bought meringue. Didn’t we make it sound fancy? : )

The adventurous part was definitely the cheese course. But everyone was brave and tried a bit of each one. I was impressed!

Oscar, Betty and June were the servers. They wore head to toe black and draped a white dishcloth over their arm. They would announce each course using the fancy description. Then they would serve the course, refill drink cups, and clear the course as people finished.

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2) The Etiquette

My friend Nedra found out we were having an etiquette dinner and told me she had the perfect book to loan me. It’s called Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teens and it’s delightful. It’s 50 years old and it’s charming as can be (and FYI: Tiffany is the jewelry store, not an advice columnist). The book features simple bits of advice next to fantastic illustrations. With maybe a couple of exceptions, the advice still stands up very well today. Go take a peek, it’s really great.

So we had the book out and as guests arrived, they would read each other tips and enjoy browsing the pages.

At the table we had each place set with a salad fork, a dinner fork, a knife, a soup spoon and a dessert spoon. We also had a water cup and a wine goblet (we served Martinellis). We kept it pretty simple. We went through the basics of which utensil goes with each course (work from outside in), and how to set your utensils when you’re done eating. We also went over what to do if you’re at a fancy dinner but make a utensil mistake (you just keep eating — don’t stress out).

We talked about how for casual meals or nightly family dinners the 3 main etiquette rules to remember are chew with your mouth closed, say please and thank you, and don’t reach for food. (If you’ve read my book, you may recognize those rules!)

The guests made lively conversation, asked questions about the meal to the servers, and enjoyed their meals.

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3) The Photobooth

In addition to the meal and etiquette, the other big activity was a photo booth. The guests arrived in fancy clothes and made use of the photo booth both before and after dinner.

For the background, we used a big piece of black foamcore and then hot-glued plastic cutlery on it in patterns. This was fun and easy to make. And if you wanted to make one yourself, you could go in so many different directions. Colored cutlery, stripes of forks and spoons instead of circles, other colors for the background, etc..

I happen to have good camera equipment for work, so we took advantage of that. We put the backdrop in place, then set up a tripod in front of it, placing the camera so that it only captured the space within the borders of the backdrop. We set it up outside, hoping to use the natural light as long as it lasted. But eventually it was dark and we turned on the flash.

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But the best thing about the photo booth was that we set up CamRanger. It’s this little device that connects to your camera and allows each photo to go directly to a tablet or phone. Once it’s connected you use the tablet to take the photos.

Typically I use CamRanger when I’m shooting a product or room and wanting to adjust the details of the space. I can shoot the photo, see it fill the screen on the iPad, and then move a throw pillow or switch out an accessory to get the perfect shot. I’m sure I’m not explaining it well, but it was awesome for this party photobooth, because the guests could see the photos up close and big as they went. Plus, they used the iPad to take the photos themselves, so they were in control instead of depending on a photographer. Once it was set up, no one had to look through the camera at all; the whole thing happened with the iPad.

If you know a photographer and can borrow a CamRanger for your next photobooth, I would highly recommend it. The guests loved it and it made the whole photobooth more interactive. They ended up taking over 500 photos!

The next day, Olive picked about 75 of the best shots and I uploaded those to Dropbox so she could share them with her friends. It’s fun to see the shots end up on Instagram. I love the confetti shots!

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Those are the 3 main things I wanted to tell you about. You may notice I didn’t mention decor, and that’s because the decor was really just the fancy dinner table — tablecloth, cloth napkins, pewter, lots of tea lights in votives, etc. — printed menus, and the photo backdrop.

After dinner, the girls changed into non-fancy hang-out clothes, popped popcorn and watched movies. It was a great party, and I loved that the whole family could participate and help throughout the evening, so everyone felt included.

I’d love to hear: did you ever attend an etiquette dinner as a teenager? I definitely remember my mom hosting them for the young women in our neighborhood. What would your kids think of a party theme like this? And have you ever tried a photobooth at one of your kids’ parties? They are so much fun!

P.S. — My main camera was occupied in the photo booth and I realized after the party that I hadn’t taken any other photos! No food photos. No photos of the servers. No fancy table photos. Oh well. It happens. 

20 thoughts on “Etiquette Dinner Party Report”

  1. I love how you threw a special, fancy feeling, party without getting extravagant. I bet Olive’s younger brother and sisters loved being “fancy servers!” So much fun! I’m guessing the dynamics in the house have changed, especially for Olive, now that she is the oldest kid at home. Would love to hear more about that if it’s not too personal to share.

  2. What a fun party! When my brother and I were growing up (middle school age) we did this for my parents a few times. We set up a card table in the living room, decorated, created a menu, made the meal and served it to them.

    1. You should totally host one! Invite friends over for a dinner party and assign everyone something to teach — how to set the table, which cutlery to use when, general table manners (like napkins and elbows). Could be fun!

  3. Wow you really know how to pull the details together to create one-of-a-kind memorable events! When my youngest son was in 8th grade, their class decided to host a similar type event for all the mothers. I hosted it and will never forget the boys moving all the furniture out of our living room so we could set up tables restaurant style. The kids did all the cooking and serving and it was awesome. Flash forward 5-6 years and we had a party for all my husband’s staff. It was summer and we have a beautiful garden, so it was a garden party with a series of 9 small plates going out in order. That same son was home from college and took over the kitchen duties. I had many things prepped but he and a team of friends handled everything. It is really something to enjoy your OWN party and have the kids do it all! Some of the guests with young children couldn’t really get their minds around it. FUN!

  4. I’m 44 (grew up in Ohio), and I’ve also never heard of an etiquette dinner! Were they generally single sex? And did someone else host one for the boys while your mom was hosting for the girls? How did Olive know about them? As you can tell, I’m fascinated! Looks like it was a huge success!

    1. I’m going to follow this comment because I’d love to read your reply. I have always loved etiquette. At one point in my teen years all I wanted for Christmas was an etiquette manual. Sounds like the party was a memorable one. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Weirdly, yes, in my memory they were same sex. Because boys don’t need to learn etiquette? Because late 80’s/early 90’s sexism? No idea.

      I’m not sure how Olive heard about them, but I will ask her and get back to you. It’s a great question!

  5. Such a great party! I love the photobooth idea!!! My mother hosts a special tea party every year for her granddaughters to teach etiquette, and we love it so much– I have a sister-in-law whose grandmother taught her etiquette out of awesome old books. She received those amazing books when her grandmother passed away, and we use them to get ideas every year for our tea party. It’s such a fun way to teach (and then reinforce) etiquette rules. Loving that Olive did it for a friend party!!

  6. Oh how FUN!!!! I love this!! I’m reminded a little of my high school prom….my mom didn’t want me out super late so she hosted a “midnight breakfast” at our house. My younger brother was probably 11 or so and got to stay up and was our “maitre’d” : ) But back to this wonderful party…how clever and cool! [I’m gonna need you to brainstorm a co-ed tween party for Wolfie’s homeroom group!!! haha]

  7. Sounds like so much fun! We had a Cotillion, in which a selected group (small town politics, you know) of boys and girls would go to classes to learn etiquette and several traditional dances. On Cotillion day, we girls wore formal white dresses (kind of creepy for 7th grade in hindsight) and the boys tuxes and we’d do our dances. I really appreciate the table etiquette I learned way back then! The waltz? Meh. :)

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