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A multicourse meal is a meal of multiple courses, almost invariably eaten in the evening or afternoon. Most Western-world multicourse meals follow a standard sequence, influenced by traditional French haute cuisine. Each course is supposed to be designed with a particular size and genre that befits its place in the sequence. There are variations depending on location and custom. The following is a common sequence for multicourse meals:
- The meal begins with an appetizer, also known as an entrée, a small serving that usually does not include red meat. In Italian custom, antipasto is served, usually finger food that does not contain pasta or any starch. In the United States the term appetizer is usually used in place of entrée, as entrée refers to the main course.
- This may be followed by a variety of dishes, including a possible fish course or other relevés (lighter courses), each with some kind of vegetable. The number and size of these intermittent courses is entirely dependent on local custom.
- Following these is the main course or entre. This is the most important course and is usually the largest. The main course is called an entrée in the United States.
- Next comes the salad course, although salad may often refer to a cooked vegetable, rather than the greens most people associate with the word. According to The Joy of Cooking, greens serve "garnish duty only" in a salad course. Note that in the United States and Canada, the salad course (usually a green salad) is served at some point before the main course. Sometimes, the salad also accompanies the cheese course.
- The meal may carry on with a cheese selection, accompanied by an appropriate selection of wine. In many countries cheeses will be served before the meal as an appetizer, and in the United States often between the main course and dessert, just like in most European countries. In the UK, more typically the cheese course will follow dessert. Nuts are also a popular after-meal selection (thus the common saying "from soup to nuts," meaning from beginning to end).
- The meal will often culminate with a dessert, either hot or cold, sometimes followed with a final serving of hot or cold fruit and accompanied by a suitable dessert wine.
Meals like this are generally very formal as well as very expensive.