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 inferred that these following described ways of serving suppers are any less the ways of the haut-ton, are any less fashionable and proper than the regular set table because they are specially referred to the places of limited accommodations, they are simply less troublesome, stiff and formal, and their very informality causes these methods to be chosen in places where the facilities are as ample for any other method. The stand-up supper is credited to the Inventive genius, perhaps we might say to the leader-like boldness, of Ude, the celebrated cook or maitre d'hotel to one of the later French kings, Louis XVI, perhaps, and who flourished about a century ago. It was the stand-up supper idea which first made him talked about in every fashionable gathering, for there was a touch of philanthropy about it on his part, and the court beauties praised him for his sympathy with their dilemma - they could not sit down and were doomed to see the most magnificent feasts spread out of which they could not enjoy a morsel. The peculiar fashions in dress at that time caused the trouble.
A lady fashionably attired for a ball could not sit in a chair without ruining her dress, and most of them in consequence made martyrs of themselves by not tasting supper, prefer -ing to stay so crinolined, starched and frilled till the close of the festival rather than eat at the sacrifice of their toilettes. Ude said, when he was catering for these brillant court festivities, that as fashion could not come to the supper, the supper should come to fashion, and he set his tables and spread his feasts without having a chair in the room. He filled the dishes with small-cut dainties, placed them on raised sideboards in front of great mirrors and placed at each place nothing to eat with but a fork, and, naturally, for this accommodating change of custom the brilliant beauties were grateful and the stand-up supper was thereafter the proper thing throughout the fashionable world. Ude and the fashion makers of that time "builded wiser than they knew," for the resort to the stand-up method has helped out unnumbered thousands of caterers as nothing else would.
A man has a large entertainment to serve; he can secure a hall or some place that will answer for one, but it is unfurnished; he can make impromptu tables of planks upon trestles, can cover them if need be with the finest damask tablecloths and then .his roughly made tables may serve the temporary purpose as well as if they were mahogany and marble, but it may be very difficult to procure chairs and rough boards for seats will not do. Or it may be the supper is calculated down to the lowest degree of cheapness; to procure chairs for so many will necessitate the employment of wagons and hands to bring and carry back and would greatly increase the cost of the entertainment. In such cases the stand-up supper is resorted to. But more frequently it is adopted because of the scarcity of room. Even while the people are dancing' one side or one end of the hall can be taken possession of by the caterer, steward or headwaiter and long tables can be set. It is better in such cases if there can be a screen to temporarily part off that part of the room; it may be even worth while to have such a screen made for the purpose. Then the table or tables are set almost the same as for dinner, but with the plates nearer together, with as many plates and forks as there are guests.
It is an object to do almost entirely without waiters, but place the decorated dishes of meats - everything ready sliced - the salads with a spoon in each dish, the small pastries, all of individual size and everything else, except ice cream and coffee, in numerous small dishes quite near together so that there will be no need of waiters, but every gentleman can reach a portion of everything for any lady, and not see something different or better further down the table - that is to say: the tables should be set exactly alike from one end to the other with a portion of every kind in everybody's reach.
But here is a grand caution to be observed. The Ice cream and coffee have still to be brought in and the people will be so closely packed together at the tables these trays cannot be carried in behind them without risk of the direst accidents to the ball dresses, besides the awkwardness' of everybody having to turn around and step aside to admit the service. Nothing is more frequent than to see these ill-considered arrangements put into operation during the season of public entertainments, the difficulty seeming never to be thought of until it is experienced. The ways to avoid it and admit of a little waiter-service all through the supper is to set double tables; that is two tables or even broad boards nearly together, but with just room enough for a waiter or two to pass down between them and hand the cups of coffee over, the guests occupying only the outside of the two long tables. The most convenient of all is to set the tables in horseshoe fashion or a hollow square, the servers being inside, but where there is not room for them the tables may be ranged along the wall, with only just room enough between the wall and tables for waiters to pass along.
This is the prettiest form of stand-up supper - it might almost be termed the walk-around supper. It admits of the supper being spread in several smaller rooms where there is but the one large enough for dancing, and tables may even be set in hallways and verandas. It is like the going from one table to another for different viands at the festivals and bazaars which the ladies conduct in every town during the season. In preparing for a large number, however, it is necessary to hare a number of tables set exclusively with meat dishes - the cut meats, salads, sandwiches, etc., and other tables beyond containing only sweets - the berries and cream, cakes, coffee, confectionery, etc. Some evening entertainments of many descriptions besides balls and hops are very successfully managed on this plan, where people stroll by twos to the tables and eat standing though the simultaneous seating of so many would be quite impracticable.