Now that you’re properly dressed, let’s discuss the “first impression” you’ll make at a formal event. One may expect to find upon arrival to a formal dinner event, a precursor consisting of cocktails and mingling. This may last upwards of an hour before the dinner begins, and may be accompanied by hors d’oeuvres.
A gentleman always removes his hat upon entering a building. This simple gesture shows deference for the place, for the hosts, and for one’s fellow guests. Hats and topcoats should be checked if possible, as should umbrellas, walking sticks, and other cumbersome accessories.
If accompanied by a guest unknown to the host, one should introduce him or her to the host rather than the other way round. For example, “Mr. Thomas, I would like to introduce my wife Ashley. Ashley, this is Mr. John Thomas.” Though this rule is less adhered-to these days, I prefer it to less formal manner. Regardless of your preference, one rule remains steadfast: One should not leave a conversation, however brief, without knowing and remembering a name.
The best piece of advice I have received is to have a signature drink and know how to order it. It should be something simple enough for a limited bar, but something that you enjoy. Your drink needn’t be exotic or fancy–a dry martini is as good a choice as any. My drink is a bourbon sidecar, which can be made by most any bar one will find at formal events. Having a signature drink is a mark of acculturation and sophistication in a gentleman, and will impress one’s peers (please be tasteful in your drink of choice… though tasty, a slippery nipple is not the sort of thing you want to order in front of business associates…).
One’s drink should be held in the left hand rather than the right. This little known custom originates from the military tradition of the salute. A salute is rendered with the right hand, thus carrying one’s drink in the left hand leaves the right available for a salute. Though derived from military custom, left-hand drink carry has persisted as a sign of propriety and class, and leaves the right hand free for handshakes. Additionally, drinks served in mugs should be held by the handle and stemware such as wine glasses and champagne flutes held by the stem–NOT by the glass itself.
When attending a cocktail party, a gentleman drinks only in moderation. A fine line exists between social lubrication and discomposure. Drunkenness begets ill manners, and ill manners beget regrets. One should limit himself to one to three drinks before dinner dependent upon the weight of pre-meal hors d’oeuvres, individual tolerance for libations, and time spent mingling.
Hors d’oeuvres are to be eaten quickly and in small amounts. Heaping a plate with pigs in blankets or mini-quiche appears gluttonous in addition to increasing the likelihood of spillage and thus, embarrassment. The cocktail party is meant for mingling rather than sating hunger, and eating small, quick bites to permit the flow of conversation.