The restaurant and formal dinners in France are no longer using service à la française as the method of service. The style of service has been changed to service à la russe in the middle of the 19th century. Differences between Service à la française and service à la russe
Service à la française was designed to dazzle the eyes as much as feed the stomach. However, since there were too many dishes served on the table, no one is expected to taste them all. Many of the dishes were small and never intended to serve everyone at table. The cornucopia of the delicacies is mainly to show off the prosperity of the host. Even till now, a fine meal had been judged by copious offering, if not copious quantities. However, service à la russe emphasized pleasing the palate more than the eye.
Service à la française was used in the medieval by the royalty and the nobility. During that period, only spoon was supplied to the diner. All the guests, at least each male guest, would bring his own knife. Female guests would be served by men sitting nearby. Fingers were used in dining and they shared the same glasses. The various courses were brought in large bowls or platters. Each diner had a hollowed-out piece of hard, “brown bread” as his or her individual plate. Everybody was not served the same food. What each diner was served, as well as where each guest sat, was a function of his or her relative station in life. The choicer morsels, the rarer ingredients, and the better quality serving bowls went to those diners higher up the pecking order.
As culinary habit and etiquette in France changed from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, multiple pieces of silverware replaced fingers and multiple pieces of fine porcelain replaced hard bread. The dishes are all offered to the guests by waiters, not passed by the guests. Service à la russe treats all diners equally. Instead of offering each guest a different assortment of dishes, everyone now is offered the same dishes throughout the meal. With service à la russe, roasts are carved in the kitchen or on a sideboard, making it easier for the guests to select the portion they desire.
Service à la française encouraged a sense of communion among the diners. Although the servers are present all time during the meal, for removal and replacement of each dishes, they rarely performed all the serving functions. The host was the one doing the carving and serving. While in service à la russe, the server would serve everything then stay back while the guests were dining. However, private and more intense conversations are possible on service à la russe.
In service à la française, dishes are presented to guests all at once and symmetry was the key to laying the platters and tureens for à la française. The only permitted exception was for the ‘flying’ dishes. The variety of dishes in the service increases with the number of guests. While in service à la russe, meal was divided into a larger number of single-dish courses.
In service à la française, no guest entered the dining room until the first course of dishes had been laid. Thus, the food normally arrived lukewarm or rather cold. While in service à la russe, food was only served while the guests were properly seated, and the food arrived at the table still warm. Consequences of the introduction of service à la russe
The shift in the method of service from service à la française to à la russe has changed everyone’s experience towards meals. Service à la russe has given a new responsibility on the kitchen for the elegant way of presenting the food. In service à la française, carving and portioning the food were done by the host but after the introduction of service à la russe, the chef has to get almost all these things ready in the kitchen before serving the food on the table.
Menu planning is introduced in service à la russe. As per Urbain Dubois, guests no longer see the dishes on the table. Here, in effect, social conventions require that the guests be given information about the composition of the dinner, so that they can settle their choice and gauge their appetite. The dishes served are normally portion and served in small amount, those some of the guests might not no what they are having without looking at the menu. A very short menu but well-balanced and perfectly executed, is always better than a long menu, to ensure there is sufficient time for the guests to taste the dishes.
Today, they have mixed these 2 types of service to a larger extent, their motifs blending into each other, to create a better and more convenient way in serving meal. However, which type of service to go for is very much depending on the diner’s own perception. For me, I personality prefer on a service more towards à la française, because it seems to be a more convivial and intimate way of dining. While service à la russe is more appropriate on the formal way of dining.