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What defines a four-course meal?

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According to Lady Personified, a four-course meal contains four courses consisting of one or more dishes served consecutively to all diners simultaneously. The chef selects the menu, which can vary. For example, a popular four-course meal plan includes appetizers, a soup course, a main dish of meat or fish and a dessert course served with coffee.

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Cooks who present informal four-course meals have complete autonomy regarding course selection and the order of presentation. In formal settings, the courses become progressively richer and heavier throughout the meal. The only exception is that the salad course must appear directly after the main dish. It serves as a palate cleanser and prepares diners for a cheese plate, fruit platter or other dessert selection.

In Europe, Russia and North America, formal multi-course meals are served either Russian style or French style. Writing for On The Gas, columnist Jason Adamson explains that Russian-style meals progress through consecutive courses that are brought out of the kitchen, presented sequentially and removed before the next course. In the French style, all of the dishes appear at once and stay on the table. This allows for an elaborate display of fine serving ware and elaborate preparations that please the eye and palate.

Four-course restaurant meals conclude with coffee or liqueur served at the table. Etiquette Scholar reveals that when entertaining at home, hosts frequently serve the final course in the living room or drawing room rather than the dining room.

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