Weird Rules Royals Have To Follow For Dinner Parties

As plenty of fans of the royal family already know, being a member of royalty might come with plenty of perks, but it also requires the memorization and practice of a lengthy amount of rules. Similarly, these protocols also extend to various aspects of royal life such as weddings, public outings, and of course, royal dinner receptions. So while some traditions — like the family's handy napkin tip — have plenty of usefulness during a meal, other rules, like splitting up couples at the table and not taking a much-needed bathroom break, will undoubtedly make you glad that you're not attending a royal function.

Of course, if you are lucky enough to get invited to a royal affair, you'll want to avoid forgetting to follow the family's preferences during a meal. In that case, you might end up getting corrected by none other than Queen Elizabeth II herself, The Telegraph reported. Additionally, if you're a fan of pasta, potatoes, or rice, you might want to skip dinnertime. According to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the family never has any of these items at the table. Still, despite the extensive list of weird rules to remember, there's no question that when it comes to dinner parties, the required etiquette for the occasion will definitely be fit for royalty.

Certain foods are off limits

Those unfamiliar with royal dinner protocol might assume the royal family favors in a wide variety of dishes for their meals. However, according to Marie Claire, there's a set menu in place. Former royal chef Darren McGrady stated that at Buckingham Palace, meal planning was a must, and Queen Elizabeth II was typically sent a menu book to go over and select what dishes she did or didn't want to eat. According to McGrady, her menus were always prepared days in advance and were to be followed "religiously." While he said that the queen preferred food from their estate like game birds, pheasants, and grouse, he additionally stated that she absolutely loved anything that featured dark chocolate.

Still, McGrady noted that garlic was one particular item that was not welcome during meals. "The queen would never have garlic on the menu. She hated the smell of it, she hated the taste of it," he stated. Similarly, an article in Eat This, Not That added that McGrady had previously reported that dinner was typically "something like grilled sole with vegetable and salad," and also revealed that there were "no potatoes, rice, or pasta for dinner." 

For traveling royals, the article notes another big no-no is shellfish — due to the possibility of contracting a foodborne illness. However, shellfish isn't the only food that royals will avoid on trips. They also won't eat rare meats, spicy food, or drink tap water to prevent getting sick. 

Foie gras is banned

There is another particular item banned from the food menu. As reported by Marie Claire, Prince Charles pleased plenty of animal rights activists when he declared that foie gras would never appear on any royal menu. According to the outlet, the process in which foie gras is made is considered by many to be gruesome and has even been referred to as "torture in a tan." It involves a duck or goose "being force-fed with corn mash direct to the gullet through a tube inserted down its throat." This method will often go on from anywhere between 12 to 28 days before the animal is eventually killed.

Knowing just how this French delicacy is created, it's no surprise that the Prince of Wales reportedly also considered ending the royal warrant with his favorite store, The House of Cheese in Tetbury, for selling paté. The article also noted that the deputy of the household at Clarence House, Andrew Farquharson, stated via the Daily Mail that there is a policy to ensure that chefs don't purchase foie gras. On another positive note, Justin Kerswell of Vegetarians International Voice for Animals stated that his organization was "very pleased" with the decision. "Foie gras is seen as very posh and the heir to the throne is probably the poshest person in Britain, so for him to ban it is very good news," he said.

Formalwear is an absolute must

If you're attending a royal dinner, you'll want to make sure to look your very best. However, if you're a royal, there's a strict set of rules already in place that must be followed. According to the Evening Standard, everything from tights to nail polish colors matter if you want to be in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. The outlet stated that if you're a royal woman, Her Majesty highly prefers neutral polish or bare nails over brightly colored ones. As for wearing tights, royal expert Victoria Arbiter stated that this protocol is "the only hard, steadfast rule in terms of what the queen requires." Still, the source added that the rule has been broken in the past by both Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton.

If that wasn't enough proof that royal life is a seriously complex affair, former royal chef Darren McGrady told Marie Claire that royal dinnertime itself is anything but casual. McGrady stated that after enjoying afternoon tea by the fireplace, the royal family would leave to get changed for dinner. He said, "they'd come down in dressy ball gowns, and sit at the table — like a Downton Abbey dinner." Still, McGrady added that it wasn't just the formalwear that made dinner fancy. "All the fine china was brought out. At the end of the meal, a bagpipe player would walk around the table." Well, that's pretty extreme.

