Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Brief History of Table Service

A Brief history of Table Service

The Nine Basic Principle of Hospitality and Service may seem straightforward, but they have not always been the rules of the profession. Table service is a noble profession, one that has had a long and varied history, and has been shaped by that history.

Table service evolved with changes in social structure, architecture, and the food that were served. By comparing the food and ways our ancestors ate, especially when they dined in banquet, with our own custom, today’s dining habits, whether in formal dining rooms, bistros, or family restaurants, can be better understood-even some of the bizarre jargon used in today’s kitchen and dining rooms, which has its roots in the past.


The earliest written descriptions of recognizably Western dining scenes are found in the Old Testament and in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. In reading these accounts, it is obvious that it was the status of the diners that counted. Until fairly recent times, writers did not write about ordinary, everyday life. They wrote for and about the rich and powerful, describing banquets and special occasions attended by people of high social status. By 400 BCE the Greek banquet had become standardized, with a fixed structure for the dishes served and the manner in which they were generally held in private home, as the Greeks had very few public eating places. Dining room were small, containing couches for the guests. Rooms were described by the number of couches they contained. Usually these feasts took place in a t couch room, with a small table in front of each couch.
A basket containing a selection of breads made of wheat or barley was placed on each table. Servants brought large dishes from the kitchen, and guests chose their favorite portions, tossing scraps, shells, and bones onto the table.

The meal was divided into three parts. The first part or course might include fruit, poultry, salted seafood, and small savory meat dishes, much like the Greek mezze of today. These light dishes were followed by hartier fare-fresh seafood and roasted meats, such as lamb or baby goat.

After this course, the tables were removed with all the bones and other debris, and new table were brought out. Servants circulated with towels and basins of warm water scented with precious oils for the guests to clean their hands.

Desserts were then served. These might include dried and fresh fruits, cheeses, nuts and small pasties or other confections. Wine mixed with water tableside in a krater, a large clay pot with a wide mouth, was served with the desserts. Diluted wine was considered healthier than water, and drunken behavior was discouraged.

After the desserts the soiled tables were removed one again, signaling the end of the meal and the beginning of the symposium, a convivial party with a mix of literary and philosophical discussions, music, and performances by acrobats and female dancers, accompanied by the drinking of unmixed wine.

The Rome adopted a great deal of Greek culture, including the culinary arts, taking Greek ideas about the meal merely as a starting point. They used more-complex recipe, more-elaborate presentations, more kinds of seasonings and more of them, and more important ingredients. Roman families dined tighter. There were strict rules governing the position of each diner, based upon status. The head of the household always had the most prestigious spot. Guests also took their places according to status. Just to be invited to dine often signaled sought-after social recognition. Who was invited by whom, who accepted an invitation, and to whom one appealed for an invitation said much about power in ancient Rome.

The Rome dining room was called a triclinium; it contained three couches, each for three diners, arranged in a U shape. Diner rested on their left sides, their left elbows propped up on cushions. The legs of the second diner on the couch were behind the cushion of the second. This left the right hand free to choose from the platters of food, carried from the kitchen on dicuses. Each guest ate from a red pottery bowl or dish, such as the then-famous Samian ware.
A Rome dinner consisted of three courses. The first, the gustum, was similar to our
hors d’oeuver. It was served with mulsum, a light wine mixed with honey. The gustum was followed by the mensa primae, or first table, as in the sequence of the Greek banquet. Red wine mixed with water accompanied the mensa primae. The next course was the
Mensa secundae, or second table. This course included a dessert of fruits and sweets-and the first unwated wines of the meal. This was the time for entertainment and a serious drinking to begin, as the Greek symposium.

The middle Ages through the Renaissance

The hierarchy of power and status was reflected in medieval banquets as well. In Anglo-Saxon times meals were large-scale affairs, taking place in the main hall of a castle; there were no rooms reserved solely for dining. Although some tables were permanent, most consisted of boards laid across heavy trestles or sawhorses and dismantled after the meal. Tables were arranged in a U, and the head of the household and honored guests sat at a table elevated on a dais. The table was covered with a white cloth and an overcloth called a sanap in English.

The first thing to go on the table was the salt cellar, which was placed before the most important person, salt being for immense value in the middle ages. The status of those who were to eat could be determined by where they sat in relation on the salt. High-status diners ate above the salt, others below. Only those above the salt were seated on chairs. The rest sat on benches that were, in effect, miniature versions of the trestle tables at which they ate.

The most important implement on the table was a carving knife. Carving was a manly art, and at first it was reserved for the carver, a person of exalted rank. Later this task was given over to the “officer of the mouth,” the highest-ranking servant. A concern with courtliness and manners, if not sanitation, demanded that the officer of the mouth “set never on fish, beast, or fowl more than tow fingers and a thumb.” Diners brought along their own knives. They used them to cut foods into pieces small enough to be eaten conveniently with the hands or conveyed directly into the mouths on the point of the knife.

