A Beginners Guide to hosting a Burns Supper

Burns suppers are thrown to celebrate the works of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, and take place on his birthday, the 25th of January. During these uncertain times why not throw a simple Burns supper yourself and lift your spirits.

All you need are the following items:

  • Soup dish (Scotch broth or equivalent)
  • Haggis (Or Veggie equivalent)
  • Dessert dish
  • Scottish Music
  • Burns Poems (of course!)
  • Scotch Whisky (Or non-alcoholic equivalent)


The first Burns night was held by friends of Burns himself, who held a memorial dinner at Burns cottage on July 21st 1801, the fifth anniversary of his death. From this Burns Clubs emerged where Burns’ works were remembered and cherished. These clubs started in the local area, around Ayrshire, and have spread all over the world. Many Burns clubs are affiliated with the Burns federation also known as The Robert Burns World Federation.

At first, Burns Nights were held on January 29th until new records emerged, from Ayr Parish church in 1803, that Burns’ birthday was actually the 25th. Since then, Burns’ suppers have been held on January 25th ever since.



Traditionally guests would enter the Burns supper to the music of bagpipes. Don’t worry if you don’t play the pipes yourself, you can always play pre-recorded piping.


The Burns supper welcomes his guests by saying the famous Selkirk Grace toast. This toast was given by Burns himself at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk.

Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.


Once your guests have been welcomed and seated the first course is served. This is normally a soup dish. Scottish favourites such as Scotch broth, potato, Cullen skink and cock-a-leekie are all very popular.


Piping the Haggis

As the main course, the haggis is brought into the room attendees will stand. Pipes are played as the haggis enters the room - "A Mans a Man for A' That", "Robbie Burns Medley" or "The Star O' Robbie Burns" might be played. The host then recites "To a Haggis".

Address to a Haggis (Translated)

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
'The grace!' hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He'll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!


At the end of the reciting, a toast is made to the haggis. The haggis is then served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnips or swedes (neeps).


The main course can be followed with a number of desserts such as cranachan or whisky trifle. Cheese and oatcakes can also be served with coffee or Scotch whisky.


Its at this stage your guests are welcome to recite their favourite Burns poems or give their own speech.

Address the lassies

At this stage in the events, a male guest gives a humurous speech in appreciation of all the ladies in the room. The men charge their glasses and give a toast to all the ladies present.

Reply the laddies

A female guest will now reply to the mens speech, giving her views on men and reply to any specific points the male guest brought up. Quite often, this is written in tandem to the male guests speech and is for humurous effect.


At this stage in the evening the floor is open for guests to recite or sing their favourite Burns works (such as Ae Fond Kiss, Parcel o' Rogues and A Man's a Man) and more poetry (such as To a Mouse, To a Louse, Tam o' Shanter, The Twa Dogs and Holy Willie's Prayer).


At the end of the night guests join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.