ALTHOUGH the engraved card is occasionally used for an elaborate luncheon, especially for one given in honor of a noted person, formal invitations to lunch in very fashionable houses are nearly always written in the first person, and rarely sent out more than a week in advance. For instance:
Dear Mrs. Kindhart (or Martha):
Will you lunch with me on Monday the tenth at half after one oclock?
Hoping so much to see you,
If the above lunch were given in honor of somebodyMrs. Eminent, for instancethe phrase to meet Mrs. Eminent would have been added immediately after the word oclock. At a very large luncheon for which the engraved card might be used, To meet Mrs. Eminent would be written across the top of the card of invitation.
A personal note always exacts a replywhich may however be telephoned, unless the invitation was worded in the formal third person. A written answer is more polite, if the hostess is somewhat of a stranger to you.
Luncheon, being a daylight function, is never so formidable as a dinner, even though it may be every bit as formal and differ from the latter in minor details only. Luncheons are generally given by, and for, ladies, but it is not unusual, especially in summer places or in town on Saturday or Sunday, to include an equal number of gentlemen.
But no matter how large or formal a luncheon may be, there is rarely a chauffeur on the sidewalk, or a carpet or an awning. The hostess, instead of receiving at the door, sits usually in the center of the room in some place that has an unobstructed approach from the door. Each guest coming into the room is preceded by the butler to within a short speaking distance of the hostess, where he announces the new arrivals name, and then stands aside. Where there is a waitress instead of a butler, guests greet the hostess unannounced. The hostess rises, or if standing takes a step forward, shakes hands, says Im so glad to see you, or I am delighted to see you, or How do you do! She then waits for a second or two to see if the guest who has just come in speaks to anyone; if not, she makes the necessary introduction.
If there is a guest of honor, the hostess leads the way to the dining-room, walking beside her. Otherwise, the guests go in twos or threes, or even singly, just as they happen to come, except that the very young make way for their elders, and gentlemen stroll in with those they happen to be talking to, or, if alone, fill in the rear. The gentlemen never offer their arms to ladies in going in to a luncheonunless there should be an elderly guest of honor, who might be taken in by the host, as at a dinner. But the others follow informally.
Candles have no place on a lunch or breakfast table; and are used only where a dining-room is unfortunately without daylight. Also a plain damask tablecloth (which must always be put on top of a thick table felt) is correct for dinner but not for luncheon. The traditional lunch table is barewhich does not mean actually bare at all, but that it has a centerpiece, either round or rectangular or square, with place mats to match, made in literally unrestricted varieties of linen, needlework and lace. The centerpiece is anywhere from 30 inches to a yard and a half square, on a square or round table, and from half a yard to a yard wide by length in proportion to the length of a rectangular table. The place mats are round or square or rectangular to match, and are put at the places.
Or if the table is a refectory one, instead of centerpiece and doilies, the table is set with a runner not reaching to the edge at the side, but falling over both ends. Or there may be a tablecloth made to fit the top of the table to within an inch or two of its edge. Occasionally there is a real cloth that hangs over like a dinner cloth, but it always has lace or open-work and is made of fine linen so that the table shows through.
The decorations of the table are practically the same as for dinner: flowers, or a silver ornament or epergne in the center, and flower dishes or compotiers or patens filled with ornamental fruit or candy at the corners. If the table is very large and rather bare without candles, four vases or silver bowls of flowers, or ornamental figures are added.
If the center ornament is of porcelain, four porcelain figures to match have at least a logical reason for their presence, or a bisque garden set of vases and balustrades, with small flowers and vines put in the vases to look as though they were growing, follows out the decoration. Most people, however, like a sparsely ornamented table.
