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Dinner is Served

Posted on 03/04/2019 by Leeann Donnelly

The Banquet Hall table in Biltmore House has been set for dinner. Won’t you join us?

For the first time in many years, the 40-foot-long table in the Banquet Hall is set with its full Gilded-Age finery, as it was when George and Edith Vanderbilt entertained their guests in Biltmore House. 

Set for our new exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, the table is adorned with the Vanderbilt family’s stunning Baccarat crystal, monogrammed Spode china, silver, candelabra, and linen damask napkins. Sumptuous and elaborate floral designs fill the table, assembled in multi-tiered silver pieces.Bread plate on Banquet Hall table.“Dinner at the turn of the last century was an important form of social interaction,” said Darren Poupore, Biltmore’s chief curator. “A dinner party was an opportunity to see and be seen and to practice the art of conversation. Dining etiquette had become formalized to the highest degree, with strict rules that dictated elegant manners and proper behavior.”

During A Vanderbilt House Party, the table is set for a seven-course meal for 18 guests based on an actual meal served in the great hall in 1904. A single place setting for one person contains 18 pieces, with a place card displaying the guest’s name written by hand. Add to that salt cellars, salt spoons, multiple serving trays, and bread baskets. Depending on the number of food courses, a guest would sit down at the dinner table and see as many as 40 pieces of porcelain, crystal, and silver that he/she would use throughout the various courses of the meal.

Each place setting on the Banquet Hall Table includes: 
• 1 dinner plate 
• 4 forks - 1 each for the entrée, roast, fish and game courses 
• 3 knives - 1 each for the entrée, roast and fish courses 
• 1 soup spoon 
• 6 glasses – a glass for sherry, claret, champagne, burgundy, a hock glass and a tumbler for water
• 1 napkin 
• 1 piece of bread inside the napkin 
• 1 place card 

Also on the table: 
• 8 salt cellars
• 8 salt spoons
• 4 salvers (serving tray)
• 5 tazzas (serving dish with pedestal)
• 9 baskets
• 4 candelabra
• 1 tablecloth
• 1 epergne (tiered serving piece)

Guests would linger for hours over dinner and engage in conversation. Each received an assigned seat, as arranged by Mrs. Vanderbilt earlier in the day. Our archives tell us she always placed Mr. Vanderbilt and herself at the center of the table opposite of each other. She would seat the male and female guests of honor to the right of the host and hostess. Making sure to follow proper etiquette of alternating ladies and gentlemen, she then seated the rest of the party. 

Now through May 27, 2019, you’ll have your chance to experience A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age. Receive the custom Exhibition Audio Guided Tour for FREE when you purchase estate admission tickets online. 

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