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Matthew Krimmel

What Is A Full Course Meal? 5 Facets of Full Course Meals

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A full course meal is a dinner consisting of multiple dishes or courses. The most common example includes three courses: an appetizer, a light dinner, and a selection from the dessert menu.

It's possible to add more courses to a full course meal and include additional items. These meals are often extravagant events and celebrate a person or a special occasion.

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The first version of a full course meal--one with three courses--originated in Spain in the 9th century. A Persian polymath named Ziryab insisted to the Emirati court that meals be served in segments.

He wanted soup, followed by a main dish, and finishing with a dessert. The idea caught on and gradually became more popular throughout Spain and other parts of Europe and the Middle East.

Full Course Meal Overview

A full course meal or multi-course dinner is a meal of multiple courses, which are items served together. Each has a particular size and meaning that justifies its sequence.

Most restaurants offer a three-course meal with an appetizer, an entrée, and dessert. It's possible to add more courses, such as a fourth course that includes soup or hors-d'oeuvres before the appetizer.

Determining whether you're having a full course meal can help you calculate the amount of time your dinner will take. It will also give you an idea of how much it will cost. You might also allow time for yourself to get hungry before the meal.

The following is the typical sequence for full course meals in the United States:

  1. The dinner starts with an appetizer or hors-d'oeuvre, a small serving that doesn't include red meat.
  2. A variety of dishes might follow, usually something light or a fish.
  3. Next is the main course, the largest and most important course of the meal.
  4. The meal continues with a selection of cheese accompanied by wine. However, in the United Kingdom, the cheese course will follow dessert as the final course of the dinner.
  5. Finally, diners choose a type of dessert to finish their meal. It can be either hot or cold and accompanied by an appropriate dessert wine.

Full Course Meal Table Setting

In this layout, diners can find the correct implement for the first course at the outer edge of the fancy arrangement.

A thirteen-course place setting includes numerous utensils, receptacles, and vessels. Near the plate on both sides, you'll find:

  • a caviar spoon
  • a cocktail fork
  • an escargot fork
  • a bouillon spoon
  • a fish fork and knife
  • a lobster pick
  • a bone marrow spoon
  • an entrée fork and knife
  • a relevé fork and knife
  • a saladé fork and knife

Above the plate, there's a bread knife and a plate with a personal butter dish. There's also a fishbone dish, sorbet spoon, cheese knife, nut pick, and a dessert fork and spoon.

On the right side of the plate, you'll find a salt cellar and spoon with pepper. Glassware includes a water goblet, champagne flute, white wine, red wine, dessert or sherry, and port glasses.

This layout is usual for dinners served à la carte, so the appropriate silverware is available for each course. For example, some diners may order thick, creamy soups while others order thin, clear soups. Each of these soups requires a specific spoon. It would be impractical to place a useless spoon on the table.

Full Course Meal Variations

You can adjust the number of courses in your meal to fit your occasion. Wedding receptions and wedding rehearsals usually include a three or four-course dinner. However, more formal dinners may include more courses that are very expensive.

A full course meal can consist of between 5 and 16 courses and has even included as many as 21. During these formal events, the plan and sequence complement each other gastronomically for the benefit and comfort of the diners.

There are courses spread out over a long evening for four or five hours. Many included in the most formal dinners offer different wine varietals, beer, or liquor. They adhere to the traditional planning of menus over the past few centuries.

Wine pairings are most common throughout formal dining experiences. Learn about the differences between the best wine to pair with salmon vs. the best wine to pair with turkey before developing a tasting menu. 

Here are different types of full course meals with the appropriate dishes listed:

A single-course meal includes only a main dish or entrée.

A two-course meal serves either a soup/salad followed by an entrée or a main course and finishes with a dessert item.

Three-course meals have an appetizer, an entrée, and dessert.

A four-course dinner includes a soup, salad, entrée, and dessert.

Five-course meals serve an appetizer, soup, entrée, dessert, and cheese.

A six-course meal offers hors-d'oeuvres, soup, fish, and an entrée, followed by salad, coffee, and dessert.

Eleven-Course Meal Example

The largest of the usual full course meals is the eleven-course meal, which only appears at formal and expensive dining affairs. Did you know that guests on the ill-fated Titanic enjoyed an eleven-course meal?

Here is an example of a classic French eleven-course meal including typical dishes for each course in parentheses:

First course- appetizer (green salad, smoked salmon)

Second course- soup (cream of tomato, minestrone)

Third course- fish (salmon, trout)

Fourth-course- entrée (steak tartare, chicken breast)

Fifth course- meat joint (roast leg of lamb-to work with a lamb wine pairing)

Sixth-course- sorbet (lemon sorbet, raspberry sorbet)

Seventh-course- roast (roast chicken, roast duck)

Eighth-course- vegetables (spinach, broccoli, asparagus)

Ninth-course- sweets (apple slices)

Tenth-course- savory (crab cakes, spring rolls)

Eleventh-course- nuts (walnuts, almonds)

Frequently Asked Questions about a Full-Course Meal

Want to learn more about full-course meals? Here are some common questions that get asked about a full-course meal and their answers.

What Is a Full-Course Meal?

A full-course meal is a multi-course dining experience consisting of several sequential courses, typically starting with appetizers or starters, followed by one or more main courses, and concluding with desserts.

Is a Full-Course Meal the Same as a 5-Course Meal?

No. A full-course meal typically refers to a meal with multiple sequential courses, while a 5-course meal specifically refers to a meal with five distinct courses.

What Is the Purpose of Serving Multiple Courses in a Meal?

Serving multiple courses allows for a structured and well-paced dining experience, with each course providing a different flavor profile, texture, and presentation. It also allows diners to enjoy a variety of dishes and flavors throughout the meal.

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Explore Full Course Dining

If you're interested in sampling a full course meal, do some research and learn which restaurants and venues in your area serve them. You'll have plenty of options to try a three or five-course meal in most restaurants that offer courses. The next wedding you attend may serve a multiple course meal during the reception.

Perhaps you're exploring the possibility of opening a full course restaurant or changing your restaurant's theme. You'll want to focus on fine dining since these are the best types of restaurant operations to offer a full course meal. Research the best restaurant keywords and build your online visibility to promote your concept. Learn as much as possible about fine dining restaurants and the requirements before venturing into the world of full course meal dining.

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