The places are set as for dinner, with a place plate, three forks, two knives and a small spoon. The lunch napkin, which should match the table linen, is much smaller than the dinner napkin, and is not folded quite the same: it is folded like a handkerchief, in only four folds (four thicknesses). The square is laid on the place plate diagonally, with the monogrammed (or embroidered) corner pointing down toward the edge of the table. The upper corner is then turned sharply under in a flat crease for about a quarter of its diagonal length; then the two sides are rolled loosely under, making a sort of pillow effect laid sideways; with a straight top edge and a pointed lower edge, and the monogram displayed in the center.
The butter plate has been entirely dispossessed by the bread and butter plate, which is part of the luncheon service alwaysas well as of breakfast and supper. It is a very small plate about five and a half to six and a half inches in diameter, and is put at the left side of each place just beyond the forks. Butter is sometimes put on the plate by the servant (as in a restaurant) but usually it is passed. Hot breads are an important feature of every luncheon; hot crescents, soda biscuits, bread biscuits, dinner rolls, or corn bread, the latter baked in small pans like pie plates four inches in diameter. Very thin bread that is roasted in the oven until it is curled and light brown (exactly like a large Saratoga chip), is often made for those who dont eat butter, and is also suitable for dinner. This double-baked bread, toast, and one or two of the above varieties, are all put in an old-fashioned silver cake-basket, or actual basket of wicker, and passed as often as necessary. Butter is also passed (or helped) throughout the meal until the table is cleared for dessert. Bread and butter plates are always removed with the salt and pepper pots.
The service is identical with that of dinner. Carving is done in the kitchen and no food set on the table except ornamental dishes of fruit, candy and nuts. The plate service is also the same as at dinner. The places are never left plateless, excepting after salad, when the table is cleared and crumbed for dessert. The dessert plates and finger bowls are arranged as for dinner. Flowers are usually put in the finger bowls, a little spray of any sweet-scented flower, but corsage bouquets laid at the places with flower pins complete are in very bad taste.
Five courses at most (not counting the passing of a dish of candy or after-dinner coffee as a course), or more usually four actual courses, are thought sufficient in the smartest houses. Not even at the Worldlys or the Gildings will you ever see a longer menu than:
The most popular fruit course is a macédoine or mixture of fresh orange, grape fruit, malaga grapes, banana, and perhaps a peach or a little pineapple; in fact, any sort of fruit cut into very small pieces, with sugar and maraschino, or rum, for flavoror nothing but sugarserved in special bowl-shaped glasses that fit into long-stemmed and much larger ones, with a space for crushed ice between; or it can just as well be put in champagne or any bowl-shaped glasses, after being kept as cold as possible in the ice-box until sent to the table.
If the first course is grape fruit, it is cut across in half, the sections cut free and all dividing skin and seeds taken out with a sharp vegetable knife, and sugar put in it and left standing for an hour or so. A slice of melon is served plain.
Soup at luncheon, or at a wedding breakfast or a ball supper, is never served in soup plates, but in two-handled cups, and is eaten with a teaspoon or a bouillon spoon. It is limited to a few varieties: either chicken, or clam broth, with a spoonful of whipped cream on top; or bouillon, or green turtle, or strained chicken, or tomato broth; or in summer, cold bouillon or broth.
Lunch party egg dishes must number a hundred varieties. (See any cook book!) Eggs that are substantial and rich, such as eggs Benedict, or stuffed with pâté de foie gras and a mushroom sauce, should then be balanced by a simple meat, such as broiled chicken and salad, combining meat and salad courses in one. On the other hand, should you have a light egg course, like eggs surprise, you could have meat and vegetables, and plain salad; or an elaborate salad and no dessert. Or with fruit and soup, omit eggs, especially if there is to be an aspic with salad.
The menu of an informal luncheon, if it does not leave out a course, at least chooses simpler dishes. A bouillon or broth, shirred eggs or an omelette; or scrambled eggs on toast which has first been spread with a pâté or meat purée; then chicken or a chop with vegetables, a salad of plain lettuce with crackers and cheese, and a pudding or pie or any other family dessert. Or broiled chicken, chicken croquettes, or an aspic, is served with the salad in very hot weather. While cold food is both appropriate and palatable, no meal should ever be chosen without at least one course of hot food. Many people dislike cold food, and it disagrees with others, but if you offer your guests soup, or even tea or chocolate, it would then do to have the rest of the meal cold.
