The social graces of formal events are often a matter of tradition and learning. Not being familiar with such protocol will easily identify a person who does not participate in formal gatherings on a regular basis.
While in essence this is not hugely important it can be a cause of embarrassment or create an opening for partiality that may have been avoided with proper preparation.
If you are to attend such a function you will want to take note of some of the courteous and accepted practices of these events.
Two such areas for instruction include proper arrival etiquette and seating etiquette.
If a man is attending a function with an escort and there is outerwear to remove, the proper procedure is to hand his hat, cane, umbrella and/or gloves to the coat check assistant first.
He should then assist his escort with the removal of her coat or cape and hand it to the assistant before removing his own outerwear.
Usually a ticket is given for retrieval of the garments. It is proper for the man to carry the tickets and collect the garments upon leaving – assisting his escort with her coat before putting on his own.
The man may now offer his left arm to escort the lady into the event. She should put her right hand through and place it on the upper part of his arm.
Greeting the Host/Hostess…
If there is a formal greeting line the couple should only disengage their arms when about to greet the host/hostess. A man should offer his right hand, palm vertical, to shake the host’s hand.
When greeting a lady he should offer his right hand, palm facing up, to take her fingers in hand and lift it slightly as a greeting.
When previous greeters have kissed the lady’s hand it would also be appropriate to follow suit.
After greeting the host/hostess, the man should introduce his escort. She should look her host in the eye when being introduced and lower her eyes when introduced to the hostess.
After the greeting do not try to engage in conversation. Move away swiftly and exit the greeting area.
It is improper to sit before being requested by the host or hostess at a formal dinner. If you are not given place cards choose a seat and stay near it before the request to sit down.
For very formal dinners where introductions will be made it is wise to sit about two thirds down the left side of the table from the host’s vantage point with the lady sitting to the man’s left.
This gives one the opportunity to hear several introductions before being asked to do the same and will not be considered presumptuous to the host.
If a man is seated next to a woman (or his escort) he will be expected to help her be seated and to rise from the table.
Do so by holding the back of the chair with both hands on the sides, thumbs forward, and lift the seat back.
When the lady sits (or rises) gently guide the chair into position, allowing her to hold the sides of the seat as she sits or place a hand on the table for balance as she rises.
Becoming familiar with these procedures will help any man or woman avoid the uncomfortable situation of wondering what is expected at a formal event.