A four-course meal is a meal that contains four distinct courses. The nature and order of the courses varies by cuisine, locale and the diners' preferences. A common four-course format features an appetizer course, soup, an entrée and a dessert.
Four-course meals often include combined courses with elements that would be served individually if the meal had more courses. For example, the first course may include both hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, and dessert may include pudding and ice cream. Four-course meals usually omit the "amuse bouche," a small scoop of sorbet or other palate cleanser served between strongly flavored dishes.
When served in a home, four-course meals commonly conclude with coffee or a sweet liqueur served away from the table. In restaurants, however, these are served at the table and considered part of the dessert course.
According to the Carnegie Museums, formal four-course meals are served either "a la Russe" ("in the Russian style") or "a la Francaise" (in the French style). When a meal is served a la Russe, each course is brought to the table at the proper time. In meals served a la Francaise, all of the courses are produced simultaneously and stay on the table for the duration of the meal. Frozen desserts, however, stay chilled until the dessert course.