It is an American customespecially in communities where the five oclock tea habit is neither so strong nor so universal as in New York, for the lady of a house to have the tea set put before her at the table, not only when alone, but when having friends lunching informally with her, and to pour tea, coffee, or chocolate. And there is certainly not the slightest reason why, if she is used to these beverages and would feel their omission, she should not pour out what she chooses. In fact, although tea is never served hot at formal New York luncheons, iced tea is customary in all country houses in summer; and chocolate, not poured by the hostess, but brought in from the pantry and put down at the right of each plate, is by no means unusual at informal lunch parties.
Iced tea at lunch in summer is poured at the table by a servant from a glass pitcher, and is prepared like a cup with lemon and sugar, and sometimes with cut up fresh fruit and a little squeezed fruit juice. Plain cold tea may be passed in glasses, and lemon and sugar separately. At an informal luncheon, cold coffee, instead of tea, is passed around in a glass pitcher, on a tray that also holds a bowl of powdered sugar and a pitcher of cold milk, and another of as thick as possible cream. The guests pour their coffee to suit themselves into tall glasses half full of broken ice, and furnished with very long-handled spoons.
If dessert is a hot pudding or pastry, the hotel service of dessert plates should be used. The glass plate is particularly suitable for ice cream or any cold dessert, but is apt to crack if intensely hot food is put on it.
Gentlemen leave their coats, hats, sticks, in the hall; ladies leave heavy outer wraps in the hall, or dressing-room, but always go into the drawing-room with their hats and gloves on. They wear their fur neck pieces and carry their muffs in their hands, if they choose, or they leave them in the hall or dressing-room. But fashionable ladies never take off their hats. Even the hostess herself almost invariably wears a hat at a formal luncheon in her own house, though there is no reason why she should not be hatless if she prefers, or if she thinks she is prettier without! Guests, however, do not take off their hats at a lunch party even in the country. They take off their gloves at the table, or sooner if they choose, and either remove or turn up, their veils. The hostess does not wear gloves, ever. It is also very unsuitable for a hostess to wear a face veil in her own house, unless there is something the matter with her face, that must not be subjected to view! A hostess in a veil does not give her guests the impression of veiled beauty, but the contrary. Guests, on the other hand, may with perfect fitness keep their veils on throughout the meal, merely fastening the lower edge up over their noses. They must not allow a veil to hang loose, and carry food under and behind it, nor must they eat with gloves on. A veil kept persistently over the face, and gloves kept persistently over the hands, means one thing: Ugliness behind. So unless you have todont!
The wearing of elaborate dresses at luncheons has gone entirely out of fashion; and yet one does once in a while see an occasional ladyrarely a New Yorkerwho outshines a bird of paradise and a jewelers window; but New York women of distinction wear rather simple clothessimple meaning untrimmed, not inexpensive. Very conspicuous clothes are chosen either by the new rich, to assure themselves of their own elegancewhich is utterly lackingor by the muttons dressed lamb-fashion, to assure themselves of their own youthwhich alas, is gone!
Gentlemen at luncheon in town on a Sunday wear cutaway coats; in other words, what they wear to church. On a Saturday, they wear their business suits, sack coat with either stiff or pleated-bosom shirts, and a starched collar. In the country, they wear country clothes.
A butler wears his morning clothes; cutaway coat, gray striped trousers, high black waistcoat, black tie. A hired waiter wears a dress suit, but never a butler in a smart house; he does not put on his evening clothes until after six oclock. In a smart house, the footmen wear their dress liveries, and a waitress and other maids wear their best uniforms.