Only a limited number of guests are allowed

If you're invited to a royal dinner, you should hope you're not the 13th guest on the list. According to The Sun, who reiterated a statement made by royal commentator Phil Dampier to Fabulous Digital, Queen Elizabeth II "won't let 13 people sit down at a dinner table." Dampier added that the rule isn't due to Her Majesty's own superstitions, but rather her worry that dinner guests might be reluctant to be labeled with the assumed unlucky number. 

Still, the royal commentator stated that although Her Majesty isn't fully worried about the number 13, she is still a believer in other supernatural ideals. For example, Dampier said, "she does believes [sic] in ghosts and has several lucky charms in her handbag." Similarly, the Daily Mail added that in addition to the dinner guests rule, a documentary about the royal kitchens previously revealed that Queen Elizabeth II had the dinner plates at a state dinner served at random to avoid a possible assassination attempt. In the documentary, royal correspondent Emily Andrews disclosed that this was done, "so if anyone did want to poison the monarch, they'd have to poison the whole lot." We're feeling a bit dizzy already. 

If Queen Elizabeth II stops eating, everyone stops eating

Attending a royal dinner might sound like a dream come true for some fans. However, due to royal etiquette standards, mealtimes could definitely get a bit awkward if certain rules were not followed properly, according to Hello! Magazine. For example, no one can sit down before Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat. But there's another dining rule that could actually end up leaving you hungry. Dinner companions (royal family included) must mimic Her Majesty's eating habits throughout the entire meal. In other words, if the queen stops eating, you must too.

Memorably, the outlet reiterated a statement from former royal butler, Paul Burrell, who remembered an occasion where this protocol accidentally wasn't followed. "I was once on the Royal Yacht Britannia in the South Pacific and the queen was hosting a dinner for a local prince," Burrell stated. He then revealed that during dessert, "the prince forgot to watch what the queen did," and instead decided to mix up some fruit with sugar and cream. Burrell added that he was shocked by the display. "He was about to raise the bowl to his lips to drink it when he looked at the queen and realized he had made a terrible mistake." Yet, according to Burrell, the queen chose to ignore her guest's blunder and instead, "she picked up her finger bowl and took a sip" to save the prince from any sort of embarrassment. 

There are no real bathroom breaks during mealtimes

Despite there being an extensive list of protocols, some royal etiquette is simply easier to follow than others. According to the Mirror, one royal rule that could definitely get annoying pertains to going to the bathroom during mealtime. According to the outlet, a royal family member should never "announce their intentions” — even if obvious — of where they're going should they leave the table. Instead, protocol dictates that they offer a simple "excuse me" before exiting. While that doesn't sound terribly difficult to remember, it turns out that isn't the only rule that needs to be followed if you need to head to the loo.

According to Insider, if a royal takes a pause from their meal but is not done eating, they must cross the knife and fork. That way, staff will know not to take away their plate by mistake. Of course, if they are actually finished, utensils are to be put at an angle, specifically placing the handles of the silverware at the bottom right side of the dish. Similarly, while SCMP noted that no bathroom breaks are preferred during royal functions, it adds that the rule can be broken under certain circumstances, primarily if the dinner guest is pregnant. While the expectant mother will get a pass to leave (along with providing the preferred "excuse me"), she still must remember to follow the rule with utensils if she wants to continue eating when she returns. 

There are rules for making conversation

While it's understandable to get excited, if you're ever invited to have a meal with Queen Elizabeth II, a good guest must remember to follow royal protocols before beginning a chat with Her Majesty. As SCMP notes, if attending a royal function, one should address the queen accordingly, first as "your majesty" and then as "ma'am" for future responses. Likewise, the queen should never be referred to as "your highness," as that title is meant only for certain senior royals. One should also never try to start a conversation with a member of royalty and should instead wait for them to initiate a chat.

Additionally, The Telegraph reported that as the queen is usually the hostess for dining events, guests should expect her to follow specific conversation protocols. If seated to her right, one is considered the guest of honor and will be the first to chat with her. However, if placed on her left, one must wait before engaging in dialogue. The outlet also noted that Her Majesty once corrected Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton for ignoring royal etiquette during a luncheon. After the event, Hamilton told BBC's Graham Norton that while sitting next to the queen, "I was excited and started to talk to her but she said, pointing to my left, 'No, you speak that way first and I'll speak this way and then I'll come back to you.'"

Couples are split up to encourage mingling

By now, it should be clear that there are plenty of royal protocols to be remembered if attending a royal dinner. However, SCMP reported that there's at least one rule even certain members of the royal family don't seem to be a fan of. Per tradition, couples aren't supposed to be seated next to one another at the table during a dinner function, according to the outlet. This reportedly customary royal rule is meant to encourage mingling or, as Grant Harrold, royal etiquette and former butler to Prince Charles, stated via Insider, "normal dining rules state that couples are split up when they enter the dining room. The idea is to mix couples up to help with conversation."

