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Service of Formal and Informal Luncheon
The difference between luncheon and dinner is the time of day each is served and the number of courses presented. The traditional hour to serve lunch is 12:30 or 1:00 in the afternoon. Guests arrive a half-hour before lunch and remain for 30 minutes to 1 hour afterward depending on the guests' schedules and amount of leisure time.
Generally, four courses are presented at a formal luncheon, and one, two, or three courses are served at an informal luncheon. If gentlemen are present, the menu is more substantial because they generally have a greater appetite. Because a heavy meal at noon tends to make people sleepy, luncheon is lighter than dinner. Moreover, most people have less time midday to devote to lunch, and the period allotted luncheon is shorter than dinner.
In keeping with the menu, pre-prandial beverages are generally light, for example, white wine, champagne, bloody Marys, and nonalcoholic drinks such as cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, and mineral water. Hors d’oeuvres and canapés are not served, although optionally a few nibbles, such as mixed nuts or small assorted crackers, are placed about.
Candles are not needed for visibility in daylight hours and are not lighted at luncheon. The exception is an overcast day when a gray sky throws a dark glow in doors and lamps are turned on. To fill the void left by the absence of candles, flank the centerpiece with figurines, fruit, or small bouquets.
For a formal luncheon,the table is laid exactly as for a formal dinner, only less tableware is needed. Although a tablecloth is appropriate at luncheon and unifies the accoutrements of a multi-course meal, at a formal luncheon placemats in shades of white or pastel are also appropriate. A service plate is laid at each cover. Luncheon size flatware and plates are used by those who own them, but they are not essential. Generally, the table is laid with place-size flatware and regular dinner plates. Bread is served, and bread-and-butter plates are provided. Multiple centerpieces grace the table, as do compotes of candy. Place cards are inscribed with guests' formal names. Finger bowls and menu cards are optional. Second portions are not offered because the multi-course menu precludes the need. Although one wine is sufficient, at the hostess's option two wines are poured. The table is crumbed prior to dessert. Following the meal, demitasse and liqueurs are offered in the drawing room.
An informal luncheon is served by the hostess. The linens range from a white tablecloth to colorful placemats. The table may also be left bare, and as ornamentation and to provide interest the napkins are folded decoratively, Service plates are not used, except as decoration or as placemats. For eight guests or more, place cards identify seating arrangements, inscribed with the guests' first names or nicknames. Bread-and-butter plates are provided. The exception is when pre-buttered rolls are passed and placed on the rim of the luncheon plate. Because the menu is simple, second portions are offered. The table is not crumbed. Following dessert, hot tea or coffee are served at the table in regular-size cups.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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