This year marks the U.S. presidential election with all the publicity and excitement that are customary with presidential elections. Can you imagine being invited to the White House for dinner? As custom dictates over the course of several presidential terms, formal engraved invitations are sent to potential guests of the White House. It is considered a great honor to dine among the President, the First Lady, and other invited guests. There are several types of dinner affairs at the White House and the invitation will state whether it is a black tie affair with men wearing tuxedos and women wearing formal dresses, or a lighter affair, such as a garden party or day party that calls for brighter, lighter fabrics that are tastefully selected. Regardless if the dining affair is formal or lighter in tone, here are some tips for dining at the White House:
- Formal silverware is used at all White House dinners. Many forks are used and placed in order by the progression of the meal. It is helpful to know the difference between the types of forks, like the salad fork or the dinner fork. If you aren't sure, use the outside fork, spoon, or knife and work inward as the meal progresses. Still not sure? Simply glance over at your dinner partner and mimic their use of utensils.
- Taking selfies at the dinner table or inside the White House is not allowed. Customary checks which includes the usual security clearance also have a mandatory cellphone check-in area where guests will leave their cellphones until it is time to leave the White House.
- Spouses are seated separately at different tables. The custom of seating spouses apart from each other is to allow individuals to speak to others, not just their spouse during dinner. Also, switching tables is not allowed.
- Taking the silverware is discouraged. The White House has elegant historic silverware from France and England that has been around through several presidential terms. In fact, butlers are required to count the silverware as the meal progresses to make sure all silverware is accounted for. If there is any missing silverware, the butlers are instructed to ask graciously if you have accidentally dropped any silverware, allowing time for silverware to "reappear" on the table.
- Guests are expected to shake hands at the White House; not hug or embrace. A strong handshake is considered a sign of great character.
- Smoking is banned from the White House. In fact, by the time of the Clinton administration, all forms of smoking had been banned from the White House.
- Brush up on conversation starters. The White House prides itself on inviting people from various political and economic status, as well as celebrities. It is recommended that invitees have a knowledge of current affairs. It is also considered rude to interrupt the person speaking at the time; simply wait to interject conversation about the topic on hand.
- The White House serves fancy cuts of meat, scrumptious entrees, vegetables, and delectable desserts. Now is the time to sample meals from highly talented chefs. However, if you have a food allergy, make sure the office of the social secretary of the White House knows about them before the event.
- While the White House has a vast array of expensive drinks, open bars of champagne, wines, and cocktails, drinking to excess is considered rude and discouraged. Any drunken party will be escorted off the grounds.
- If music is part of the dinner affair, it is customary for the President and the First Lady to have the first dance before inviting other guests to join them on the dance floor.
- If you are a little nervous or wondering how to address the President and the First Lady, don't fret! There are assigned White House personnel who will have your name, title, and hometown on a card and will "announce" you in the receiving line, so all you have to do is relax and smile.
Credit must also be given to the talented chefs, cooks, kitchen assistants, waiters, and dishwashers who serve the President, the first family, and their guests. The White House typically has social meals of 5 or more per day for family meals, teas, and parties. Some of these events are private parties, formal state parties, and large receptions for hundreds of people, which may include dignitaries from other countries of the world.
Interesting historic views of the White House kitchen through many Presidential terms can be found here: http://www.whitehousemuseum.org/floor0/kitchen.htm, opens a new window.
To read more facts on the White House, check our branches and locations for availability of the following items:
Barrett, Mary Brigid. A Taste of the Past: White House Kitchens, Menus and Recipes.
Moreno, Robyn. 13 Dinner Etiquette Rules Everybody Must Follow in the White House. Reader's Digest.
The White House Museum.