Receiving an invitation to a City banquet can be equal parts thrilling and terrifying to a first-time guest, so it is our hope that this handy guide will help put you at ease and ensure you are able to enjoy the hospitality and fellowship the City is renowned for.
Decoding the Invitation
Often written in elaborate script and full of formal language, this type of invitation may appear impenetrable, but these are the key pieces of information it will contain:
- Who the host is,
- The location and date of the event,
- (Usually bottom left) The dress code,
- (Sometimes bottom right) Carriages – when to expect you’ll be leaving.
An integral part of the atmosphere of a City banquet is the requirement for guests to wear formal evening dress. A brief outline of the typical dress codes for banquets may be found below. Guests are encouraged to follow the spirit of the dress code to ensure everyone enjoys the evening fully.
- A dinner jacket in black or midnight blue with silk lapels and facings, with matching trousers,
Velvet/Smoking/Other ‘fashionable’ jackets are not appropriate.
- A black bow tie,
College/Club/School bow ties should not be worn at a City banquet. Black really does mean black in this instance.
- A white evening shirt (these typically have a pleated or marcella front, and double cuffs for cufflinks) Wing collars are not generally worn for black tie in the City, but are acceptable. A plain white shirt will do in a pinch!
- Black socks,
- Black shoes – plain cap-toe oxfords or patent evening shoes are best.
- Optionally, a waist covering: either a matching waistcoat or a cummerbund (This is considered optional, but is highly encouraged for a more polished look)
- Long dresses (at least below the knee, generally mid-calf or floor-length) or skirts with an appropriate top; evening trousers may be worn,
- Tight or overly revealing dresses are not appropriate.
- Evening jewellery is encouraged, though please note that tiaras or gloves should not be worn for black tie.
- A black evening tailcoat with matching trousers,
- A white bow tie,
- A white waistcoat, (the bottom of which should not extend below the fronts of the tailcoat, though this is not enforced)
- A stiff fronted white evening shirt: for white tie a wing collar is a must.
- Black socks, and
- Black shoes – plain cap-toe oxfords or patent evening shoes.
N.B.: canes, top hats, capes, gloves, and other accessories are not worn to City banquets.
- Floor-length evening dresses; shoulders should be covered and it is traditional, but very much not essential, to show décolletage.
- Note: trousers are not acceptable for white tie.
- Evening jewellery is encouraged. Tiaras may be worn but are generally not unless the evening is a major City event or if Royalty are attending,
- Evening gloves may be worn, but are not required. If you do wear them, remember to remove them when eating.
Arriving (… on time!)
Refer back to the invitation card – the example states “6:45pm for 7:30pm”. This means that the drinks reception starts at 6:45pm, and dinner will be served at 7:30pm.
There is no such thing as being fashionably late for a banquet. When you arrive you will likely need to pass through some security (particularly if the event is at Mansion House or Guildhall), deposit your coat and any bags in the cloakroom, and then make your way through the receiving line.
Endeavour to arrive at the earlier time as stated on the invitation, as latecomers may well be refused entry to the venue. Arriving early or on time will give you the most time available to relax and enjoy yourself.
The Receiving Line
When you arrive at the drinks reception room you will be greeted by the Beadle, who will ask to see your invitation card or ask for your name. Speak clearly as the Beadle will then announce you to the receiving line, which generally consists of the Master and Wardens.
Wait until they have finished your name before stepping forward and greeting each person in the line with a brief handshake and exchange a few words.
The Drinks Reception
Once through the receiving line, it’s in to the drinks reception. This is an opportunity for guests to relax and meet one another, and to familiarise themselves with the hall. This is also a good time to check the seating plan.
As an aside, this is the last opportunity to refresh yourself until after the dinner. There may not be a comfort break between the dinner and speeches!
Call to Dinner
The Beadle will gavel and announce that dinner is about to be served. Move promptly through to the dining hall and take your seat. You should not take any drinks from the reception through to the hall as drinks will be served with the meal.
