Then, again, witbout paying a high price, one can not secure a waiter who is a good carver. I am almost inclined to say one must possess the luxury of a French waiter for carving at the side-table. English waiters are good. The Irish are general-ly too awkward. Negroes are too slow. Tbe French are both graceful and expeditious.
Well, what can be done, then, when one has a dinner party, with no expert carver, and the dishes are too large for the host to attempt ? I would advise in this case that the dinner should be served from the side. A very great majority of large and even small dinners are served in this manner.
The table, as usual, is decorated with flowers, fruits, etc., but the dishes (plats) are not placed upon it; consequently the host has no more duty to perform in tbe serving of the dinner than the guest. A plate is placed on the table before each person, then the dish, prettily decorated or neatly carved, if necessary, is presented to the left side, so that each person may help him-self from the dish. When these plates are taken off, they are replaced by clean ones, and the dish of the next course is presented in like manner. Many prefer to serve every course from the side, as I have just indicated; others make an exception of the dessert, which the hostess may consider a pretty acquisition to the table, while the dish should not be an awkward one to serve.
Some proper person should be stationed in the kitchen or butler's pantry to carve and to see that the dishes are properly decorated. If the hostess should apprehend unskillfulness in carving, the dinner might be composed of chops, ribs, birds, etc., which require no cutting.
There are several hints about serving the table, which I will now specify separately, in order to give them the prominence they deserve.
1st. The waiters should be expeditious without seeming to be in a hurry. A dragging dinner is most tiresome. In France, the dishes and plates seem to be changed almost by magic. An American senator told me that at a dinner at the Tuileries, at which he was present, twenty-five courses were served in an hour and a half. The whole entertainment, with the after-dinner coffee, etc., lasted three hours. Upon this occasion, a broken dish was never presented to the view of a guest. One waiter would present a dish, beautifully garnished or decorated; and if the guest signified assent, a plate with some of the same kind of food was served him immediately from the broken dish at the side-table.
Much complaint has been made by persons accustomed to dinners abroad of the tediousness of those given in Washington and New York, lasting, as they often do, from three to five hours. It is an absolute affliction to be obliged to sit for so long a time at table.
2d. Never overload a plate nor oversupply a table. It is a vulgar hospitality. At a small dinner, no one should hesitate to ask for more, if he desires it; it would only be considered a flattering tribute to the dish.
At large companies, where there is necessarily a greater variety of dishes, the most voracious appetite must be satisfied with a little of each. Then, do not supply more than is absolutely needed; it is a foolish and unfashionable waste. "Hospitality is not to be measured by the square inch and calculated by cubic feet of beef or mutton."
At a fashionable dinner party, if there are twelve or fourteen guests, there should be twelve or fourteen birds, etc., served on the table - one for each person. If uninvited persons should call, the servant could mention at the door that madam has company at dinner. A sensible person would immediately un-derstand that the generai machinery would be upset by making an appearance. At small or private dinners, it would be, of course, quite a different thing.
The French understand better than the people of any other nation how to supply a table. "Their small family dinners are 3imply gems of perfection. There is plenty for every person, yet every morsel is eaten. The flowers or plants are fresh and odoriferous; the linen is a marvel of whiteness; the dishes are few, but perfect of their kind."
When you invite a person to a family dinner, do not attempt too much. It is really more elegant to have the dinner appear as if it were an every-day affair than to impress the guest, by an ostentatious variety, that it is quite an especial event to ask a friend to dinner. Many Americans are deterred from enter-taining, because they think they can not have company without a vulgar abundance, which is, of course, as expensive and trou-blesome as it is coarse and unrefined.
For reasonable and sensible people, there is no dinner more satisfactory than one consisting first of a soup, then a fish, gar-nished with boiled potatoes, followed by a roast, also garnish-ed with one vegetable; perbaps an entrée, always a salad, some cheese, and a dessert. This, well cooked and neatly and quietly served, is a stylish and good enough dinner for any one, and is within the power of a gentleman or lady of moderate means to give. "It is the exquisite quality of a dinner or a wine that pleases us, not the multiplicity of dishes or vintages."
3d. Never attempt a new dish with company - one that you are not entirely sure of having cooked in the very best manner.
4th. Care must be taken about selecting a company for a dinner party, for upon this depends the success of the entertainment. Always put the question to yourself, when making up a dinner party, Why do I ask him or her ? And unless the answer be satisfactory, leave him or her ont. Invite them on some other occasion. If they are not sensible, social, unaffectand clever people, they will not only not contribute to the agreeability of the dinner, but will positively be a serious impediment to conversational inspiration and the general feeling of ease. Consequently, one may consider it a compliment to be invited to a dinner party.
5th. Have the distribution of seats at table so managed, using some tact in the arrangement, that there need be no confusion, when the guests enter the dining-room, about their being seated. If the guest of honor be a lady, place her at the right of the host; if a gentleman, at the right of the hostess.
If the dinner company be so large that the hostess can not easily place her guests without confusion, have a little card on each plate bearing the name of the person who is to occupy the place. Plain cards are well enough; but the French design (they are designed in this country also) beautiful cards for the purpose, illustrated with varieties of devices: some are rollicking cherubs with capricious antics, who present different tempting viands; autumn leaves and delicate flowers in chromo form pretty surroundings for the names on others; yet the designs are so various on these and the bill-of-fare cards that each hostess may seek to find new ones, while frequent dinner-goers may have interesting collections of these mementoes, which may serve to recall the occasions in after-years.
6th. If the dinner is intended to be particularly fine, have bills of fare, one for each person, written on little sheets of paper smoothly cut in half, or on French bill-of-fare cards, which come for the purpose. If expense is no object, and you entertain enough to justify it, have cards for your own use especially engraved. Have your crest, or perhaps a monogram, at the top of the card, and forms for different courses following, so headed that you have only to fill out the space with the special dishes for the occasion. I will give the example of a form. The forms are often seen on the dinner-cards; yet, perhaps, they are as often omitted, when the bills of fare are written, like those given at the end of the book.