We all know that society, in general, has become less formal over the years. There are plusses and minuses. Casual dress at work can be a good thing and we seem to mix more with different types of people these days. But, unfortunately, this informality has left us lacking in the manners department. When was the last time you dressed to the nines and entertained with style?

Don't be scared off by the thought of hosting or attending a formal dinner. When you are selected as a guest for a formal dinner you should consider yourself among people held dear by the host. The only thing that could happen is that you rediscover your inner lady or gentleman.

The invitations for a formal dinner should go out at least six weeks before the event and should be answered immediately. This will allow the hosts to make adjustments to the guest list and the meal itself. Once accepted, only an illness or an emergency is an acceptable reason to break the engagement.

Always try to serve well-balanced meals in medium to small portions. Remember, this is a seven course meal. When deciding upon the courses follow an especially rich dish with one that is simpler. And...avoid similar sauces.

Always welcome your guests as they enter. Give that guest your full attention and be genuine in your affection. Introduce them to the other guests with a special greeting such as, "I would like you all to meet Mr. Smith. He is the Head Chef at Chez Henri"

It is the duty of the host to make sure that the guests feel welcome and special. Have drinks and finger foods ready. Provide spaces for your guests to sit and talk and get to know each other. As a guest, it is your responsibility to be open minded and friendly. Your host has gone to a lot of trouble and their greatest desire is that you should have a good time.

When it is time to be seated look for your place card. If there isn’t one, wait for the host to indicate where you should sit. When you get to your place, remain standing and offer to hold the chairs for the women sitting to either side of you. Once the hostess has taken her seat, or as the host sits down, you may sit.

Immediately place your napkin on your lap. Don’t tuck it into you shirt or belt or shake it out to unfold it. Just lay it on your lap.

If you don’t know the people seated on either side of you, introduce yourself. Depending on how big the table is, you should also nod and say hello to any other people in your vicinity.

There are two opposing rules about when to start eating. Emily Post believed in enjoying a meal while it was still warm. Following this philosophy, when you’re with a group of friends in a relaxed situation, it’s acceptable to begin eating once at least three people have been served. In a more formal situation or at a business meal, however, you should wait until everyone has been served or until the host or hostess says something like, “Please start right away. Don’t let your food get cold waiting for ours to be served.”

If you are the host, once three plates have been served, let the people who have been served know that it’s all right for them to start. As Emily noted, it would be a shame to let that delicious food start cooling, just because every guest hasn’t been served yet.

I can’t stand to leave a really good sauce sitting on a plate. But use bread to mop up that fantastic sauce, not your fingers. Break off a small piece of bread, then use your fork to push the bread around in the leftover sauce and then bring the morsel to your mouth.

When you’re cutting your meat, slice off one bite-size piece, eat it, then cut the next piece. Unless you’re preparing a plate for a young child, don’t cut a whole steak into bite-sized pieces and then start eating.

When the time comes for you to bid farewell, thank your host for a special evening with all the warmth and sincerity you can muster. Also, make sure to say good night to the people who were sitting on either side of you and to the other diners who were near you at the table.

Finally, when you get home that evening, take a few minutes to write a brief thank-you note of three to five sentences to your host. Address and stamp the envelope, and put the note in a place where you’ll see it and remember to mail it the next morning. Your host will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and you will have cemented your reputation as an engaged, gracious dinner guest -- ensuring that you’ll get invited back again.