The lavishness of the dining table for the upper class reached its peak during the Edwardian era and the most extravagant meal was dinner. Everything about the meal was set in luxury and elegance including the table setting, dress, menu, etiquette, ambiance and table service. For example, the last dinner on the Titanic in the first class dining saloon consisted of at least eleven courses followed by after dinner cigars, coffee and cordials1. Tables were beautifully covered with pressed damask tablecloths ornamented with a vast array of precisely set table wares and floral arrangements. Upwards of fifty pieces of flatware alone could be used per person. Everyone dressed for dinner and it was an elaborate ceremony itself requiring valets and lady’s maids. The etiquette of the day required men to escort women to their places at the table, assist ladies with their chairs, stand each time they stood, and engage in conversation to the person to the right and left. Theses polite practices represented merely the overture in the symphony of etiquette which governed fine dining.
All of this extravagance sank below the great depths that horrid night. What did prevail was the priority to save as many people as possible, and many heroically sacrificed their own lives in order to do so in hundreds of ways. We must remember at our tables that people are always most important, and every aspect of dining serves to cultivate these relationships. Dining etiquette is not about what fork to use, but about honoring those around your table. The most important part of a table setting is the person who sits before it. Focus on engaging rather than just eating. People, not possessions take priority. Relationships and not rules take precedence.
© 2012 Lisa Steigerwalt
1Rick Archbold & Dana McCauley, Last Dinner On the Titanic, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Canada 1997, p. 67