The usual lunch hour is half past one. By a quarter to three the last guest is invariably gone, unless, of course, it is a bridge luncheon, or for some other reason they are staying longer. From half an hour to three-quarters at the table, and from twenty minutes to half an hours conversation afterwards, means that by half past two (if lunch was prompt) guests begin leaving. Once in a while, especially at a mixed lunch where perhaps talented people are persuaded to become entertainers the audience stays on for hours! But such parties are so out of the usual that they have nothing to do with the ordinary procedure, which is to leave about twenty minutes after the end of the meal.
The details for leaving are also the same as for dinners. One lady rises and says good-by, the hostess rises and shakes hands and rings a bell (if necessary) for the servant to be in the hall to open the door. When one guest gets up to go, the others invariably follow. They say Good-by and Thank you so much.
Or, at a little luncheon, intimate friends often stay on indefinitely; but when lunching with an acquaintance one should never stay a moment longer than the other guests. The guest who sits on and on, unless earnestly pressed to do so, is wanting in tact and social sense. If a hostess invites a stranger who might by any chance prove a barnacle, she can provide for the contingency by instructing her butler or waitress to tell her when her car is at the door. She then says: I had to have the car announced, because I have an appointment at the doctors. Do wait while I put on my thingsI shall be only a moment! And I can take you wherever you want to go! This expedient should not be used when a hostess has leisure to sit at home, but on the other hand, a guest should never create an awkward situation for her hostess by staying too long.
Or two or three intimate friends who perhaps (especially in the country) come to spend the day, are not bound by rules of etiquette but by the rules of their own and their hostess personal preference. They take off their hats or not as they choose, and they bring their sewing or knitting and sit all day, or they go out and play games, and in other ways behave as house-guests rather than visitors at luncheon. The only rule about such an informal gathering as this is, that no one should ever go and spend the day and make herself at home unless she is in the house of a really very intimate friend or relative, or unless she has been especially and specifically invited to do that very thing.
This is nothing more nor less than a buffet lunch. It is popular because it is a very informal and jolly sort of partyan indoor picnic reallyand never attempted except among people who know each other well.
The food is all put on the dining table and every one helps himself. There is always bouillon or oyster stew or clam chowder. The most informal dishes are suitable for this sort of a meal, as for a picnic. There are two hot dishes and a salad, and a dessert which may be, but seldom is, ice cream.
Stand-up luncheons are very practical for hostesses who have medium sized houses, or when an elastic number of guests are expected at the time of a ball game, or other event that congregates a great many people.
Regular weekly stand-up luncheons are given by hospitable people who have big places in the country and encourage their friends to drive over on some especial day when they are at homeSaturdays or Sundays generallyand intimate friends drop in uninvited, but always prepared for. On such occasions, luncheon is made a little more comfortable by providing innumerable individual tables to which people can carry the plates, glasses or cups and sit down in comfort.
The atmosphere of a luncheon is often formal, but informal luncheons and suppers differ in nothing except day and evening lights, and clothes. Strangers are occasionally invited to informal luncheons, but only intimate friends are bidden to supper.
The table is set, as to places and napery, exactly like the lunch table, with the addition of candlesticks or candelabra as at dinner. Where supper differs from the usual lunch table is that in front of the hostess is a big silver tea-tray with full silver service for tea or cocoa or chocolate or breakfast coffee, most often chocolate or cocoa and either tea or coffee. At the hosts end of the table there is perhaps a chafing dishthat is, if the host fancies himself a cook!
A number of people whose establishments are not very large, have very informal Sunday night suppers on their servants Sundays out, and forage for themselves. The table is left set, a cold dish of something and salad are left in the icebox; the ingredients for one or two chafing dish specialties are also left ready. At supper time a member of the family, and possibly an intimate friend or two, carry the dishes to the table and make hot toast on a toaster.
This kind of supper is, in fact as well as spirit, an indoor picnic; thought to be the greatest fun by the Kindharts, but little appreciated by the Gildings, which brings it down, with so many other social customs, to a mere matter of personal taste.