Please ensure that your mobile phone is either on silent or switched off. Phones should not be out at the dining table for any reason. There will be professional photographers taking pictures throughout the evening and these will be made available to you after the event.
The Beadle will again gavel and announce the procession into the dining hall. The Master, principal guests, and other dignitaries form the procession and walk to their seats accompanied by music. Guests clap to the beat as the procession moves through the hall to their seats. This is one of the unique, and fun, bits of pomp that goes with a City banquet.
Once the procession are in their places, remain standing as the Grace is said. After this, all are seated and the dinner commences. There aren’t any rules on which side to talk to and when anymore, so please do engage those around you in conversation throughout the dinner.
You should not leave the table once the dinner has started unless it is a genuine emergency, in which case excuse yourself as quietly and discreetly as possible.
City banquets are generally on long tables rather than rounds, so the etiquette for when to begin eating can be confusing for first-time guests. As a simple rule: when everyone around you has been served, you should start eating. You don’t need to wait for the entire long table to have a plate in front of them, especially as there may be several hundred guests.
If you don’t wish to be served one or more of the wines, the accepted custom in the City is to turn the empty glass upside down. Hall staff will remove it when they come round. Soft alternatives and juices may be available upon request.
Once the dinner has concluded, guests will be invited to stand for the sung Grace. The words for this will be printed on the menu card, and it is set to the tune of the Laudi Spirituali (which may helpfully be found on YouTube)
The Loving Cup
We now move on to a most unique tradition in the City of London – the loving cup. The Beadle will gavel and announce the loving cup: full details of how this works can be found in another article, here.
If you absolutely need to: just before or after the loving cup is the moment to slip away from the dining hall for a comfort break. Please be discreet, and please be quick. You do not want to be late for the toasts, as these lead directly into speeches.
After the loving cups have been cleared away, port will be served and a series of toasts will be announced. Please do NOT drink the port until after the toasts as it is impolite to do so.
The toasts always follow a set pattern: the Beadle will gavel to bring the room to silence, then the Master will stand and announce the toast.
The order of the toasts is:
The Loyal Toast: ‘The Queen’
All stand and sing the first verse of the national anthem, then the response is ‘The Queen’ before drinking and sitting down again.
The Royal Toast: ‘The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, and The Other Members of the Royal Family.’
All stand in silence while half of a verse is played of the national anthem, then the response is ‘The Royal Family’ before drinking and sitting down again.
The Civic Toast: ‘The Lord Mayor, the City of London Corporation, and the Sheriffs’
All stand and respond ‘The Lord Mayor’ before drinking and sitting down again.
It is customary at Livery banquets for there to be speeches; the first of which is generally given by the Master, and then by the guest of honour. Please be courteous to the speakers and give them your full attention. It’s worth noting that they may announce a toast at the end of their speech.
Occasionally there may be entertainment put on during or after the speeches – as with the speakers, please do give any performers your polite attention. Entertainment might take the form of a musical or even a dramatic performance, and can be a surprise highlight to the evening for guests.
Finally, at the end of all formalities, the Beadle will gavel and ask all to be upstanding as the Master and top table process out of the hall. Once again guests will clap in time (though musicians wont be playing on the way out). After the procession has departed, it’s now time for you to leave the dining hall. There may be final drinks in the venue before departure (called a ‘stirrup cup’, after the drink riders would be offered before departing on their horse), or a nominated venue for an afterparty/drinks. Follow the directions of the Beadle and Clerk.
The reference to ‘Carriages’ on your invitation card indicates what time you should be leaving the hall (literally: what time to have ordered your carriage for to take you home). Please do leave the hall promptly after the event so that the staff may begin clearing up.
… and that’s it! You’ve successfully navigated your first City banquet. Above all else, these are occasions for celebration and fellowship to be enjoyed by all those attending. If for any reason you feel nervous or unsure of what’s going on or what comes next, look for someone wearing a badge or a robe and ask – you may well be surprised by just how friendly everyone is!Back to stories