However, the article noted that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle preferred to ignore this tradition and would sit next to one another instead. Additionally, it's alleged that the Duchess of Sussex criticized these rules for being "exclusive" and "traditional." According to royal insider Stefanie Jones, the couple's choice reportedly led to fewer invites to royal dinners. Well, at least they had each other?

There are specifically set seating plans

According to Allure, assigned seating is not solely just to split up couples. In fact, everyone in attendance is expected to sit where they're told. Similarly, the Daily Mail reported there are three rules specific to seating arrangements that all guests must follow. First, the word "placement" should always be pronounced the French way. The second is the aforementioned rule that couples should never sit next to one another. Third, each guest should always remain in their assigned seat to avoid ruining the seat plans.

Additionally, an article from CBS News said precise work went into planning the state banquet at Buckingham Palace in 2008. "For a normal state banquet, the actual laying of the table takes three days — although preparations usually take short of a month before the event," Buckingham Palace curator Kathryn Jones revealed. Accordingly, these plans include polishing silver, choosing silverware placements, folding 170 napkins, and properly placing each guest's glassware (six per person). Jones also stated, "The seating plan is worked out by the Master of the Households Department, who are in charge of all the ceremonial stuff that goes on in the palace." She added, "but the queen has the final say in the seating plan."

There are strict rules for silverware

With plenty of focus on dinner prep, formalwear, and seating arrangements, is it any surprise that dinner guests are also expected to follow proper royal etiquette when it comes to the actual dining process? As stated by etiquette expert William Hanson to Marie Claire, there are quite a few rules regarding silverware that royals are expected to remember. The first is how one holds their knife and fork (yes, there's apparently a right and wrong way to do it). Hanson stated, "Traditionally, cutlery is held with the knife in the right hand, and the fork in the left." He added that this tradition dates back to "when men would carry their swords and daggers in their right hand."

Still, the expert acknowledged that it's considered acceptable to switch the silverware in modern times. However, royals are still expected to hold their cutlery in a traditional manner, using their index fingers as guides for placement on the knife and fork. "As so much royal duty involves soft diplomacy over dinners, having control over their cutlery (and food) is an essential part of their toolbox," Hanson said. Another important thing for royals to remember when it comes to silverware is making sure knives and forks aren't clanking against the plate. According to the etiquette expert, making any sort of irritating noises with utensils might not be against protocol, but it's still something one should definitely try to avoid. Noted. 

There's a correct way to hold your teacup

Silverware aside, royals must also remember the rules for handling teacups. As noted by etiquette expert Myka Meier to People, manners still matter during tea time, and how one holds their teacup is essential. Meier suggested that when handling the cup, one should grip the top handle with their thumb and index finger, and use their middle finger to support the bottom of the handle (Reader's Digest added that if drinking coffee, one should put the index finger through the handle). Also, the handle of the teacup should always be placed at 3 o'clock.

Additionally, Meire said that a royal lady must never forget to take sips from the same spot on their cup when drinking. This rule is followed to avoid ending up with multiple lipstick stains on the rim of your cup (this sipping protocol applies to anything you're drinking, not just tea). Similarly, while chatting with Marie Claire, etiquette expert William Hanson reaffirmed the aforementioned royal protocols. "Members of the royal family usually hold the teacup pinching their thumb and index finger between the handle, with their other fingers following the shape of the handle for support." As for those wondering about the well-known pinkie in the air placement, Hanson stated, "It is not, contrary to popular belief, sophisticated to stick the little finger out when drinking tea or coffee."

Napkin etiquette is, in fact, a real thing

While there's no shortage of royal protocols for a dinner party, it's clear that the rules for dining are just as serious as all other traditions that go along with a royal affair. While MyLondon noted that the royal family's mealtime etiquette is notably quirky, the outlet added that this napkin tip is actually a very beneficial practice to avoid making a mess.

As reiterated via Delish, the royal family follows a specific method when using napkins during a meal. While at the dining table, instead of simply placing their napkins on their lap, family members will fold the napkin in half and use its concealed part to wipe away any food stains.

If not using the napkin, they will instead place it on their knees and, when needed, pick the napkin up by its corners. Not only does this folding method hide any sort of mess, but it prevents the royals from staining their dressy attire — a definite win, win. Additionally, while there are plenty of occasions (such as public outings) where it wouldn't be possible for the royals to follow this unique protocol, it is tradition for them to use this tip during family dinners. We can't argue with that.