This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
This question comes up whenever any hotel assumes the rank of first-class, and is often a very perplexing one, for a few insist that they must dine at about six or seven in the evening or never, and if that hour is adopted a greater number are made uncomfortable by it, for to dine in the middle of the day is natural (according to our national habits); to dine at night is artificial, the habit of the few who retire late at night and rise late in the morning. When the artificialists have their way, and the dinner hour Is in the evening, a new contention arises, for then there is a lunch at mid-day, or about one o'clock, which for the hotel keeper's interest ought to be a light and inexpensive meal, a cold repast, but then the plain-mannered people try their best to make their accustomed midday dinner out of it, and the hotel caterer is urged to have this thing and that, to the end that they may make a complete meal, and the result is apt to be that the hotel gives two expensive dinners every day instead of only one dinner and a light supper, and at last it settles down, in many places where the rates are high enough, to the setting out of four meals a day, or even five: breakfast, lunch, then dinner and supper, both nearly together at from five to seven o'clock, and, in the few places, to haying both lunch and mid-day dinner and then late dinner and supper also.
This is the itate of the case as experience compels it, and we have but little to do with people's motives, yet when it is left purely optional with the hotel proprietor there are some arguments in it worth thinking over. It is a positive fact that heavy dinners or suppers are very unhealthy for people who go to bed at ordinary hours; the hotel man whose guests and boarders adopt such habits will have a lot of cross and uncomfortable people at breakfast times who cannot enjoy anything and cannot possibly be pleased. Those who eat meat dinners at night should remain up and in activity until twelve at least, and then take a cracker or slice of bread before retiring. But there is a business class of merchants and bankers who have no time for a regular formal dinner in the middle of the day, and a plausible reason in the necessity of the case can be given for them, but in the interests of good health and cheerfulness if they are to indulge in the profusion of the hotel dinner they should dine as early as possible - from five to six.
A majority (but by no means all) of the really first-class hotels serve dinner in the evening, and take pains to publish it in their bill of fare as being the higher fashion, yet those who know all about the business are apt to doubt whether the guests really fare as well as under the other style. It costs more to have dinner at night; it keeps the cooking operations going on all day; there is no "let up" to hotel work until dinner is over, consequently dinner at night means late work as well as early, and more hands are required for it. Three, if not four, soups are required each day, and the inducement is strong to make the soup that is left over from lunch serve also for the evening dinner with only a change of name, and the same with roast meats and ice cream. When the proprietor, manager or steward is determined that the evening dinner shall be all fresh cooked he is careful to see that no more is cooked for lunch than will be consumed at once. The conclusion is that the night dinner is not the best on general principles; where business considerations compel its adoption there is nothing to be said, but where it is but a matter of choice, as in a great many resort hotels, the proprietor, manager or steward will find it best to lean towards the dinner in the middle of the day.
In many cases all parties may be satisfied with the dinner hour at two, half past, or three o'clock, and only a light cold meat and hot bread supper afterwards.