Dining Etiquette
Serving Dinner
Dinner at Emo Court in the Early 1800s
A Sample Dinner Menu for the Party of 12 Guests at Emo Court in 1821
Dinner at Emo Court in Victorian Times
A Sample Dinner Menu for Eight Persons (1890)
A Sample Dinner Menu for Six Persons (1892)
Special Dishes for Dinner Parties and Balls
A Sample Menu for the Ball Supper held at Emo Court, December 1879


Entering the Dining Room

By the 19th century, it was customary to have an aperitif in the drawing room before dinner. Ladies and gentlemen always wore formal dress for dinner, even if it was just an ordinary affair of five courses (soup, fish, meat, sweet and savoury courses). When the dinner gong was sounded, the ladies and gentlemen would rise and file into the dining room in a previously-arranged pattern of precedence. Each gentleman took the arm of the lady who would sit on his right, the host and honoured female guest entering first, the hostess and highest ranking gentleman last.



Dining Etiquette

Table manners were extremely important at dinner. The correct cutlery and glass had to be used for each course, and one ate only a little of each dish, and that delicately. When wine was taken, it was customary to drink to another person, making firm eye contact across the table before raising glasses together and drinking with great gravity. During the meal, each gentleman attended to the lady seated to his right, ensuring that she was served with the wine she preferred, choosing the same wine for himself, and bowing his head to her with each sip taken, for even the gruffest country gentleman sipped his wine rather than quaffed it. If a dinner was given in someone’s honour, toasts were made after the main course.

Smoking was strictly taboo at the table until after the ladies had withdrawn, which was usually ten or so minutes after the dessert course was finished. At this point, the hostess bowed knowingly to the highest-ranking lady, and with this signal, the ladies put on their gloves and withdrew in order of precedence to the drawing room.


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Serving Dinner

Until the mid-19th century, dinner was served à la française, with all the food laid on the table at the same time. As many dishes were served, dinner was laid in two vast courses of firsts and seconds. Carving was done at the table and to carve well was one of the gentlemanly arts. Ladies were also expected to carve and serve well, although at large dinner parties they only served the soup and sweet dishes. Around 1860, the French system was replaced by service à la Russe, where food was served up course by course by liveried footmen. With this new serving method, which needed an average of one servant to every three diners, each diner was now guaranteed a taste of every course on offer and the food reached their plate at the correct temperature. The hard part was choosing which of the many courses to partake of, and which to pass over.

Plate bucket from Emo Court used by servants to carry plates

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Dinner at Emo Court in the Early 1800s

Although the dining room at Emo Court was not completed until late in 1839, the journal of the 2nd Earl of Portarlington contains occasional mentions of dinner parties before this. In 1817 for example, there was a dinner party for eight people, while in January 1821, a party of 12 from Portarlington dined. The location of the old dining room is unclear, as it was not until February 1840 that the Earl dined in the newly completed dining room for the first time.
In this period, dinner would have been served à la française. A plain everyday dinner might consist of only three or four savoury dishes, followed by dessert or cheese. A formal dinner, however, consisted of a large number of dishes served in two main courses or ‘services’. The first course began with a light broth and a fish dish, perhaps crimped salmon or fillets of sole de Savoy.

A selection of salads

(Mrs Beeton)

This was followed by six entrées of hot and cold plates which were all placed on the table at the same time. The entrées usually consisted of a number of different meat dishes, along with salad or vegetables. Typical fare might include roast beef or mutton, rabbit with matelot sauce, pork with sauce Robert, jugged hare, seasoned lamb’s head, salted and seasoned fish, friscasse of duck, oysters in the oven, black pudding, bacon and eggs, mushroom tart, and creamed potatoes. In 1821 the Earl had a French cook, Oliver Camus, so dishes such as chicken à la tartare and blanquette de veau, a traditional French dish of veal in white sauce, may have been served for dinner (both were indeed popular at Abbeyleix in the 1790s, for example).


