On Our Interview with Rudy Giuliani
As part of our ongoing series this primary season, we met with Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who came all the way up to Washington Heights to discuss one of his favorite topics: correct service for the formal and informal table.
The Gay Recluse: Rudy, as mayor you were associated with a hard-nosed approach to table service. How has your position evolved, if at all, now that you’re reaching out to a national audience?
Rudy Giuliani: I’m not sure I would say it’s evolved at all. I’ve long claimed that the charming thing about table setting is that it is more and more coming to be creation of one’s individual taste. Indeed, many a woman unable to get domestic help has found a new delight in her table through handling her fine linens, china, glass, and silverware herself and in making them express her inborn love of beauty and good taste.
TGR: And how strictly to you plan to adhere to the rules of construction?
RG: Today, in place of one set of rigid rules for table setting, I would say there have grown two distinct types of usage. One is for the formal affair — breakfast, luncheon, or dinner. This usage is still based on formal rules, yet still allows for more personal latitude than before. The other usage is homey and intimate — nicely ordered rather than formal, and always individual — the sort of thing that makes the guest feel instantly at home. The main difference is that in this more informal table service everything is left to the taste and convenience of the hostess.
TGR: That sounds great in theory, but how does it play out in the real world?
RG: All the silverware except that for the dessert or sweet and the demitasse is placed on the table at once; and the several dishes are served by those at the table, or passed from hand to hand. In short, the woman of position who serves her own table follows two main principals: her table setting is planned to make the service as expeditious and unobtrusive as possible, and she is very careful to serve each course with its appropriate silverware.
TGR: Now for the hard question: what is your favorite meal of the day?
RG: Like many, I tend to think dinner is the pleasantest meal of the day. Whether guests are entertained or the family dines alone, the table should be as charming as it can be made. I recommend a white damask cloth be used, with large dinner napkins to match. Unshaded candles give a most delightful glow to the polished silver and sparkling glassware. The centerpiece, of course, is of flowers.
TGR: I know you’re dying to tell me, so please —
RG: (Laughs.) The silverware! Let’s see–if oysters are served, the Oyster Fork is generally placed at the extreme right. Then follow the Soup Spoon and, nearest the plate, the Knife for the roast, with the cutting edge toward the plate. Tea Spoons, when used, are placed to the right of plate — just outside the knife. The glass for water stands just above the knife. On the left is the Meat Fork and, next to the plate, the Salad Fork. If fish is served, the Dessert Fork is used for it and this is placed to the left of the Meat Fork. If additional forks and knives are needed they are put on the table during dinner.
TGR: You’ve been involved in some pretty heated exchanges on the butter dish — where exactly do you stand on that?
RG: My view is really quite simple: the bread-and-butter plate, when used at dinner, occupies its customary place above the fork. Across the right side is placed the Butter Spreader. At formal dinners butter is not served and, consequently, the plate and spreader are omitted. But as few families care to observe this rule except on ceremonious occasions, the butter plate with its spreader is found on most dinner tables. End of story!
TGR: That seems clear. I know time is running short, but perhaps you could leave us with a few words about breakfast? Is it true that you like to skip it completely?
RG: Hardly! It’s true that breakfast is usually the least formal meal of the day, but this only means that it should be made one of the the most enjoyable! Obviously, the table service at breakfast necessarily depends upon the courses served. Instead of a large white cloth, mats and runners of plain or embroidered linen or crash are used. The usual order of service is the fruit course first, followed by cereal, and then by the main course, consisting of eggs, fish or meat, with coffee, and a hot bread or toast. But remember: if the hostess serves the coffee on the table the coffee service is placed before her together with each cup in its saucer, and the Tea Spoon is laid on the saucer before it is passed.
TGR: Thanks so much for your time, Rudy, and good luck with the rest of the campaign.
Rudy: Thank you — as always, it’s been always a pleasure.
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