This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
It Is not to be denied, however, that the stand-up supper is but the meal of expediency; not the most comfortable for the participants, but only the best that can be done under certain circumstances. It may well be supposed that the very court ladies, for whose benefit it was first instituted, would have preferred to be seated if they could. There is another motive for the stand-up repast which has not been mentioned, that is the desire to cut the supper short, for the people who would sit perhaps an hour in leisurely enjoyment at a regular set table will get through a stand-up in fifteen minutes, a very Important consideration where many speeches have to be made in another hall, or a number of figures of a german gone through before daylight comes.
The real social hop supper is the handed-around one, the best known way and most generally adopted in hotels, and next to the regular set table the pleasantest. This can be managed in two ways, of which the plainest is to serve everything on trays brought from the kitchen or pantry, the guests remaining seated in the ball room. If it is the hotel dining-room the tables have been carried out, and all else, but the chairs remain ranged around the walls. The man who "calls off" the dances announces that after the next dance refreshments will be handed around by the waiters and ladies and gentlemen are requested to keep their seats where they are. When the time arrives waiters come in and hand a napkin to each of the guests, who spread it on their lap, and other waiters follow with trays filled with small plates, filled as at private receptions, with portions of perhaps three or four different kinds; for example: a spoonful of shrimp or lobster salad, a slice of breast of turkey, one or two beaten biscuits, three or four pitted olives, and a fork; or a portion of chicken salad, a grated tongue sandwich, a slice of boned turkey with currant jelly, a buttered biscuit and a pickle or two.
As soon as all are served with these the waiters begin to bring in trays of ice cream and cake - the necessity if condensation requiring the saucer of ice cream or punch-glass of sherbet to be placed on the same plate with the two or three pieces of cake and a spoon - and pass around to whomsoever may be ready first, taking up the meat plates and replacing with the sweets. It does not work well, unless the waiters are well accustomed to it and watchful, to let one go along and take up the meat plates and another follow with the sweets, as some are sure to be missed altogether. Each waiter should have but a small load easily handled and make the change complete as he goes along. After that coffee is offered in the same way, while lemonade or glasses of water should be passed about the room freely by other waiters during the whole time of supper, until all hands are required to gather up the plates and napkins at the finish.