Reference > Etiquette > Manner of Serving Dinners

Manner of Serving Dinners

The custom of serving dinner a la Russe (dishes passed) has supplanted the form known as the English style, where the joints are carved on the table. This is for good reason, as the host cannot well fulfil his social part if he has to do the carving; therefore, unless on very informal occasions, when the number of servants may be insufficient, the carving is done on the side-table, or the garnished dishes are cut in the kitchen. The portions, whether carved or otherwise, are placed on dishes to be passed, and should be so arranged that each guest may remove a part easily and without destroying the symmetry of the whole. This need not preclude attractive garnishing, but such complicated constructions as are sometimes seen, which embarrass one to find how to break them, should be avoided.

Sometimes a dish is placed on the table to be shown, and then removed to be served.

Passing the Dishes

The dishes are presented on the left side. Those of the first course are passed first to the lady sitting on the right of the host, and then in regular order to the right around the table. The dishes of each following course are started at some distance from the place where the preceding one was presented. In this way the same person is not left always to be served last.

Number of Servants

At least one servant is needed for every six persons, otherwise the service will be slow and tedious, and the portion placed on one's plate becomes cold before the accompaniments of sauce or vegetable can be passed.

Many dishes may be garnished with the vegetable or sauce, thus obviating in a measure this difficulty. For large dinners two or more dishes should be arranged to pass on opposite sides of the table, so that every one may be served at about the same time. Plates, vegetable, and other large dishes are held in the hand of the servant. Small dishes, like hors d'oeuvres, bonbon dishes, etc., are passed on a tray.


When the wines are served, the servant should name the wine offered, so that it may be refused if not wanted; the glasses should not be filled entirely full.


When a plate is removed it should be immediately replaced by another one holding a fork or any piece of silver or cutlery which is needed for the next course.

Plates should be removed with the left and replaced with the right hand.

Care should be taken that plates for the hot dishes are warm, but not hot, and that for the cold dishes they are not lukewarm.

The plate holding the shell-fish is placed upon the one already on the table; this under plate is used also to hold the soup plate, but double plates are not again used until the end of the dinner, when the dessert plate holding the finger-bowl plate is put on. In case a hot sweet dish is served, the double plates, being intended for ices, fruits, and bonbons, are not put on until after that course. Silver serving-dishes are much used; lacking these, all the china used in the same course should match when possible.


A different set of plates may be used with each course. In the matter of china the greatest latitude of taste and expense is possible, some china being more valuable than its weight in silver. When handsome china is being used, which demands great care in handling, it is well to have a table in the pantry reserved for its use, where it can be carefully piled and left until the following morning to be washed. With daylight and ample time, it can be given the care it might not receive if washed after the fatigue and late hours of a long dinner. This need not necessarily mean leaving a disordered pantry for the night, although that would be of less consequence than the extra risk of having valuable china nicked or broken. The same care is recommended for handsome glass.

Clearing the Table

Before the dessert is served, all the plates, the small silver, the salt- and pepper-boxes, the hors d'oeuvres, and such glasses as will not be again used are removed; the crumbs are then taken off, a silver crumb knife and a plate being used for this purpose. The dessert and finger-bowl plates are then put on. Under the finger-bowl is placed a small fancy doily, and beside it on the same plate such small silver as will be needed. If peaches, or any fruit which will stain, are to be served, a fruit doily should also be given at this time and laid beside the place. The finger-bowl should be filled one third with water, and have a thin slice of lemon, a scented leaf, or a flower floating in it.

The Service

The service should be entirely noiseless, and the machinery of the household as invisible as possible. There should be no rattling of china or silver, no creaking boots, or heavy tread, or audible speech among the servants.

Ordering the Dinner

When entertaining one should not attempt more than one is sure of being able to attain, bearing in mind the capabilities of the cook and the range, and remembering that the quality of the dishes rather than the number of them is what pleases. Experiments should be made at times when failure is of less consequence. In arranging the menu, each course should be in pleasing contrast to the preceding one, and in the same course only such dishes should be served as go well together. Butter is not served at dinner.


The Century Cook Book (1901).


Print recipe/article only

comments powered by Disqus