The second course consisted of another six or more lighter dishes of vegetables, meats, cold sweets and savouries. These too were placed on the table together. Typical seconds were oyster vol-au-vents, mutton soufflé, pickled salmon, lobsters, sweetbreads, macaroni, scallops, roast quail, peas, asparagus, omelette, wine jelly, almond blancmange, lemon soufflé and orange tart. After the second course, the outer table cloth was removed to reveal the finer one underneath, upon which the dessert was set. Dessert might comprise hothouse fruits, preserves, and stomachic ginger, washed down with claret, port, and sherry or Madeira, which were placed in three decanters before the master of the house. The decanters stood in little stands which the master pushed to his neighbour to the left, so as to pass them round the table. Once dessert was laid out, the servants left the room, although the butler remained on call in case more wine was needed. After dessert, the ladies retired to the withdrawing room for tea, while the men lit cigars and drank deep after dinner.

Cellarette used to serve drinks in the dining room at Emo Court

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A Sample Dinner Menu for the Party of 12 Guests at Emo Court in 1821

(based on the Abbeyleix menu book in the National Library of Ireland,

Ms. 39,250/1)



First Course

Beef head soup

Turkey with chestnut stuffing


Six entrées

Veal à la chicore glace

Ragoût de mutton

Sausages with marinated cabbage

Chicken à la tartare

Black pudding

Grilled turbot

Roast suckling pig


Second course

Four roast pigeons

Oysters in the oven

Creamed spinach


Coffee soufflé

Orange jelly



Hot-house fruit

Biscuit à la crème


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Dinner at Emo Court in Victorian Times

In the Victorian period, Emo Court was the scene of many dinner parties and balls, the most prestigious of which was undoubtedly the dinner served to the Prince of Wales in 1861. Although no menus have survived from Emo, contemporary recipe books give a taste of the types of food served at such events.


By about 1860, there had been a radical change in the way that dinner was served, with service à la Russe taking the place of service à la française. With this change, dishes were now served up in many successive courses. The quantity of food eaten at a Victorian dinner party was enormous - even a modest dinner for six diners typically contained at least 13 courses and dessert. As one butler observed, a dinner under five courses was hardly considered a dinner!


According to Mrs Beeton, a complete dinner consisted of the following courses:

1. Hors d’oeuvres

2. Soup

3. Fish

4. Entrée

5. Remove

6. Rôti

7. Entremets

8. Dessert

This list is deceptive, however, as two soups or fish dishes might be served, along with a choice of entrées, while the ‘entremets’ course typically contained three distinct courses.

 The Victorian dinner began with a selection of hors d’oeuvres to whet the appetite. Popular hors d’oeuvres included caviar, jellied oysters, olives, thinly-sliced salami, smoked eel and foie-gras pâté, all served in boat-shaped dishes and daintily dressed. Compound butters were also popular - anchovy butter, for example, was served with crisp pieces of toast or thin parmesan biscuits.

Fish dishes: turbot, whitebait and mackerel

(Mrs Beeton)


Next followed the soup course: usually a clear consommé although if there were more than twelve guests a second soup of a thicker consistency was also served. Victorian favourites included mulligatawny, potage à la Reine (a thick soup with chicken, bacon, vegetables and almonds), and chestnut soup, which was laborious to prepare, as the roast chestnuts had to be rubbed through a fine sieve. Soup was followed by one or more fish courses, often a boiled or fried fish followed by a cold fish plate.

 The entrée course referred to a course of ‘made’ dishes of any kind, usually some light dishes such as croquettes or quenelles, followed by more substantial entrées such as chicken à la marenga, beef galantine, mutton soufflé or blackbird pie. For the entrées, hot dishes were always served before cold dishes, and small birds served before larger ones, while both the taste and colour scheme of successive dishes were designed to complement one another beautifully.

A selection of cold entrées:

(Mrs Beeton)

The next course was the remove, a joint of meat which formed the most substantial part of the meal. The remove was perhaps a saddle of mutton or fillet of beef, or a side of ham chaudfroid. It was the pièce de résistance of the meal. The joint was, of course, served with the most appropriate vegetables, fresh from the garden, and liberal amounts of sauce or gravy.  


Turkey chaudfroid

Although at this point the diners had eaten a substantial quantity of food (or at least picked a little at each course), there were still many courses to go! The next was the rôti, a dish of roast poultry or game, such as stuffed quail, roasted plovers, or dressed woodcock.


Cold Sweet: Gateau St. Honoré

(Mrs Beeton)


The entremet comprised three distinct courses: dishes of dressed vegetables and salad, followed by sweet entremets and then savoury. Sweets might be hot and cold, with hot sweets served first, as the cold sweets of jelly, blancmange, whipped syllabub or sorbet were designed to clean the palate before the savoury dish. Jellies were set in elaborate, highly decorative moulds, and often contained layers of fresh fruit. Macédoine de fruit à la gelée, for example, contained mixed fruit such as grapes, strawberries, red currants, diced
pineapple and peaches, all set in a lemon or wine-flavoured jelly.

