Each year, Queen Elizabeth hosts lavish state banquets at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. This past October, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge joined her at a special formal dinner to honour of China’s President Xi Jinping. While these regal affairs call for some 2,000 pieces of cutlery, 5,000 pieces of gilt and 22 candelabras, the air of grandeur is easy to recreate at your own holiday soirées. Clarence McLeod, general manager of the prestigious Azuridge Estate Hotel in Alberta, knows first-hand how to execute a palace-worthy affair. As Canada’s only guilded butler, Clarence had the pleasure of assisting the Queen during her visit to Winnipeg in 2002.
“To be guilded is a professional designation given to butlers trained in the Victorian style of butlering,” says Clarence, who was “selected to be in service to the Queen and trained by her butler.” We thought, ‘Who better to ask for advice on how to elevate your holiday party to royal status?’ Here, Clarence serves up some masterful tips that will take your soirée from fun and memorable to fit for a queen.
It can at times be tricky when trying to decide where to seat guests at a sit-down dinner, but it’s an important step that can help avoid hiccups during your fete. “When you have to put your Debbie Downer friend on the guest list, think to yourself, ‘Who can I put them beside?’” says Clarence. Since misery loves company, try to seat them beside your most outgoing, fun-loving friend whose positivity is sure to be infectious. When the Queen hosts a dinner to honour a visiting head of state, she always ensures that they are seated next to her at the head of the table. Keep this in mind if your party is in celebration of one of your guests, and make sure they are treated and seated like a VIP.
If you are hosting friends and acquaintances, you might want to opt for a cocktail party versus formal dining. It allows you to offer a better variety of food (buffet, hors d'oeuvre) to people whose likes and dislikes you might not be familiar with. Formal dining usually features a condensed menu, so make sure you understand your guests’ dietary restrictions, from allergy or gluten concerns to vegetarian or vegan preferences. “You don’t want anyone leaving your party and stopping at McDonald's on their way home,” says Clarence. “Think about your menu quite carefully from that perspective.”
“The rule of thumb is, start your evening off with champagne and then go into bottled wine service,” advises Clarence. To keep the evening ultra-posh, avoid an open bar and edit down your selection of drinks. Because wine is acidic and can offset your stomach, avoid serving it alongside appetizers. Take a cue from Downton Abbey and serve sherry with your soup course because, according to Clarence, “It coats the stomach for the wine that’s coming with the entrée.”
“Synchronized service is like theatre in motion,” says Clarence. “It will really elevate your party.” He recommends hiring one wait staff per guest. “It can be done table by table, so you don’t necessarily have to hire one for every guest.”