The tables used in French banquets were covered with a large cloth called the nappe. The top was kept clean, but the sides where it hung down were used for wiping the hands. Occasionally manuturigia, or hand towers, were made available. The French word nappe is the source of the English word napery, meaning “table linens.” Napkin is a diminutive form, and apron is an altered form of napron. Likewise, the culinary term napper is used to describe coating or covering food with sauce. Food was served from common bowls, called messes. It was scooped, or dragged, to large dishes or trenchers, either tranchoirs, which were shared by two or three dinners.

In France, as in England,, wealthy households had a large number and variety of silver bowls, basins, pitchers, and other serving vessels. Ordinary folk, on the other hand, might have no more than a pewter mug. The display of wealth through service ware was only one of the ways that the host’s status was expressed at the table.

In the late fourteenth century people began to think of food and its service its service as worthy of study and respect. In France, Taillevent cook to Charles V and Chales VI, collected and codified medieval cooking in his book Le Viandier. Le menagier de Paris, modeled on Le Viandier and written by an elderly gentleman for his young bride, outlined the ourgeois repertoire.

In the mid-fifteenth century platina of Cremona, librarian to Pope Sixtus IV and a learned epicure, published De honesta voluptate et valutudine. In it, Platina discussed proper manner, table etiquette, table setting, nutrition, and more. It also contained recipes. De Honesta Voluptate altered the way the wealty, who still ate with their hands, thought about eating and manners. Written in Latin, it was translated into many languages, including Italian, French, and English, and had tremendous impact.

Although not all historians agree, some trace the organs of classic fine dining to a single aristocratic family of the sixteenth century, the Medicis of Florence. When Catherine de Medici married the future King Henri II of France in 1533, she brought as part of her entourage a small army of Italian cooks, chefs, servant, and wine experts.

Catherine introduced fine dining and its appropriate service to France; her cousin, Marie de Medici, wife of King Henri IV, continued that culinary mission. Francois La Varenne, one of the greatest chefs of Fraince, received his training in the kitchen of Henri IV, While Taillevent looked to the past for inspiration, La Varenne’s book Le Cuisinier francois (1651) showed signs of a more modern approach to cooking, foreshadowing Le Guide culinaire of Escoffier, still 250 years in the future.

The new table manners that began with platina were expanded during the reigns of the medici cousins. Among the table refinements brought to France by the medicis were:

: Washing hands before sitting down at the table-an old custom that had fallen into disuse

: Using a fork to select food from a platter

: Passing the best morsels of food to others at the table

: Not blowing on hot food

Up to the end of the eighteenth century, lavish meals and presentations were confined almost exclusively to the aristocracy. This was especially true in France. With the start of the French Revolution in 1789, the political and social landscape of not only France but England and the rest of Europe changed. With these vast changes came a democratization of dining. No longer were chefs cooking only in the homes of rich and powerful. With the toppling of the French monarchy and nobility, their chefs had no choice but to ply their trade in other venues. The development of restaurant in France was not due solely to the French Revolution, but this event spurred the growing need for eateries available to the increasing numbers of the middle class.

Coffeehouse has been around, both in France and in England, since the second half of the seventeenth century; they began as place for businessmen to meet. Lloyd’s of London, the insurance firm, was originally Lloyd’s coffeehouse, a place where ship’s captains, ship-owners, merchants, and insurance brokers met to discuss the day’s events, art, literature, and politics- and gamble on the chance of ships reaching their destinations safely. The café Procope in Paris was a popular gathering place for intellectuals. It opened at its current location, across the street from Comedie-Francaise Theater, in 1686 and is the oldest serving coffeehouse in Paris.

The first real restaurants in France appeared about twenty years before the French Revolution; they proliferated after that as the nobility’s former chefs sought employment. In 1782 A.B. Beauvilliers opened the restaurant La Grande Taverne de londres. The term restaurant already existed in France, but it previously referred only to small establishments that sold broth or bouillon, that is, restoratives. Beauvilliers had spent time working in England, especially during the Revolution when association with French nobility might have endangered his life. Beauvilliers contributed the a la carte
(Literally, ‘from the card’) menu, offering his guests the opportunity to choose from a number of menu items, as opposed to the fixed-menu table d’hote of the past.

Antonin Careme (1784-1833) lived during the crest of the social changes brought about by the Revolution. He represented the grandest statement of the old, court-based cuisine, inspired by the vigor of a new society in transition. Careme was on of the last practitioners of service a la francaise, It was a perfect frame for the exhibition of his art.

