Service à la Française could easily be said to be a sort of buffet; most guests were standing and each composed their own plate according to their own tastes. Naturally, it would not be a truly French type of eating if there was no structure at all.
The dishes were brought in, in three services. First, the fish and the soups were served. Secondly, roasts and accompanying side-dishes. Finally, fruits and desserts would round up the dinner.
It was an excellent way of displaying the monarch's wealth. Louis XIV, for example, could boast of serving ices in the heat of summer; quite a feat in days without refrigeration. Likewise, exotic fruits showcased the king's far-reaching power. Pineapples were grown in the royal green-houses along with other delicacies not naturally found in France.
At Versailles the department responsible for the king's meals (called the Maison de Bouche) were in charge of supplying the delicious dishes. However, the nature of how the food was laid out meant that servants were not needed to supply each guest with new food. Instead, the king's servants primary functions were to bring out the food and remove the dirty dishes. Glasses - once used - were placed on a table and would be taken to be cleaned. It should also be noted that the servants who were there were all male - females were not permitted to serve the royal table.
|A perfect example of the symmetry of|
the French service
As the Ancien Regime rolled on the service à la Française developed too. Once the fork had become a standard in royal dinners - which took quite a while since Louis XIV considered it too Italian - it was customary to place them neatly by the side of the plate. Also, forks normally had three teeth not four.
The setting itself was a perfect mirror of the love of symmetry that was so dominant in the baroque era. Thus, the dishes were set out in complete symmetry. Taste was, of course, an important aspect but the look of the dishes were almost equally important. Each dish was often elaborately displayed and flower displays often finished off the setting.
The service itself was outstanding. Silver and gold plates were wrought in more and more elaborate patterns. The heavy silverware of Louis XIV was mixed with more delicate porcelain during Louis XV's reign. Porcelain had the added advantage of keeping the dishes heated a little while longer. This was typically how dinner was laid out on the occasion of the appartements.