The table should be spread with the finest and whitest of damask over the "silence cloth" that is now indispensable in every well-regulated household. More and more the fancy is growing to have the center-pieces at a dinner, of pure white, with no touch of color. That may be supplied by the flowers, the china, the candle shades. The center-piece may be of linen, rich in embroidery or heavy with lace, but all must be colorless.
The flowers that are in the center of the table may be in a rather low receptacle, so as not to interfere with the conversation or glances of the guests seated opposite one another. The candelabra, or dinner lamps, may stand at the corners of the table. Here and there may be little dishes in silver, cut glass or rare china, holding such hors d'oeuvres as salted nuts, radishes, olives and the like, and bonbons. Except for carafes of water there should be nothing else on the table besides the furniture of the individual covers.
This is substantially the same as at a luncheon. The service plate, the knives on the right, the forks on the left, - one for each course, - the soup spoon laid with the knives, the water glass and wine glasses to the right, the napkin, a piece of bread folded in it, to the left. There is no butter used at a dinner and the bread and butter plate is therefore not needed. Always space enough should be allowed between the places to prevent crowding.
Of the menus that follow two are for the little dinner. The third is for a rather more elaborate function, and the fourth may serve as an outline for one of the big dinners that every one has occasion to give once in a while.
Roast of Lamb
Crackers Brie Cheese Olives
Little Neck Clams
Consomme a la Royale
Shrimp Salad Crackers Roquefort Cheese Stuffed Olives
Pistachio Ice Cream Coffee
Tomato Farcies Rice Croquettes
Crackers Camembert Cheese
Caviar on Toast
Raw Oysters or Clams
Stuffed Tomatoes Parisienne Potatoes
Spring Lamb, Mint Sauce
Green Peas Sweetbread Croquettes
Celery Crackers Gorgonzola and Roquefort Cheese
For the little dinner as for the big the service is essentially the same. The appetizer, or the oysters with which the meal begins, should be on the table when the guests come into the room, the host leading the way with the guest of honor, the other guests following the couple, and the hostess bringing up the rear with the man to whom she wishes to show especial attention.
The service plate, which is on the table under that containing the appetizer, is left there until after the soup has been eaten. In fact the guest should never be left without a plate in front of him. As soon as one that has been used is taken away the service plate should be restored, to be in turn taken away when the next plate from which he is to eat is put before him.
The serving should all be done from the right, as has been directed in the chapter on luncheons, and the dishes passed on the left side. The soup may be served by the hostess at a little dinner, but always at the large dinner and often, too, at the smaller function the plates are filled by the servant in the pantry and placed before the guests. The entrees are passed. The roast is rarely carved on the table, even at a small dinner. The carving is done outside and the dish passed that each guest may serve himself. The day when the portion of each guest was put on his plate in the pantry and then put before him has unhappily passed. Unhappily, because it simplified matters for both the guest and the waitress.
In changing the plates, more than one plate should never be taken at a time. It is a favorite trick with lazy or unskilled waitresses to take off as much as can be carried. Sometimes they even go to the point of piling up all the various pieces that belong to one cover. This should not be permitted. Let there be an assumption of abundant service, even when this is lacking.
The salad may be dressed on the table if preferred, and this is often done at the little dinner. In that case the small basin in which the dressing is to be mixed is put before the hostess, together with the flasks of oil and vinegar, the salt and pepper and the fork with which the stirring is to be done. If chives or garlic is to be used, it should be in the bowl when this is brought in. The dressing may either be passed to each guest, or, better still, poured upon the salad in the dish, and this then passed.
When it comes to the ices the method of procedure is changed a little. The individual ices may be placed on the plates from which they are to be eaten and these then put in front of the guests.
The coffee may be served either at the table or in the drawing-room. The latter is always done, when the men are to be left behind to smoke. Under these circumstances there is usually cognac provided for them, while a liqueur of a milder type is offered to the women in the drawing-room. When all go out together they may either have the cordial - maraschino, chartreuse, benedictine, or whatever it may be, before leaving the table or in the drawing-room.
The service of wines is, in a way, a question by itself. It is not necessary to have more than one wine at a little dinner - a good claret, or sauterne, or Rhine wine. Poor champagne is one of the most wretched of beverages, and it takes a rich man to supply a really good article. If champagne is served, however, it should be ice cold, and may be poured after the fish. With the soup, sherry may be served, and claret with the entrees. If one has a number of wines, the white should be offered with the fish.
But, as I have said, a number of wines is not necessary except for a very large or formal affair. In fact, the use of wines is entirely optional. If they are to be used at all, however, it should be in the correct fashion, white wines chilled, claret the temperature of the room. The waitress should have a napkin pinned around the neck of the bottle and should stand on the right when she fills the glasses. She should watch these to see that they are not allowed to become empty.
One caution to the hostess, a caution which may perhaps be unnecessary. Never attempt a dinner unless you are sure of your waitress. An inexperienced maid or man has it in her power to ruin the best cooked dinner. No dinner, no matter what its perfections in other respects, can be satisfactory to the guests when the hostess is uneasy or annoyed about the conduct of the courses, the serving of the food.