Three types of service are commonly used in restaurants in the United States: French, Russian, and American. Other type that are used include buffet for special occasions and parties, family style, and tray service.

French Service

This style of service is found in restaurants offering classic French cuisine and in other types of operations that cater to a sophisticated clientele. French service is distinguished by the fact that all or part of the preparation of the dish, or at least the finishing of it, is done in the dining room. The food is brought form the kitchen on silver platters, carefully arranged and suitably garnished, and presented to the guest for his inspection. The captain or maitre d’ then completes the preparation on a cart or gueridon next to the guest’s table. A rechaud or alcohol lamb may be used for warming or for last minute sautéing of an item. This finishing is done in the guest’s presence and to his exact preference. It offers him not only personalized attention, but also a show, depending on the skill and personality of the staff.

A highly skilled staff is required to give good French service. A captain must know how to bone fish and poultry, curve meats, dress salads, and prepared flaming and chafing dish items. Waiters must be familiar with the ingredients and methods for preparing numerous classic dishes, and busboy must be trained in the proper serving techniques.

Unfortunately, many operators attempt to offer French service without properly training their staff, resulting in service that is a poor imitation of French service is at best. The It lacks one the prime ingredients that gives French service it’s dignity-namely, professionalism. Each detail of true French service is done in consideration of the guest and in not a pointless empty ritual.
French service is very expensive if executed properly and requires a high menu price. A large of skilled waiters, captains, and bus help is required. A large inventory of hollow ware must be bought and maintained, as well as a large quantity of flatware, china, and high-quality glassware. Because of the numerous pieces of ware required for the service of each guest, ware washing can also be a major expense. Furthermore, since side tables are required for French service, fewer dining tables can be placed in a given area. French service should not be rushed; usually only one seating can be obtained for each meal. All of these requirements limit the potential sales that can be obtained in a given space.

Russian Service

Service ‘a la Russe, or Russian servie, is a variation of French service. The major different is that, in Russian service, all carving and finishing is done in the kitchen, The individual portions are then arranged on trays or platters and garnished attractively. The waiter carries the tray directly to the table and after presenting it for inspection, serves the food onto the empty plate before the guest. The advantage of Russian service is that hot food does not get cold while it is being finished in the dining room; this service is most often used for banquets where all the guests are being served at the same time.


In American service all food is plated and garnished in the kitchen. The filled plates are then carried to the dining room and placed before the guest. There are many advantages to this type of service, which accounts for its widespread use. The highly skilled French Service waiter and captain are not required. Plating and garnishing can be done under the supervision of the chef, and an attractive arrangement of the items and garnishes can be devised. Finally, the food is more likely to be the proper temperature when it is served.

Other types of service are occasionally found in hotels, restaurants, and in some institutional food services. Among them are butler service, family-style service, and tray service.

Butler Service

Butler service is used for stand-up affairs, such as cocktail parties or receptions. White-gloved waiters circulate among the guests, passing finger foods, such as canapés or finger sandwiches, arranged on small silver trays. Champagne is sometimes served butler style at weddings.

Family-style service

Family-style service is the presentation of food in bowls or platters that passed from hand to hand by the guests, who help themselves as they pass. This type of service is unusual in an urban restaurant, but is suited to a country-style operation that offers a limited menu with unlimited portions for a set price. It is keeping with an institution. In such cases, the residents usually have no choice of entrees.

Buffet service

There are three types of buffets.
The first is simply called buffet. In this service, guests obtain all their own foods and drinks. The service person has only one job: to clean up dirty dishes.

The second is called modified deluxe buffet. Table is set with utensils and guests are served coffee, and perhaps desert, by the service person.
The third is the most elegant, called deluxe buffet. The guests are served the first and second course, as well as their beverages and dessert. They obtain their main course from an elegant buffet. The service person must serve and clear many courses. They must all the dirty plates cleared before the guest returns from the buffet table.

Buffet set-up

Buffet set-up assigned by the Banquet Supervisor. Staff members should be trained on how to create attractive buffet presentation. Essentially each buffet should present aspects of height, dimension, and color, and should present a “mirrored image” whenever possible.
Each chafing pan should have 2 stenos, with hot water taken from the coffee urn. Chafer should be lit at least 30 minutes prior to each function should be checked periodically during long function.

Buffet utensils should have a B& B plate as an underliner, with a utensil for each side of double sided buffets. All condiments should also have an underliner.

Buffet runners should assist supervisor in communicating counts/quantities to Banquet kitchen staff. You must strive to keep buffet looking “fresh”, as well as it did when guests first arrived. Buffet will be broken down at the discretion of the banquet supervisor.

Buffet service: servers should greet each table, describe items on buffet menu, location of buffet, and offer beverages to your guests.


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