This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
There is no French pattern for the American breakfast bill; the French do not know anything about any such breakfasts as our hotels set out. The English have some idea of it, for they believe in taking a tolerably substantial meal to begin the day upon, but their ideas of what something substantial consists of do not reach up anywhere near the displays of actual meals in the five breakfast bills of the foregoing pages. The French custom is to take a light breakfast of coffee or chocolate and rolls or bread, and defer the eating of a hearty meal until the middle of the day; the English expect for breakfast, besides the coffee or tea, a chop, or bacon and eggs, hot rolls from the bakers, and butter, or toast with some sort of appetizing addition such as potted tongue, anchovies or marmalade, and that is thought to be a sufficiently plentiful meal to last until lunch at noon; dinner taking place at two or three o'clock and a cold supper some time between candle-lighting and bed-time, according to the habits of the family, and the same form prevails in the hotels.
Without leaving our proper domain and going into that of the doctor's it may at least be asserted that our people eat too much for good health and at the wrong times. Could anybody reasonably contend that such an immense number and variety of viands are necessary as appear on the third, fourth and fifth breakfast bills proceeding? And yet a necessity of a certain kind does exist, it is the business necessity which obliges the hotel keepers to try to please people who, having eaten too much the day and night before, have no real healthy appetite for breakfast, but pick around, find fault, and imagine that if there was only something else which is not there they could eat; that oysters stewed and fried are perhaps very good, but as for them they can never eat them any way but broiled, a nd while the friend at their right must have fresh fish, yet criticises the shad for its bones - for their part if all the fishes of the sea were there they can only pick a bit of smoked salmon. While such an unreasonable demand for quantity exists the demand will be supplied.
"My dear Careme," once said the Prince Regent to his famous chef, "your dinner yesterday was superb. Everything you gave me was delicious, but you will make me die of indigestion".
"Mon Prince," returned Careme, bowing low, "my duty is to flatter your appetite, not to control it".
There is no doubt, however, that it is frequently the case in our hotels that the hotel man, the proprietor, manager or steward, as the case may be, has it quite within his own control to provide a small but excellent spread instead of such an overgrown catalogue as those shown. It is sometimes ill-naturedly charged that these bills of fare are not true representations of the actual meals, that a large portion of the dishes are " crossed off " before the bill goes to table. In fact, there is nothing more distasteful to the hotel keeper or steward than to have a "scratched" bill go to the table, and great trouble is often taken and considerable expense to obtain some scarce article, not so much because it is really needed as because it is on the bill of fare. So where it is optional, or nearly so, with the hotel man whether he will make out a big list of dishes or a small one he should limit the number to a reasonable amount, and limit the styles of cooking, too; for the more ways of cooking allowed the more utensils, more hands (or more haste), the more previous preparation and more waste.
Whatever else may be said of the hotel breakfast, it is, unless under very good management, the most wasteful meal of all, chiefly through the propensity of the guests to order and leave things which they have not the appetite to eat, and in a great measure through the number of things offered necessitating the preparation of so many steaks, chops, potatoes, breads, fruits, pieces of fish and the whole list according, which, if not used, are the more liable to be lost through being so prepared.