The first rule for service, formal or semiformal, is convenience, and no longer are there cut-and-dried rules that must be followed. Either the hostess or the guest of honor may be served first, as you like. Service is from the left for placing, removing and offering dishes, with the exception of beverages and dessert spoon which will be from the right of the guest. When a used plate is to be replaced by a fresh plate, use left hand for removing and right hand for placing.
The first course may be in place when the meal is announced, or if it is a hot soup, it may be brought in after guests are seated. Crackers and relishes may be passed with this course. The first course dishes will be removed and replaced with heated dinner plates. Then meat and vegetables will be offered from the left for each guest to help himself. Sometimes the host carves the roast at the table and, in this case, he serves onto the dinner plates, which will then be placed before each person.
At the end of the course, the large serving dishes such as the meat platter and any others that have remained on the table are removed before the individual plates (and salad plates, if the salad has been served with the main course). If served as a separate course, the salad plates should be placed as the dinner plates are removed. The bowl of salad will then be passed. Sometimes, the hostess will toss the salad at the table and serve it before the plates are passed.
Before dessert, bread and butter plates and salts and peppers should be removed, the table brushed with the aid of a small napkin and a plate, and the water glasses refilled. Dessert plates, with a fork at the left and dessert spoon at right, will then be placed. Sometimes the silver is arranged on the dessert plate. If finger bowls are used, they should be arranged on the dessert plates from which the guests will remove them before the dessert is passed.
The dessert, like the salad, may be served by the hostess. As you will note, the suggested menus for formal luncheons and dinners do not offer more than four courses. These may be reduced to three if an appetizer type of salad, California style, is offered for the first course or if the salad is served with the main course. Often, semiformal service will be chosen for a luncheon or a dinner. This will certainly be the case with the bride’s first family dinner. She will delight in using fine linen, china and silver which were among her gifts.
While she will be anxious to display her skill as cook, a menu should be planned which will not demand much attention at the last moment. If she decides to serve a first course, as she may in order to use more of her table accessories, it must be something that can be in place on the table: a combination of avocado and grapefruit, or a highly seasoned vegetable appetizer, which is actually a salad, or a jellied soup. The main course should be ready to bring to the table, and the menu should be planned accordingly.
The dessert should be chilling in the refrigerator or keeping warm in the oven so that it will not call for special attention by the young hostess. The same plan will often be used by the more experienced hostess when she has no extra help.