Meat was the staple of eighteenth century meals– meat, meat and more meat. Although the poor might have only two types of meat at a meal, the wealthy would have many, many more.
It was customary to dress for dinner, including corset, bodice, stockings, petticoats, gown with ruffles and shoes.
At dinner, there would be three courses. The first course would be laid out on the table when the guests arrived. There was no assigned seating except for the host at the head and the hostess at the foot of the table. The guests were expected to eat from the dishes set closest to them. One could ask a servant to pass a dish at a distance, but not too often.
Besides all the food, the table contained an elaborate and ostentatious centrepiece. Tablecoths were screwed into linen presses to keep them unwrinkled when not in use and napkin-folding was an art.
Around the centrepiece, were arranged the five to twenty dishes of the first course, including meats of various kinds, fish of various kinds, and side dishes like small pies, oysters, eggs, etc. There were tureens with at least two soups which were served first and then removed. After that the guests took wine and toasted each other as a way of learning everyone’s names.
The next entertainment was the carving of the meat. A nobleman’s education was never complete until he had learned to carve a roast.
After all or most of the dishes of the first course were removed, the top tablecloth was removed revealing a clean cloth underneath. Then the dishes of the second course, as numerous as the first, were laid out. These dishes were also mainly meat, but with lighter accompaniments such as jellies, creams, salads and vegetables. Wine, beer, ale, soda or water was drunk.
The last course consisted of cheese, sweets, pastries and fruits served with wine. After dinner the ladies retired to the drawing room where the gentlemen joined them later for tea and coffee.