This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The same thing that has been done for the breakfast could not be done for the supper; that is, the presenting of a set of bills that fit alike all hotels in any part of the country, for while there is great uniformity of practice in one respect there is extreme diversity in the other. The American breakfast is always a substantial meal; the supper may be anything to suit the place, or may not appear at all. The general American habit is to partake of only three meals a day: a good breakfast, a good dinner, a light supper. In many hotels, such as those in country towns and at resorts, houses that are not too fashionable - that is to say, not too city-like - these healthful habits can be kept up; the hotel keeper provides a very plentiful dinner, all his assistants work hard for it, and after that all is quiet; the third meal of the day is easy. In the middle, southern and western states it is called supper; in the northern section and in Canada it is called tea. In a great many hotels which make light of this meal the bill of fare is headed "Tea Card," and the guests are not encouraged to expect much from it.
Before the railroads had spread all over the country it used to be a saving "the pastry cook makes the supper," which meant that hot-breads, cakes and toast and, perhaps, baked potatoes were all that would be especially cooked; cold meats, stewed fruit, coffee, tea and milk serving to complete the meal. Hotel proprietors used to be divided in two classes: those who gave hot beefsteak for supper and those who did not, and there was a subdivision of those who gave hot beefsteak every night except Sunday and those who gave it every night in the year, Sunday making no difference. The only other hot dish allowed in the beefsteak houses was boiled salt mackerel. But there was great choice of breads, rolls, rusks, coffee cakes, coiled buns, corn-bread, muffins, ginger-bread, buttermilk, biscuits, beaten biscuits, waffles, batter cakes, toast and cold bread of several varieties.
One reason why the hotel supper has changed from the old simple style is found in the arrival of railroad trains at supper time; the travelers coming to the hotel must have a good meal, and the supper bill is almost equal to the breakfast bill shown a little way back. The broiled steak and boiled mackerel are found there as of old, but in addition there are chops and cutlets, fried fresh fish, spare-ribs, eggs, oysters, chicken - more things than we care to enumerate. Another cause is the desire of a few in almost every town to dine at supper time instead of mid-day, when the hotel keeper, not caring to change his hours to please a few, sets out a supper bounteous enough to allow them to call it dinner if they please. The annexed example is the very moderate bill of fare of a very large hotel which is in exactly the above described position, the regular dinner being served at from one to three and no dinner in the evening, unless special for a party. This is, as far as it goes, an excellent pattern, the better because it allows so few varieties of hot meats.
Vienna Coffee Chocolate.
Japan and Gunpowder Tea.
French Rolls Johnny Cake.
Graham, Rye and Wheat Bread.
Broiled Sirloin Steak Fried Black Fish.
Boiled, Fried, Shirred, Scrambled.
Tomatoes or Ham.
Saratoga Chips Baked Irish Potatoes.
Cold Corned Beef Cold Smoked Tongue.
Cold Boiled Ham.
Assorted Small Cakes Frozen Tapioca Custard.
Articles taken or sent from the table, and dishes ordered not on this Bill of Fare, will positively be charged for extra.