The Etiquette of Smoking at the Formal Dining Table

Cigarettes and Ash Trays
There was a time when it was fashionable to smoke; and smoking at the dinner table—even during dinner—was acceptable. Elizabeth L. Post, in the The New Emily Post’s Etiquette (1975), writes in the book’s section on formal dinners, “Whether or not the hostess and her husband smoke, she sees that her guests are supplied with ashtrays and cigarettes. A small ashtray is put at each place, and cigarettes are found on the table, either in a small holder in front of each diner or in larger holders spaced evenly about the table. Smokers should follow the usual rules of good smoking manners more strictly at the table than at any other time.” Amy Vanderbilt, however, in her Amy Vanderbilt’s New Complete Book of Etiquette (1967), states what would prove to become the prevailing attitude towards smoking at the 21st-century dinner table: “It is poor manners for a guest to sit down to a table, formally set or otherwise, with a lighted cigarette in his hand. At a formal table he may well find no place for the ashes or finished cigarette (if the hostess takes pride in her cuisine) and will be forced to leave the table with his cigarette or ask for an ash tray. At formal dinners cigarettes are usually not placed on the table until the dessert is served, if then.” Vanderbilt does go on to say, however, in a chapter dedicated to international customs, that “In England at public dinners there is no smoking before the ‘Queen’s Toast,’ the first toast offered. This is a rule foreigners are certainly expected to know and must observe.”

Today, smoking during a meal is almost unheard of—even amongst smokers. And non-smokers are afforded veto powers at the dinner table, even when dining alfresco.

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