Part one brought us to the cocktail hour, which has become a standard fixture before dinner. Fans of Downton Abbey will recall the introduction of this ritual in the 1920s and it is rare to see sherry served with the soup course nowadays.
If your host or the butler, when offering a drink, suggests a particular cocktail, it is because they are prepared to serve it (e.g., whiskey sours or mojitos). If you do not care for that particular cocktail, ask for a glass of champagne or wine or a mixed drink. Do not ask for a different cocktail as it is unlikely the ingredients will be at hand and this is not your opportunity to teach your host’s staff the recipe for your favourite cocktail. Again, remember, this is not a hotel.
If you have been pressed to a second drink, (perhaps dinner is delayed), best not to finish it and in no circumstances should you take it through to dinner with you. Depending on the size of the party, the butler may have circulated through the room with the dinner board showing each guest in advance where they will be seated in the dining room. The seating board will in any case be displayed in the dining room and the butler will assist you finding your seat. Although there are many traditional rituals about what order guests enter the dining room and with whom, it is quite usual nowadays for guests to proceed in no particular order although the hostess will go in first and the host last. Take your seat promptly and engage in conversation with those seated next to you until dinner is served when traditional dinner party rituals come in effect. (Another blog.)
Whether shooting or other country pursuits, it is incumbent on house guests to “get with the programme.” Guns come down to breakfast at the appointed time. Married ladies who are not shooting are traditionally given the option of having breakfast sent up to their rooms. If this offends your politically correct or liberated sensibilities, just get up and get dressed and go down to breakfast. Note that men and single women are not offered breakfast trays so please don’t ask (although “wake-up” calling trays with tea or coffee are offered to all).
It is sporting for those not participating in arranged activities to show an interest and be an enthusiastic observer. Speak to the butler about joining the shoot for elevenses, for example, and in any case join the shoot lunch. But if you prefer to curl up with your current book, or sit by the fire on a miserable day, this of course is your prerogative and house staff will be pleased to make you comfortable tending the fire, providing tea and so forth. But they can’t read your mind so please just tell the butler what your plans are.
By now you have the idea. A staffed house is not a hotel and private house staff do not report to you. They are the embodiment of your hosts’ hospitality and will go to great lengths to ensure that hospitality is provided with grace and style. To abuse the hospitality or the staff is to abuse your hosts.
Oddly, it is entirely appropriate to leave a tip for house staff when you have been a resident guest. This can be handed to the butler and regular guests normally pen a few appreciative words and hand the butler an envelope or visit the staff wing in person. Otherwise, give it directly to your hostess and there is often a discreet tip box in an obvious place provided for your convenience. This is only for your convenience and absolutely no tip is required or expected. But be assured that all staff members have been in “high gear” for a house party involving time away from their families and a heavier workload. A token of acknowledgment will be greatly appreciated.
Naturally, what *is* required and expected is the thank you letter to your hostess mailed within a few days of your return home.