- During the eighteenth century, dining was an important part of social theatre. Whilst at the beginning of the Georgian period the main meal was held at about 12 pm, over time it gradually crept later throughout the afternoon until it reached about 7pm. It was a lengthy and formal event, requiring formal attire – which often meant that a change of clothes was necessary beforehand – and gave people an opportunity to exercise the art of conversation.
Georgian dining involved a multitude of foods, sweetmeats, and drinks were served, which often meant that dining took a considerable amount of time. The Duke de la Rochefoucauld commented that,
“Dinner is one of the most wearisome of English experiences lasting, as it does four or five hours.”
Generally, the meal would consist of three courses: soup and fish, followed by cooked dishes, and completed by meats. After this, a dessert of jellies, sweetmeats and fruits would be served. The dominant style of Georgian dining during the eighteenth century was ‘service a la francaise’, which essentially dictated the entire meal to be laid out on the table – so that all components were within reach of each member of the dining party – and guests would either help themselves or be served by a footman.
‘Service a la Russe’ was introduced in Paris by the Russian Ambassador c.1810 which differed by leaving the table largely empty of food dishes, and instead serving courses sequentially and individually. By the end of the nineteenth century, this was the most popular way of dining.
After dessert, the ladies would withdraw to the drawing room to prepare and serve tea, whilst the gentlemen smoked and drank port. The men may then join the ladies to play cards and entertain one another before going home.
Sociability was integral to Georgian dining, and the dining table was therefore one of the most important items of Georgian furniture.