The Evolution of Dining: A Look Back at Pre-Course Meal Services

Before the advent of the modern restaurant, dining was a vastly different experience. The concept of serving meals in courses, which is now a standard in fine dining establishments, was not always the norm. In fact, the evolution of dining has seen a significant shift from pre-course meal services to the structured, course-based meals we are familiar with today. This article will delve into the history of dining, exploring the meal service before the introduction of courses and the factors that led to this change.

The Pre-Course Era

In the pre-course era, meals were typically served all at once, a style known as “service à la française”. This style of dining was popular in Europe, particularly in France, during the 17th and 18th centuries. Diners would be presented with a variety of dishes simultaneously, allowing them to pick and choose what they wanted to eat. This style of dining was often a grand affair, with tables laden with an array of dishes to cater to different tastes.

The Shift to Course-Based Meals

The shift from service à la française to course-based meals, known as “service à la russe”, began in the 19th century. This change was largely influenced by the Russian diplomat, Prince Kurakin, who introduced the concept to France. Unlike the previous style, service à la russe involved serving meals in a specific order, starting with appetizers, followed by main dishes, and ending with desserts. This allowed chefs to showcase their culinary skills and creativity, as each dish could be presented and appreciated individually.

Factors Influencing the Change

  • The desire for a more structured and formal dining experience: As society became more sophisticated, the need for a more organized and formal dining experience became apparent. This led to the adoption of course-based meals, which provided a sense of order and elegance.

  • The influence of Russian aristocracy: The Russian aristocracy, known for their lavish and structured banquets, played a significant role in popularizing course-based meals. Their influence extended to Western Europe, particularly France, which was a trendsetter in culinary matters.

  • Changes in kitchen technology and design: The evolution of kitchen technology and design also contributed to the shift. With advancements in cooking equipment and techniques, chefs were able to prepare and serve dishes at different times, facilitating the transition to course-based meals.


The evolution of dining from pre-course meal services to course-based meals is a fascinating journey that reflects societal changes and culinary advancements. Today, the concept of courses is deeply ingrained in our dining culture, shaping the way we enjoy and appreciate food. As we continue to explore new culinary frontiers, who knows what the future of dining holds?