The most usual way to serve a banquet, or a formal dinner, for most of the past century, and at least some of the previous one.

French service, at one time, meant what you might call "family style". That is, food was arranged on platters, on the table, and was taken up two, or three times during a meal. You served yourself, in a fairly disorganized fashion, and those who had the longest arms, and quickest response time, got the most food. (Note that no one thought of passing food...but that's another story....) Hot food was often, no longer hot, nor cold food cold, a state of affairs that the Gilded Age could hardly tolerate. Instead, following the labor-intensive manner of the Russian Court (invented about 1810, made into protocol about 1850), each course demanded

  1. A clean plate put down, often with accompanying plate.
  2. The actual food being served

  3. and
  4. the plate being taken up, after about ten minutes.

Whether you think this is an improvement is up to you. What it did mean, is that to serve dinner properly in Society, one needed either a) a lot of chafing dishes and/or ice, to keep the food hot and/or cold or b)a lot of really well-choreographed kitchen staff. Either showed you had money, which was pretty much the main idea. In some ways, it was the optimal way to serve a great many people at once (the classic dinner party was anywhere from twelve to thirty-six people.) In others, it was impractical for anyone who wanted to put a personal stamp on the cooking, who didn't have a staff, or who just didn't happen to have a lot of money.

Modern restaurant service is a pale copy of the above, unless you're really, really lucky...Notice that we've managed to sidestep an awful lot of the problems with refrigeration and/or microwave ovens....

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