Should You Light Centerpiece Candles During a Dinner Party?
One manners misstep, and the whole night could go up in flames.
Congratulations, you’re having a dinner party!
Whether it’s your first time playing hostess or your fiftieth, there are plenty of stresses that accompany dinner party prep, but twirling up the table with pretty place settings and festive decorations shouldn’t be one of them. Candles are an easy way to add dimension and ambiance to your tablescape without breaking the bank. Plus, candlelight covers a multitude of sins, including that corner chest that you didn’t get around to dusting pre-party. Win, win, win.
But those twinkling candles do *bring to light* (ahem) a dilemma faced by many in our etiquette-focused Facebook group, There’s No Excuse for Bad Manners: Do you light the candles during dinner? Before dinner? Do you leave them burning after dinner? What about during the daytime? And what kind of candles should you be using anyway?
Let’s snuff out the candle confusion.
Is It Appropriate to Light Candles on the Table During the Daytime?
Candles should only be used in circumstances when, theoretically, there could be need for them as a light source. It’s appropriate to light candles only after dusk, unless it’s a particularly rainy or overcast day, and then they may be lit a little earlier in the afternoon. But assuming good weather and sunny skies, candles should not be lit for daytime affairs like brunches, luncheons, or afternoon tea. And because they won’t be lit, it’s best to forego them on the table altogether, and decorate with flowers or clippings from the backyard instead.
When Should You Light Candles for Dinner Parties?
Candles should be lit just before guests sit down to dinner, so plan to light them about ten minutes before you’re ready to serve the meal. That way, the wicks have time to burn a little and the ambiance is set before guests enter the dining room. Candles should be left burning through dessert and after-dinner coffee and drinks and may be blown out only after everyone has left the table.
What Kind of Candles Should Be Used for Dinner Parties?
Save the scented candles for the powder room, as strong fragrances can interfere with the enjoyment of the meal. Ivory and white tapers are considered most appropriate for the most formal of dinner parties; but if you’re having a more casual affair, feel free to mix up the color palette and choose candles in hues that reflect the theme. If you plan on the meal going into the wee hours, beeswax tapers are a smart move, as they burn more slowly, though they are more expensive than standard tapers. Whichever color or material you choose, be sure the tapers are a height that won’t interrupt your guests’ lines of sight. If tapers aren’t your taste, tall tea lights are an attractive, though less dramatic, choice for tablescapes, as they can be grouped into small, decorative clusters all down the table.
WATCH: Etiquette Tips All Southerners Should Know
Join Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, authors of Being Dead Is No Excuse, Somebody Is Going To Die If Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch That Bouquet, and Some Day You'll Thank Me For This for the answers to all of your etiquette questions. When should you prepare a toast? Which events warrant a formal invitation?