You can't have a discussion of the Season without talking about food. Society looks forward to every activity that can be done with others and mealtimes play an important part throughout the day.
Breakfast is typically a private event, however, occasionally you will receive an invitation to a breakfast party, where the breakfast fare is slightly more formal--fish, entrees, game, coffee, tea and liqueurs. Etiquette is informal. The ladies enter the room followed by the gentlemen and serve themselves from an elegant buffet. Popular summer breakfast foods include buttered eggs, potted shrimp, veal cakes, pigeons in jelly, broiled whiting, hot rolls, teacakes, muffins and small loaves of brown and white bread with butter and jellies.
Once breakfast is over, all leave for other activities unless you receive an invitation to stay from the hostess.
Luncheon is considered an activity of the ladies as the men are typically occupying themselves with business or too full from having eaten a late breakfast to eat again.
The typical time for lunch is 2:00 p.m. and you are expected to arrive within ten minutes of the specified time. The formality of the meal is up to the hostess and can be a sit-down meal served by the domestic staff, the first entree served by staff with the guests helping themselves afterward or a buffet.
Etiquette suggests that lunch should last no longer than 30 to 45 minutes and that the guests leave no later than 3:00 p.m.
Another opportunity for meal taking is afternoon entertaining done at one's home. It, too, can also be as formal or informal as the hostess wishes, but more often it is tea, finger sandwiches and cookies and teacakes that are served.
Another form of entertaining in the afternoon is the garden party many of which are held at a distance from the West End. Here you'll find tents of different shapes and sizes around the grounds where one's guests can go for refreshments. Tea, coffee and cakes are available upon the guests arrival, followed by ices, claret-cup, strawberries, grapes, and melons.
Ladies wear morning dresses as bright and colorful as they please and the men frock-coats, either in a dark-blue, gray or black, white waistcoats, light trousers and silk hats.
A garden party starts around 4:00 p.m. and ends between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. And although the hostess greets every guest as they arrive, there is no need to big her farewell upon leaving.
Dinner is, of course, the most important meal of the day and the most substantial. A hostess's social skills are judged more by her dinner parties than any other form of hospitality including her skills in creating a well-balanced guest list.
Invitations are sent out anywhere from two to six weeks in advance to insure that the guests you wish to attend are available. Dinner begins between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. and guests are expected to arrive within 20 minutes of the stated time on the invitation. Guests are greeted in the drawing room and find seats. No food or drink is served at this time. Once the guests have all arrived introductions are made. The butler or a man-servant announces that dinner is ready and the host, along with the most senior lady present lead the way with the others following in order of their social rank.
Upon entering the room, you'll find your names on cards or on the cover of the menus. There is a menu for each guest or pair of guests in a holder and written in French. Dinner is served from side tables and consists of approximately 8 or 9 courses:
|Entrees (choice of brown and choice of white)|
|Removes (joint of meat or simple vegetables)|
|Poultry and/or game|
The reason for offering such a large variety of dishes is to suit everyone's taste and no guest is expected to take his fill of the entire menu although perfectly all right to do so. Wine served during the meal is typically a claret, however, champagne on occasion is also served.
After dinner the ladies are led by the hostess to the drawing room for coffee, while the men remain at the table for coffee, a drink and a smoke. Twenty minutes or so later, the men join the ladies and all smoking ceases.
As with other forms of Victorian behavior, rules of etiquette apply. You will find a discussion on this topic under the heading "Victorian Etiquette".
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