Guidance on Etiquette at Livery Events
From time to time liverymen and freemen (especially new freemen), have questions about etiquette at livery dinners, particularly when visiting other Companies, Mansion House or Guildhall. It is hoped that the following guidelines will deal with the majority of such queries. Similarly, guests to our livery events may well need help and guidance, and their hosts have a responsibility to ensure that guests are comfortable and relaxed; we hope these notes will help in this respect.
Etiquette is not necessarily about right or wrong, but about how WCoMC and all other Livery Companies choose to behave when they dine, in good fellowship and with mutual respect between all present. These notes, which are based on similar guidance from other Companies, are provided in this spirit.
Mansion House Banquets — "White Tie (black tie optional)" or "White Tie Preferred"
The preferred dress code at most Mansion House banquets is white tie, national dress or uniform for gentlemen and a long dress or skirt and evening top for ladies. Cocktail dress length does not normally accompany white tie and many ladies enjoy the opportunity to dress to the highest fashion at these special events. Decorations should be worn, usually miniatures; this will usually be specified in the invitation.
White tie means a plain white tie, dress shirt with a collar that does not turn down except for two small wings, a white waistcoat, a tailcoat and dress trousers. It is perfectly acceptable for liverymen and guests without white tie to attend in black tie with a white dress shirt and black dinner jacket plus sober waistcoat or cummerbund, and they will not feel out of place in doing so. Liverymen and guests on top table are expected to wear white tie. If you are a host, it is wise to check with your guests (and vice versa) to avoid any satorial embarrassment.
Mansion House staff reserve the right to refuse admission to anyone wearing a coloured shirt or coloured bow tie.
Livery Dinners — "Black Tie"
The dress code at livery dinners is black tie for gentlemen and a long or short dress, or an evening top with a long skirt or trousers for ladies. Black tie means a plain, black bow tie accompanied by a white dress shirt and, if wished, either a black waistcoat or a cummerbund that will not 'frighten the horses'.
It is inappropriate for a gentleman to wear a white or coloured tie with a dinner jacket at a livery dinner but a white dinner jacket in the summer, national dress or uniform would be acceptable, although unusual. Serving officers of our armed services will usually wear uniform, and may wear a cummerbund in their unit colours. (Note that some Companies have their own livery jacket uniform that is often combined with a similar coloured burgundy bow tie, but always with a white dress shirt.)
Livery Suppers — "Business Attire"
We used to say "business suits", but the interpretation has not changed. Gentlemen are expected to wear suits and ties, rather than jackets and ties, and ladies the equivalent, typically not a long dress.
Reception and Processions
The receiving line is not a time for long conversation. Guests should be encouraged to assist the MC by announcing their names to him clearly and then proceed to shake hands (not too firmly!) and exchange a few words of greeting or welcome, without delaying those that follow.
Typically the Master, principal guest(s), Wardens, Hon Chaplain, and the Clerk process into, and out of, the dining room, led by the Beadle, processing in and out clockwise. Everyone else, standing at their places at table clap in a slow rhythm (in time to the music if there is any), but should not turn to face the procession.
Grace is often sung at the end of the meal at livery dinners and Mansion House banquets. Liverymen are encouraged to learn both tune and words, although the latter may well be printed on the menu. There is usually musical accompaniment for the sung grace.
The Loving Cup
The loving cup ceremony is sometimes set out on the menu although this does not seem to prevent getting it wrong! The practise does vary between Companies but most proceed as follows:
- The key rule is that there must never be more than 3 people standing at any one time. Unless you are starting the circulation of the cup, you do not stand until the person who has it turns to you with the cup in his/her hands. The circulation is usually clockwise, apart from top table.
- As he/she turns to you, you rise and bow; you raise the lid in your right hand with a flourish and wait while they drink and wipe the rim with the cloth. You then replace the lid and take the cup by its handles with a bow; you turn to the next person who rises, bows, raise the lid and so on. When you have handed the cup over, and the recipient has turned away from you, you then turn round and guard his back and make sure that the person who was guarding your back is sitting down. When the cup is again handed on, your job is done and you sit down.
- If you do not wish to drink, the cup may be raised in salutation as an alternative.
Whilst we do not expect anyone to be uncomfortable, strictly speaking no one should leave the table for any reason until after the loyal toast. The order of events after the meal is normally sung grace, loving cup, and loyal toasts after which coffee is served. Speeches and any musical entertainment usually follow, but may be interleaved with the meal at some events.
Whilst there is no "official comfort break" the most convenient time to leave the table is when coffee is being served. However, when dining in his residence, the Lord Mayor (while being sympathetic where a guest finds it essential to do so) asks that guests be informed that it is not customary to leave the table before the conclusion of the event.
- The first Loyal Toast is proposed by the Master. At a dinner without music everyone stands, glasses are raised and all join in the toast saying "the Queen". At most Livery Dinners and the Mansion House banquet, where there is music, the Master rises, says "The Queen" the company rises and stands to attention; the music strikes up immediately and everyone sings the first verse of the National Anthem. Glasses are not lifted or even touched until the singing is finished; then everyone toasts the Queen and sits down.
- The second Loyal Toast is also proposed by the Master. At a dinner without music everyone stands, glasses are raised and all join in the toast saying "the Royal family''. At most Livery Dinners and the Mansion House banquet, where there is music, everyone rises and stands to attention whilst the first few bars of the National Anthem are played, but without singing. Glasses are not lifted until the music stops, then we raise them and join in the toast and sit down.
- The third formal toast is to The Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation.
- The final formal toast is to the Guests, and will often be proposed by the First/Senior Warden, possibly with a short speech. He/she will then invite the members of the Company (only the members, not the guests) to rise; the guests remain seated.
Please do not take 'flash' photographs at any Livery Dinners (especially Mansion House).
Mobile phones should be switched off, or on silent, and not evident at table.
Members will very quickly get used to these traditions; however, guests may find their first experience a little overwhelming and may worry in case they transgress some rule, or look silly. It is a host's duty to put them at their ease and remind them that although we take our formalities seriously, we are at dinner to enjoy ourselves, and no penalties are incurred!
Hosts may therefore wish to bear in mind that it is helpful to inform their guests during the dinner about the Loving Cup Ceremony, direct them to the words of the sung grace on the menu, the fact that the second playing of the National Anthem is not sung and that they remain seated when the guests are being toasted. These seem to be the pressure points for a newcomer.