By Mrs. Humphry ("Madge")
The Value of English Servants - Table Display - Arrangement of Wine Glasses - The Art of Eating
E verything eatable is handed at the left of the diner, but wine is always poured out on his right. If offered a choice of wines, he indicates the glass appropriate to the one he prefers. If only one wine is offered, the servant says, " Hock, sir ? " " Champagne, sir ? " And the diner replies by a slight nod, or a quiet "Yes" or " No." Well-trained servants understand in a moment.
There are no such servants as the English. They are the envy of the well-to-do of all nations. Noiseless, attentive, trained to impassivity of countenance but alertness of observation, they appear to read the thought and anticipate the wishes of those on whom they wait. Their perfect courtesy occasionally excels that of their employers. Many a parvenu is dependent on his English butler for initiation into the minutiae of social customs, just as his wife finds an experienced lady's-maid helps her to observe " correctness " of attitude on every occasion.
It is, of course, an almost unpardonable offence on the part of a servant to drop either spoon, fork, or any other appliance used, with a startling clatter. In the handling of plates and dishes, and the spoons and forks in use therewith, the utmost caution should be exercised, and no servant should be permitted to serve at a dinner-party unless he or she has been perfectly drilled in that respect by the mistress or one of the upper servants.
There is some difference of opinion as to whether late arrivals should be waited for. Should he or she be a person of social importance, it is usual to wait a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes; but in other cases five minutes' grace is quite sufficient. It would be a rudeness to the punctual guests to keep them waiting for their dinner until some unpunctual and quite unimportant guest turned up. The servant who attends to the hall-door is always told beforehand how many guests are expected, and he or she informs the cook directly the last of the number has arrived. The soup or the hors d'ceuvres are sent into the dining-room, and the butler, footman, or parlourmaid goes to the drawing-room, opens the door, and, advancing a few paces into the room, says. ' Dinner is served." The old-fashioned formula, ' My lady (or madam) is served," has almost disappeared.
Then begins the procession to the diningroom, and, when all are seated, ladies remove their gloves and open their napkins. In certain classes of society the dinner-napkin is called "serviette' for some reason, but the English word is preferred in the best society.
Shaded lights are in favour, and the tables which are "electrified" and convey the current through the cloths to the candlesticks are very practical. Without shades, electric lights are very disagreeable when placed just opposite the diner, producing headache very often. The same unpleasant result is produced by lamps unless they are softly shaded.
The flowers should not be arranged so as to intercept the view that every diner likes to enjoy, of those seated opposite. Flowers with very strong perfume should be avoided. They make some people ill when in a room with exhausted air, and, unfortunately, the air of even a large room without open windows becomes vitiated very soon when a number of persons are dining in it.
With lights and flowers well disposed and the room of a pleasant temperature, all may be expected to go well with the dinner.
Conversation sometimes becomes general, and sometimes remains particular. Two or three of those assembled may discuss a subject, and gradually all at that end of the table may join in; or there may be some egoist - usually a terrible bore, but sometimes interesting if he happen to have a hobby of an attractive kind - who is not happy unless he has ' borrowed ' (after the fashion of Brutus) the ears of all present.
But whatever may be the general character of the talk, the men present do not forget that it is their business - not always synonymous with pleasure, unfortunately - to look after the needs of the lady they have been given to as cavalier for the occasion.
As a rule, the servants see to every actual need; but it is the duty of the escort to supply her social enjoyment, so far as may be. She may be uninteresting, but must not be neglected. She expects to be talked to, and should not be disappointed. The practical eye of the hostess soon notes any dereliction on the part of a guest, and she mentally decides not to invite him again.
Fish-knives are seldom seen in great houses, though the habit of restaurant dining has proved their convenience and caused them to be adopted by some few hostesses of the aristocratic classes. In the middle classes they have been established for many years, and the diner would not feel fully equipped without them.
The correct spoon for soup is the tablespoon. I mention this, as servants who have not enjoyed the advantage of being trained in a good house almost invariably lay dessertspoons for soup. The order for knives and forks is to place furthest from the plate those that will be needed first. This is more convenient for the diner than any other arrangement would be. When there are hoys d'oeuvres, the small fork to use for eating them is placed in readiness on the small plate used for this preliminary course.
The order for wine-glasses is to place nearest the edge of the table the one for sherry, which, with perhaps hock as an alternative choice, is the first wine offered. Next it is that for hock, then the claret-glass, and, furthest, that for champagne.