Macédoine de fruit à la gelée


The savoury was the last course before dessert, and as the diners were undoubtedly feeling quite full by this point, it was merely a mouthful or bonne bouche. As this small dish should have a piquant flavour, items such as cheese straws or anchovy aigrettes were deemed appropriate. When the savoury course was finished, the dessert course was laid – a plethora of fresh, dried and crystallised fruit, with an array of bon-bons and homemade biscuits.


This substantial meal was, of course, accompanied by fine wine and spirits. As it was customary by the Victorian period to serve a different wine with each course, one wonders how the guests could stand up by the end, in order to retire to drawing room for tea and coffee!

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Dinner Menu for Eight Persons (January 1890)

(From Mrs Beeton)

First Course

Mulligatawny Soup
Brill and Shrimp Sauce
Fried Whiting



Fricasseed Chicken
Pork Cutlets with Tomato Sauce

Haunch of Mutton
Turkey and Celery Sauce
Boiled Tongue, Garnished with Brussels Sprouts


Roast Pheasants



Meringues à la Crème
Compote of Apples
Orange Jelly
Soufflé of Rice


Desserts and Ices

A supper table laden with delights

(Mrs Beeton)




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Dinner Menu for Six Persons (January 1892)

(From Mrs Beeton)

First Course
Vermicelli Soup
Fried Slices of Codfish with Anchovy Sauce
John Dory

Stewed Rump-steak à la Jardinière
Oyster Patties

Leg of Mutton
Curried Rabbit and Boiled Rice


Roast Partridges


Apple Fritters
Tartlets of Greengage Jam
Orange Jelly

Desserts and Ices


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Special Dishes for Dinner Parties and Balls

Dinner parties were lavish events, and could include such rare delicacies as speckled blue plover’s eggs served in their original nests or showpiece dishes such as salamangundy, a magnificent salad with pickled herrings as a centrepiece, surrounded by dishes of cucumber, celery, apple, lettuce, anchovies, eggs, grapes and cooked fowl, all garnished with watercress and nasturtium flowers. Such dishes allowed the cook to display her expertise in combining different colours and tastes to the most decorative effect.


A selection of tempting hors d’oeuvres:

(Mrs Beeton)


At special dinners, turtle soup might grace the menu. This was usually made with sun-dried turtle meat, as fresh turtle was hard to come by. Other special dishes included Prince’s soup (a consommé with turnips, peas and finely shredded truffle), caviar pancakes, ‘angels on horseback’ (oysters rolled in thin strips of bacon, baked in the oven and served on pieces of fried bread), and roast quails stuffed with liver and served with slices of ham and truffle. The most extravagant showpiece dishes, however, were surely the ‘coffin’ pies in which live birds were encased, to the surprise and delight of the unsuspecting diners.


Large-scale dinner parties and fêtes were invariably catered for - a fête held at Emo Park in 1911, for example, which 400 people attended, was catered for by George Matthews of Portarlington. Similarly, the supper and wines for the 1858 subscription ball organised by the Countess of Portarlington, were brought in from Dublin.


At ball suppers, the food consisted mainly of cold dishes, including various types of mayonnaise, game, poultry, pies, galantines, salads, jellies and fresh fruit, all laid out beautifully on a buffet table, garlanded with flowers and foliage. At larger-scale events, the food was also of the highest quality. In 1848, for example, 200 gentlemen and farmers who dined at Emo enjoyed a profusion of pies, tarts, jellies, blancmanges and pineapples, as well as lobsters caught fresh that morning in Kingstown.

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Sample Menu for a Ball Supper held at Emo Court, December 1879

(Based on Mrs Beeton)


Hot dishes

Clear soup

Devilled lobster

Pigeons stewed in a casserole


Cold dishes

Salmon mayonnaise

Oyster patties

Fillet of sole in aspic

Lobster mayonnaise


Partridges masked with sauce

Galantine of turkey

Roast pheasants

Pressed beef

Chicken creams





Oranges in jelly

Stewed pears and cream

Meringues with vanilla cream

French pastry

Neapolitan ice


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