In the beginning, people ate solely for survival. And, they considered themselves fortunate to accomplish this daily adventure. How grand it was to spear a fish, whack a wild animal over its head, and cook it over the new modern invention called fire. Protocol demanded that you devour it before another animal came to devour you. There were no forks, spoons or knives. There were no cloths, napkins or centerpieces. There were no servers or guests. A Etiquette @ meant A Et-it-quick @ , or every man for himself. It = s uncertain at what point in time food turned into feast, carnivorous became connoisseur, or decorum became necessary for social existence.
The French were the first to develop an etiquette of sorts at the table. > Service à la Française during the reign of Louis XIV in the early 18 th century, was confined to the grand houses. A proper menu consisted of no fewer than six courses. A total of thirty-six entrées, including fish, rabbit, partridge, roasted lark, game birds, poultry and whole sides of meat, were presented with pasta, vegetables and salads. The most important aspect of the dinner was its visual extravagant opulence. All the food was placed on the table at the same time, and each guest helped himself. As food was passed around, reached for and requested from the person closest to it, dining bordered on a sort of free-for-all with the more assertive guests receiving the bounty. One can only imagine that any attempt at conversation was impossible as the noise level reached a crescendo of intensity.
Then, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the Czar = s ambassador to Paris from Russia, brought with him a new form of service, which became known as > Service à la russe = . The timing was perfect. In England, the middle class had begun to emulate the grand style of French nobility with little success because they lacked the experienced staff, displays of silverware, candelabra and cooks, leaving the hostess and, perhaps, one or two untrained servants the burden of bringing the variety of foods and numerous courses to the table. Enter the Russian invention of the buffet table! The difference was that guests did not leave their seats to fill their plates, but waited for the servants to pass the platters so they could help themselves. Other homes had their servants bring the platters to the table for the guests to admire and then set them on the buffet where they portioned out. Known as > À la anglaise au guéridon = , which translates from the French into “English style at the table”, it is still used in many fine restaurants and a few private homes that have servers. Plates and platters were served to the left of each guest and taken away from the right. And, wine was offered to the host to taste before being poured into the glasses of the guests. Both are still considered proper service in today’s etiquette.
We have come a long way from the elegant formal service of the historically privileged. Most restaurants bring the food to the table already portioned out. In our homes, even the wealthy do not have servants in this day and age and, so, most families either fill the plates in the kitchen or set the food on the table for the host to serve. Anyone with children at table will attest to the fact that we have reverted back to King Louis’ time when dinner resembles a free for all with children grabbing rolls and butter from the middle of the table and fighting over the last chicken leg. It seems as though we have come full circle.