The Victorian dinner party was a minefield of potential social missteps. Firstly, guests were required to arrive 15 minutes late [source: Pool]. After gathering in the drawing room for a short time, a servant would announce dinner to be ready, and the party would enter the dining room.
But this simple event of moving to the dining room was actually a ceremonious one for the Victorians: It was a carefully planned procession of couples, beginning with the most honored guests. The hostess would have to organize the order of the procession, making sure not to offend anyone. It could get complicated when one's guests included single people or widows and widowers, because this necessitated deciding whom to couple together.
Getting the procession wrong could create tension for what was sure to be a long night: The meal itself was usually around 10 courses, not counting dessert [source: Pool]. And during the meal, as guests waited for the footman to serve the food, a gentleman was to converse with the lady to his right.
But after dessert, the night wasn't over. Ladies retreated to the drawing room to chat and drink coffee or tea, allowing the gentlemen to smoke and possibly engage in ribald conversation.