Service à la française
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Service à la française (French, "service in the French style") is the practice of serving various dishes of a meal at the same time. That contrasts to service à la russe ("service in the Russian style") in which dishes are brought sequentially and served individually. Formal dinners were served à la française from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, but in modern times has largely been supplanted by service à la russe in restaurants. Service à la française still exists today in the form of the buffet, and remains popular for small and large gatherings in homes, companies, and in traditional venues such as restaurants and hotels.
Organization of the meal
The meal was divided into three courses: soup and fish; roasts; and desserts. Each course included a variety of dishes, all set at the same time at the table with desserts and appetizers. Guests sat around the table and served themselves and their neighbours by choosing foods that suited them. The table was set and served before the arrival of guests; some dishes, the removes, were replaced once eaten, but not the majority, since the table was set with enough dishes to satisfy the number of people seated.
A modified form of service à la française in which several large dishes are brought out for each diner to help himself from is known as "family-style" in less formal restaurants, as they replicate the typical way in which small family meals are served. The buffet style is essentially a variation of the French service in which all of the food is available, at the correct temperature, in a serving space other than the dining table, and guests commute there to be served or sometimes to serve themselves, and then carry their plate back to the table. Buffets vary from the very informal (a gathering of friends in a home, or the serving of brunch at a hotel) to the rather formal setting of a wedding reception, for example. The buffet format is preferred in occasions where a very large number of guests are to be accommodated efficiently by a small number of service personnel.
- All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present by Stephen Mennell. University of Illinois, 1995.
- The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners by Margaret Visser. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
- Food in History by Reay Tannahill. New York: Crown, 1995.
- Patrick Rambourg, Histoire de la cuisine et de la gastronomie françaises, Paris, Ed. Perrin (coll. tempus n° 359), 2010, 381 pages. ISBN 978-2-262-03318-7