Around the middle of the nineteenth century, it became fashionable for upper class people in England to dine in the Russian or “a la Russe” style. In this form of service, a waiter allowed each guest to serve himself from a platter held at the side of the seated guest. In a similar variation on the style, a waiter would place a dinner plate already holding portions of food in front of the diner.
The earlier style, “a la Francaise,” required serving trays and platters laden with food remain on the dining room table for the duration of the course or the entire dinner. The French method was a holdover of medieval styles of banqueting where guests served themselves or asked for food to be passed from tabletop platters.
The change in dining styles was and still is significant in many ways. It created the need for additional furniture in the dining room to hold serving pieces, so the design, manufacture and ownership of sideboards increased. Suddenly, there was space on the table, which seemed inappropriately empty in Victorian culture. To members of the growing retail floral trade, there was now another reason for flowers in the home, the dining room table centerpiece.