This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
A glance over a number of hotel bills of fare of the same date will show that a great difference of opinion exists on this point, even to go no farther than New York, for the makers of the bill of one large and wealthy establishment think it worth while to enumerate every kind of nuts and such small items, as well as all the sorts of cold meats besides a long list of entrees, while another presents only about one-third as many, and there is no reason to suppose that ideas of frugality form the leading motive for the smaller display. But there is no doubt that it requires "more nerve" in a man to set out a small bill of fare while expecting to compete with another house displaying a very voluminous one, on account the constitution of the general public, which is apt to look for quantity first, and the obtaining of a large amount for its money. The advocates for a fewer number of dishes properly claim that It is in better taste and that a small number of viands can be better cooked and served than the Interminable list of things promised by some bills, and that a freshness in the daily change of dishes is attainable with a small list that is not possible when everything appears in the bill at once, day after day.
It used to be urged in favor of the long lists of the great hotels, especially of the seaport cities, that they offered in their great variety something to suit the national taste of every foreign visitor; that the cooking was of a cosmopolitan character and each guest could select from the abundance offered to suit himself, not being restricted to the limited offerings of fare provided for the provincial customer But of late years it has become a feature of the business for every large hotel to have a restaurant attached, some have two, called respectively restaurant and cafe, so that whoever is not fully satisfied with the hotel table can indulge his particular habits and fancies at one of these. The sound policy in regard to this question, as in many others, lies in the adoption of the golden mean, though some hotel men like to run to extremes. One says: "If I must provide forty pounds of meat I may as well have ten different kinds of four pounds each as to have but two of twenty pounds each, and in the same way he says it is as easy to have a little of ten different vegetables as to have much of only two kinds, and the six pies may as well be of six different sorts as to be all of on©; then everybody can have what they like best and it makes no difference to me." But that old argument is fallacious.
There is just enough truth in it to warrant a reasonable variety In the dinner, but, in fact, the ex-pensiveness of a meal increases according to the increase of the number of different items; there is a certain inevitable waste in every separate operation in cooking; a portion of everything will be left over and lost, instead of a portion of only one or two things, and the more things are offered the more some of the guests will order, if only to "sample" and waste them.
It is in favor of a reasonable variety In the viands to remember that some kinds must cost less than others, and every order made on the cheaper dish lessens the run upon the deater one, and, again, it often happens that the cooking capacity of a place is not sufficient to provide enough of the one or two articles and half a dozen more of other sorts must come in to divide the calls; the same reasons obtain when the favorite article cannot be procured In sufficient quantity to stand all the pressure alone, then it has to be offset with something else almost equally In demand. These considerations, and others like them, have far more weight with those practically engaged in the preparation of the meals than any ideas of whether a greater or less display is in the better taste.