Q: Is it true that when guests are invited to one's house for dinner, nobody is supposed to eat until the first bite has been taken by the hostess, or by both the host and the hostess?

Is this true of buffet dinners, as well as dinners that the hostess serves? Is it also true when guests are invited to a picnic?

What if the host and hostess expect the guests to take the first bite? Is this a breach of etiquette?

Is it appropriate for me, as a guest at a buffet dinner, to mention that I am waiting for the host and hostess to start eating, so that I can eat?

A: There is no difficulty making buffet guests wait to eat. No matter how hard the hostess tries to get them to take that first step of serving themselves, they all stand around like fools, refusing to budge.

However, the rule about waiting for the hostess to eat the first bite applies only to the dinner table. Buffet guests and picnickers may begin as soon as they have found a place to sit and mopped up whatever they spilled while putting their plates on their laps.

At the dinner table, the hostess starts things by lifting her own fork or, if the first food served is congealing while some plates are still empty, by saying, "Oh, please go ahead and begin."

Derelict hosts may be prompted by a guest's staring woefully at his filled plate and saying, "Oh, this looks delicious."