City banquets are renowned for their sense of occasion and for the hospitality of the Company hosting; but for those attending for the first time they can seem daunting due to the protocols and traditions – many of which date back hundreds of years and have a surprisingly dark history! We hope that this primer helps to put you at ease and explains how Guild banquets work so that you have the best possible time on the evening; if anything is still unclear to you at the end the Clerk would be happy to receive your questions via email.
You’ll find the dress code clearly stated on the invitation card; we ask that you follow it out of respect for the Guild and other guests on the evening! It is also important to note that jackets and ties are not to be removed at any point during the evening.
Black TieRefers to traditional black tie
A black dinner suit, with (optional but encouraged!) black cummerbund or matching black waistcoat,
a white evening shirt with a turndown collar,
a black bow tie: whilst coloured bow ties or cummerbunds may be acceptable at other functions they are not worn in the City. As an exception, serving officers may wear a regimental cummerbund if they wish.
and black shoes.
Long dresses are preferred in the City, although cocktail dresses (on or below the knee) are also appropriate.
White TieRefers to traditional white tie; black tie is considered an acceptable alternative if you do not own white tie.
a black tailcoat with matching trousers,
a white evening shirt with wing collar,
a white waistcoat,
a white bow tie,
and black shoes.
It is worth noting that accessories such as top hats, gloves, canes, etc. are not worn in the City.
Long (maxi/floor length or close to) dresses are required; shorter dresses or trousers are not appropriate.
Tiaras/etc. may be worn as appropriate; gloves are not required.
Decorations: Decorations and medals are restricted to those awarded by the State in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and the New Year’s Honours List, or by the City and Livery (e.g. Livery badges and sashes). Miniatures are worn except when there is no miniature equivalent (e.g. stars, neck decorations, and brooches). Any foreign decorations of equivalent status may also be worn as appropriate. The Guild and wider City have a proud tradition of supporting the armed forces, and serving members are always encouraged to display their medals.
City banquets typically follow the format of a drinks reception before a sit-down meal, where toasts and speeches are given by the Master and guests, and often conclude with a stirrup cup (further drinks before departure: historically this was taken in the saddle before leaving).
Arriving (on time)
There is no such thing as ‘fashionably late’ in the City, and the Guild requests all guests aim to arrive promptly to banquets. There will usually be two times printed on the invitation card, in the form “7:00pm for 7:30pm” – this means that you must be at the venue for 7:00pm and dinner will be served at 7:30pm. Please do not be late; without extenuating circumstances you are unlikely to be admitted especially if the Lord Mayor is present. The interval between the two times is so that you can enjoy the drinks reception and say hello to other guests.
On arrival at the hall where the banquet is taking place members and guests will be directed to the cloakroom to drop off any bags and coats before joining the reception. At this point the Beadle will announce them as they are greeted by the receiving line made up of the Master and the Wardens. Members and guests are asked to take note that, for reasons of security, it may not be possible to gain admission to certain venues such as the Guildhall or Mansion House without their invitation cards and photo ID.
Call to Dinner
At the end of the reception the Beadle will announce that dinner is about to be served. Those not in the formal procession should promptly move into the dining hall (leaving behind any drinks from the reception) so that dinner can be served without delay. When all are at their places, the Beadle will announce the entrance procession. At this point all should be standing. The procession will enter the dining hall to the accompaniment of (typically) Handel’s March in Scipio. It is customary once the Musicians have started to play for Members and their guests to clap in time to the music until they reach their seats. The Beadle will then gavel and the Chaplain will say Grace before all are seated and the dinner commences.
Remaining at the table
Leaving the table at any time during a banquet is strongly frowned upon in the City, and is not permitted before the Loyal Toast, except in an emergency. If you do need to leave the table please do so as quietly as possible and we ask that you avoid re-entering the room during a speech if you have excused yourself.
Mobile phones should be set to silent before you arrive at the venue. The use of mobile phones at banquets is strongly discouraged, and is strictly forbidden once the procession has entered the dining hall. The Guild has an official photographer at events and photographs will be made available to members and their guests after the event.
Once the meal has concluded, port is served. Please do not drink your port before the Loyal Toast; this is considered incredibly poor form. If a decanter has been placed on the table it should always be passed (promptly) to the left after you have served yourself.
Rose Water Dish
By ancient custom, a silver Armada dish containing rose water might be circulated after dinner and before the speeches. Guests are invited to dip the corner of their table napkin into the rose water dish before patting it behind their ears. This is said to stimulate the nerves in this region which through their connections soothe the digestive organs!
The Loving Cup
The cup is traditionally filled with spiced wine, immemorially termed “Sack”. The custom is said to have originated following the murder of King Edward the Martyr, who was stabbed while drinking by his step-mother Elfrida at Corfe Castle on 18th March 978 AD. Upon rising to drink from the cup the person to the right and to the left of the drinker also stand; the drinker then bows to the neighbour to whom the cup will pass, who removes the cover with their right hand. This ensures that the “dagger arm” is employed and eliminates the risk of treachery. Meanwhile, the neighbour on the drinker’s other side turns their back to the drinker – ostensibly to protect them from attack from behind whilst in the act of drinking. The cup holder will then drink from the loving cup, or raise the cup to their lips but not imbibe should they not wish to drink. The drinker then wipes the rim of the cup with the napkin, the lid is replaced and the drinker and neighbour bow to one another before passing the cup along. The first drinker then turns to guard the second drinkers back; thus there are always three people on their feet, the drinker being in the middle.
Toasts and Speeches
Every Company has its own tradition for toasts and speeches, but the procedure is generally as follows. The Beadle will gavel to bring the room to silence and the Master will rise to announce the Loyal Toast, proclaiming: “The Queen“. All present are then required to stand to attention, leaving their glasses on the table, and to sing the first verse of the National Anthem while the musicians play. The response to the Loyal Toast is: “The Queen“, before drinking your port and returning to your seat.
This is then followed by the Royal Toast. The procedure is exactly the same except that on this occasion all present are required to stand to attention silently while the musicians play half the first verse of the National Anthem. The response to the Royal Toast is: “The Royal Family“.
The third toast, the Civic Toast, changes depending on who is present at the dinner but in general is proclaimed: “The Lord Mayor, the City of London Corporation, and the Sheriffs” and the response is the same. Note – this toast may not be proclaimed immediately after the Royal Toast, as the Master may wish to conclude their speech with this toast. Do pay attention when the Beadle gavels, as this will inform you of what to do.
There may then be presentations where awards are sponsored by the host Company. The Master will read a citation to explain the award and acknowledge the recipient, and applause is encouraged when presentations are being made.
This will be followed by speeches and a further set of toasts which will be announced clearly by the speaker when ending their speech. Typically, the Master will give the first speech, followed by the guest of honour or a specific guest speaker. Please do give the speaker(s) your full attention, and refrain from having your phone out or making conversation during the speech(es). Please hold applause until after the toast at the end of the speech.
Leaving the Dining Hall
At the end of the dinner – after all speeches and toasts – the Beadle will gavel and announce that the Master and Wardens invite the Guild and their guests to join them in a stirrup cup, and to make way for the Master, wardens and their Principal Guest(s). All present will then stand and clap in time as the Master, Wardens and Principal Guest(s) leave the dining hall. When they have left all remaining members and guests should exit promptly so the staff can clear the hall.