It is no longer usual to place the dessert-knife and small fork in front of the diner's plate. They are brought round on the plates.
Port glasses are placed on the table at the same time as dessert-plates, after the other glasses have been removed.
Liqueurs are handed on a tray, at the left side of the diner, in glasses ready filled. These, and the now unfashionable beer, are the only beverages handed at the left.
Entrees are handed first to the lady on the right of the host, and then straight down that side of the table to each diner in turn as they sit, gentlemen and ladies alike, then up the other side of the table in the same way, not omitting the hostess. In this fashion, the host is last to be offered the dish. It is customary to hand two entrees at the same time, one at each side of the table. In this case the second entree is handed first to the lady on the left of the host.
Should there be menus on the table, they are consulted as a matter of course, but no one is expected to study them during every pause in the conversation.
A few hints to the inexperienced may be of use, though they will certainly be regarded as superfluous by those who do not need them.
Bread at the dinner-table is always broken, never cut. Dinner rolls are sometimes very hard and crusty, but the knife is never used to them; they are broken with the fingers. Biscuits or toast are sometimes used instead of bread.
Noiselessness in eating and drinking is a sign of good breeding. No sound whatever should be made when swallowing. Soup becomes a test in these ways. It is taken from the side of the spoon, not the point. Should the plate be tilted, it is raised from the side nearest to the person dining; but it is not usual to finish it so very conscientiously.
Asparagus is eaten with the fingers, when cooked with that idea in view. Of course, this would be out of the question when that delicious vegetable is soaked in sauce or gravy. Olives are taken from the dish with the fingers and conveyed to the mouth by the same means. Cheese is cut in small pieces and one of these is placed on a bit of bread or biscuit and lifted to the mouth in that way. Celery is taken in the fingers. One helps oneself to apples, oranges, bananas with the fingers, to cherries and whole strawberries with the tablespoon carried round or left on the dish for that purpose. There is usually a pair of grape-scissors for cutting off a bunch. The seeds, as well as cherry, plum, or greengage stones, are conveyed from the mouth as invisibly as possible in the closed ringers of the left hand or by means of a fork. Apricots, peaches, and nectarines are skinned by means of the dessert-knife and fork, without being touched by the fingers, the pieces being taken up with the fork. Apples and oranges are cut downwards in halves, then divided into smaller sections, and these, again, peeled on the plate. Pears are treated in the same way. If strawberries and raspberries have the stalks on, they are carried to the mouth by the fingers; but if the stalks have been taken away, they are discussed with the aid of spoon and fork or fork only.
Melon is usually eaten with the fork only, but the knife may also be used if necessary. Green figs require both knife and fork.
One of the things taught us in the nursery and schoolroom is never to use a spoon where a fork would serve the purpose. We find as we go through life that obeying this rule robs us of some delicious syrups and cream, etc. Creams, jellies, tarts are all treated with the fork, but ices are eaten with a small spoon.
Another rule of table manners forbids us to use a knife with a dish which we can manage with a fork alone. This applies to entrees served without bone, to sweetbreads, vol-au-vents, curries, and pillaus. The really correct way to eat these two last is with fork and spoon, This is Indian fashion, and is followed at home in England by most
At the close of dinner the hostess gives the signal to the lady sitting on the right of the host, and all the guests rise while the ladies leave the room, as much as possible in the order in which they entered it. The youngest man of the party holds the door open for them. The men remain in the dining-room until coffee is served them there, after which they join the women in the drawing-room. Any man who prefers to do so can leave the dining-room before coffee, with a word of excuse to his host. He then joins the ladies.
It is not considered etiquette for guests to leave until the principal lady of the party makes a move to do so. But should she be very slow about it, or should any other guest be "going on" to a party, she goes to her hostess and, explaining, bids her goodnight and takes her leave.
Tea and coffee are served in the drawing-room while the men are in the dining-room. The duties of the guests include a cheerful comportment, whether they happen to be bored or otherwise. Any sign of haste to get away would be amiss. Even a glance at a watch becomes reprehensible, especially if it has to be taken from a man's watch-pocket for the purpose. Wrist-watches are convenient in these cases.
On the other hand, a guest may not remain more than a few seconds after the general leave-taking, however interesting he or she may have found the society of someone present.