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.
Standards of Behaviour
City banquets are highlight occasions, often celebrating the installation of a new Master or marking an important date in a Guild or Livery’s history. It is therefore important that all attendees conduct themselves appropriately. We encourage you to familiarise yourself with our code of conduct for members and guests, which may be found here: Code of Conduct
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. If in doubt, please do reach out to the Clerk’s office for advice.
- A dinner jacket in black or midnight blue with silk-faced lapels, with matching trousers,
Velvet/Smoking/Other ‘fashionable’ jackets are not appropriate at a City banquet.
- 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 black cummerbund, or matching waistcoat.
This 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.
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 provide you with the most time 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 consists of the Master and Wardens.
Wait until the Beadle has finished saying your name before stepping forward, and greet each person in the line with a brief handshake and exchange a few words of greeting. Please don’t spend too long with each person in the line, as there will likely be a queue behind you!
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 final opportunity to refresh yourself until after the dinner. There is not usually a comfort break between the dinner and speeches!
Call to Dinner
The Beadle will gavel, bringing the room to silence, 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 now either on silent or switched off. Phones should not be out at the dining table for any reason. City banquets are often candlelit affairs and so the glare of a phone screen is anathema to the wonderful atmosphere of the dining hall. There will be professional photographers taking pictures throughout the evening and these will be made available to you free of charge after the event.
The Beadle will again gavel and announce the procession into the dining hall. The Master, principal guests, and other dignitaries form this 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 Grace is said. After this, all are seated and the dinner commences. There aren’t any rules on which side to talk to or when to turn 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 booklet, and it is set to the tune of the Laudi Spirituali (which may helpfully be found here on YouTube if you wish to familiarise yourself with it in advance)
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 best 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 King’
All stand and sing the first verse of the national anthem, then the response is ‘The King’ before drinking and sitting down again.
The Royal Toast: ‘The Queen Consort, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and The Other Members of the Royal Family.’
All stand in silence while a half-verse of the national anthem is played, 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 say ‘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. 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. Please do so promptly, as the staff will want to begin clearing the dining hall.
There may be final drinks in the venue before departure (called a ‘stirrup cup’, so named 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 make sure to leave the venue by this time to allow the staff to begin clearing up.
… and that’s it! You’ve successfully navigated your first City banquet. Above all else these are occasions for celebration, and to enjoy the fellowship of all those attending in the wonderful traditions of the City of London. If for any reason you feel nervous or unsure of what’s going on or what comes next, look for someone wearing a robe and ask – you may well be surprised by just how friendly everyone is!Back to stories