5 key elements to hosting a successful Burns Supper

5 key elements to hosting a successful Burns Supper
Robert Burns
Robert Burns








Burns Night is one of those events that has various forms of tradition, although it is thought that only a ‘true’ Scot should hold such an event, this is simply not true and as long as you buy into the principal of the evening, anyone can hold a Burns Supper. Of course there are a number of key elements that should be included in your evening to ensure you enter into the spirit of Burns Night.

  1. Guest List
  2. Menu
  3. Drinks
  4. Poems/Songs
  5. Tartan

Depending on your evening and the number of people attending and the ‘formality’ of it, is it all of fun? It is following the traditions? you will need some additional elements to ensure you carry the evening off.

But don’t be daunted by the list above there are a number of great sources of information on the Web and in books to help you set up your evening.

Guest List

So I will start with the Guest List , how many people are you inviting to your Burns Supper? Are they Scottish? Is it a formal or informal event? Ok, do you need formal invitations? or is it easy to call your friends/family or even send them an email? Just make sure you can cater for the number of people you are hoping will attend. With the software available these days, you can usually set up a template but this is a link to Zazzle that you can order and pay for your invitations, if not then it will give you some great ideas of how/what to do for your own invitations.


Menu I believe is a major element to the success of your evening, of course you need to have Haggis, it is compulsory (of course it is not, but it would be a shame if it doesn’t feature in at least part of your menu). Although not strictly part of a Burns Supper Menu, you may want to include some canapes for your guests, to keep them going while everyone is arriving.

For your starters, there are a few good ideas, they do all seem to revolve around soup, as of course it is usually a cold, winters eve that you will host your Burns Supper.

Traditional soups

For the NON traditional 

Your Main dish, is usually Haggis, there are various suppliers of Haggis, and even today you can buy vegetarian Haggis, seems a bit of a contradiction in terms, but you can suit all your guests.

If your really don’t like the tatties & neeps, they use any mashed veg, it is better with the mashed veg, to ensure you have the buttery, sweet sides that you really do need to go with your Haggis. Some people serve a gravy with the haggis, it is becoming more popular, but of course it is to your taste. Dessert, well that is a great addition to the meal, and the tradition is around Cranachan, and Cloutie Dumpling, this is not a menu to have when you are watching what you are eating, but again it is a meal that typically will take a number of hours and it will need to soak up all that whisky that is served during the meal.

Cheese & Port, well if you have any room left after your meal, you can prepare a cheese plate with the traditional cheese, found in many supermarkets, but again consider the number of guests, if you have a large number, I would miss this element out, and head straight to the Shortbread and coffee.


Of course it is expected that you will have Whisky for your evening, if you have ever had the fortune to attend a formal Burns Supper, the whisky will be free flowing, usually various different brands, again, consider your guests and buy appropriately. There are a number of cocktails that have been developed over the years to meet the demands of others who prefer not to drink whisky all evening.


The list of poems and songs written by Robert Burns is incredible, and again depending on your evening, formal/informal, you can choose as few or many as you feel with be appropriate for your event. There are a few that are expected

  • Selkirk Grace – this is usually said as everyone sits down to start the meal
  • Address to the Haggis
  • Holy Willies Prayer
  • To a Mouse
  • A Red, Red rose
  • Auld Lang Syne

There is various lists with the Classic Burns Poems and Songs, there is also some sites that provide translations, I am not sure that they actually help or hinder the proceedings, but I think they add a bit of fun to the event when you read what he was saying.


Of course you are not suppose to wear Tartan if you are not Scottish, but over the years there has been so many new tartans created, it is possible to find a Tartan that is suitable for all events. Usually for a formal event it will be expected to be ‘black tie’ the fully highland dress should be worn by the Men and the Ladies will have a long dress with a tartan sash. For the informal events, a ‘nod’ to tartan is also acceptable, a tartan tie, waistcoat, sash, hairband, etc.

The tables are usually dressed with Tartan too, again it will depend on the extent of your formality, tartan drapes around your table, with formal table centers, with thistles and roses. To the less formal event with tartan napkins and maybe a tartan table mat. But it is one to think about as your guests will remember this and it will be a great talking point when they arrive.

The main points are to have fun, enjoy the evening and follow as many or few traditions as takes your fancy….. ENJOY


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