The Romans dined in the early afternoon… Charlemagne was the inventor of Brunch…
About Dinner, the main-meal for many which differs from location to location, century to century. The waiter never had and never will be able to control the right time for dinner.
“What is dinner?”
In waiting on tables I pointed out that the standards vary between restaurants and that all waiters have their various own set of rules, by which they live. These criterions are what superiors and guests alike call “He knows what he is doing!” It is a comfortable feeling when the restaurant owners, coworkers and guests trust a waiter’s judgment.
Now about Dinner, the main-meal for many which differs from location to location, century to century. The waiter never had and never will be able to control the right time for dinner. Here in Monterey people eat around seven o’clock at night and most restaurant kitchens close by ten. It’s slightly different in Spain or in Germany or in Australia, South America or South Africa. But they all have in common that they serve dinner in the evening or night.
Dining in the past as far as I know used to be a late afternoon and early evening affair in Egypt and it was the same for the Greeks. There they served three or more courses after each other, a soup, vegetable as a second course, meat as main course, followed by fruit as dessert.
The Romans however dined in the early afternoon starting before three o’clock. Their banquet menus had been much more luxurious and extravagant than the ones in Greece. Six or more courses of food were not uncommon. In ancient Rome the dinner was served by standing up waiting servants to the guest who were seated in a relaxed, reclined position on settees much like chaise longues or ottomans and cushions. Banquet chairs and tables, like we have today, were not used then.
The Roman’s are credited with artfully combining wining and dining with floor shows. They became known for their lavish style, their extravagant taste to ingest only the best of the best and their taste for entertainment. Boredom might have led to the creation of always more exciting forms of amusement. It is said the Romans were stuffing their mouths with delectables from all over the Empire, while viewing fascinating shows at the same time. Rich Romans had an unlimited supply of servants and enslaved foreigners to choose from. As we know they used many of these slaves for their personal enjoyment. It might not have been everybody’s taste to watch deadly games as entertainment with dinner, but it is said some Roman celebrations were of such a nature. There is also no dispute that orgies and diner were going hand in hand at some of those Roman banquets.
Greeks and Romans alike had their cooks and slaves wait on them. In all the books I have read about the life in ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome there was no mention of professional waiters or waitresses. However all the rich had servants who waited on their masters. In the years to follow the rich in the Roman Empire lived lavishly, the common people provided.
The biggest change to the dining habits in Europe might have been under Charles the Great (742-814). He moved the dinner hour to midday. The King of the Frank’s had reached fame as a ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. He was indeed a brutal emperor. Karl der Grosse was spreading God’s word and bringing Christianity to the countries he conquered. If people did not do as he said, like the stubborn Saxons, he had no qualms to kill thousands of nonbelievers in the name of the church on any single day.
Charlemagne also was the inventor of Brunch. His main meal was served at noon and all of Europe soon followed his example. It is said he liked to eat. “In fact, he was a gluttonous and superstitious illiterate, or semiliterate, who had a considerable capacity for brutality” (Charlemagne’s evaluation in the Academic American Encyclopedia copyright 1995 Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.)
We don’t know why he insisted on noon for his Dinner-time. Maybe Charlemagne couldn’t wait till the afternoon for his main meal? Maybe he didn’t like public executions on an empty stomach? Who knows!
After Charles the Great died, the main meal in all of Europe’s royal palaces changed. It is reported that dinner was served as early as nine o’clock in the morning at some places.
And under Charles V 1337-1380 it was comparable to an English breakfast.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, dinner, within the jurisdiction of the church, was served after morning mass. Such put the main meal back to midday.
In the eighteenth century, in France, dinner moved to two in the afternoon as the main meal of the day. Thereafter the dinner hours changed several times toward the evening. Still any place in Europe, may it have been in Rome, Madrid, (Lisbon, London, Copenhagen, Petersburg, Vienna, Bucharest, Budapest,) Berlin or Hamburg dinner was served before sunset.
Nowadays dinner served after dark is a by-product of the modern times, where everything has to go fast. The sun-lit hours are for production and all the daylight requiring outdoor or indoor activities. Only after dark people relax. It is during the evening hours that people find time for the finer things in life. That’s when men and women take the needed and much deserved time-out from the hectic of a workday.
It is my experience, that often the identical meal, served at lunch and at dinner, gets treated much different by the same person at each particular daytime. Food gets gobbled up, without time to waste, at lunch, but the same nourishment is savored bite by bite at candlelight during dinner time. There is no reason why dinner has to be served at night. It is up to each of us to choose our own time for our main meal. Kings who once dictated what their people could, should and must do, often in accordance with what the church suggested, are no longer in power. Government does not yet control our eating habits. Also the prices at lunch are in many places lower than at night-time.
So why don’t we move the main meal to a more suitable time? If these aren’t enough reasons, there is one more; We all know it’s not a good idea to fill one’s empty belly before bedtime. Therefore who knows, soon we all might enjoy dinner anytime when we feel that “it’s dinner time.”