In North America (i.e. U.S. and Canada), a typical supper progression is as follows:

  • Appetizer (optional)
  • Salad or Soup
  • Main course (which is called "entree" -- in Europe, "entree" means starter)
  • Dessert (pies, ice cream, etc.)

My question: How did we end up this progression? Did we inherit this from the British? The French? Or the early settlers?

The reason I ask is because Italian meal progressions aren't like this at all. There go for the primi, secondi, but typically no dessert (well, if they do choose to have dessert, it's usually something light like fruit; never pies or cakes). Pastries/biscotti are eaten at tea-time.

The Italian progression makes a lot of sense to me. Tea time (around 4-5 pm) is just ideal for a little something before dinner. As for dessert, it doesn't make sense to eat something as heavy as cake or pies after a full meal. For me, eating sweets when one is stuffed takes away from the enjoyment of the sweets. In my own culture, we don't have tea-time, and we don't eat dessert. The main course is the prima donna at supper time, and we don't feel a need to supplement it with anything else.


1 Answer 1


The basic principle of serving a dish at a time is called Russian Service by the French, who started using it in the early 1800s. The particular order of the dishes has changed with the times and with theories of how meals should be served. The book Arranging the Meal by Flandrin describes the history of these changing fashions.

There has been a debate since classic Greek times of when to have, or even whether to have, a salad course. The Greeks suggested eating after the meal to help with the ensuing drinking. The British were having it before the meal in the 1600s. By the 1800s French meals served à la russe placed the salad close to the end of the meal, a tradition kept up to today. I remember reading that the starter salad, common in the US, is a simplified antipasto, but have not been able to find the reference, so for now it is just a guess.

  • Notice I have only answered half the question (why separate courses). Why and when the starter salad became common I do not know. The habit is from the XX century.
    – papin
    Aug 29, 2010 at 16:59
  • Does this apply to Italians as well? I know my Wife's family is Italian descent and they insist on bringing things out in different courses. Would this be considered a la russe? Aug 29, 2010 at 22:47
  • A la russe, what we are used to in restaurants, was in contrast to the French style of bringing many dishes at once. The style then got adopted as being "the way to do it." The order and what is brought has changed with time and place. Many families in the US still have the salad after the main course.
    – papin
    Aug 30, 2010 at 2:11
  • Right but is it still derived from A la russe if Italian-American families bring out a salad dish, then bread dish, and other dishes before getting to the main course of macaroni? Aug 31, 2010 at 0:57
  • I have never heard of anybody eating salad after a main course in the U.S. Neither home cooking nor in a restaurant. /resident @papin
    – Preston
    Apr 11, 2013 at 21:39

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