The Dining Room contains a table set for a formal dinner during the era of Franz Joseph. There were different types of dinner: state banquets, family dinners, military dinners or Marshals’ dinners, differing according to size and the services and decoration used. Three times a week there were official dinners to which around thirty individuals were invited. These always took place in the Alexander Apartments, apart from when the number of guests was higher than thirty. In that case, the dinner was held in the Privy Councillors’ Room in the Leopoldinischer Trakt.
The recipients of invitations to a dinner at court were mostly men from the nobility, armed forces and the financial world, and had a political rather than purely social purpose. The invitation lists and the suggested menus were presented to the emperor, who made alterations in red pencil. Official dinners started at six o’clock in the evening. Once all the guests had arrived the emperor appeared and the company proceeded to the dining table. Franz Joseph took his place at the centre; if there was no guest of honour present, the head of the court household sat opposite him. Formal meals at court always began with bouillon followed by oysters, salad, fish and meat. The meal concluded with dessert and cheese. As a rule seven to thirteen courses were served at court dinners, and at official meals French cuisine was preferred. Service was prompt and discreet, as there was one lackey for every two people and all the guests were served at once.
Dinners usually lasted 40 to 45 minutes and one only conversed with one’s immediate neighbours. To ensure that the food did not get cold on the long way from the court kitchens in the Schweizertrakt to the dining room in the Amalienburg, it was transported in heated Place settings with napkins folded in the shape of lilies wheeled carts.
Once a week on Sunday the imperial family foregathered at a family dinner, which every Habsburg currently in Vienna was obliged to attend. The only excuses accepted by Franz Joseph for non-attendance were illness or official duties. These had to be made in writing and be submitted to the head of the court household in good time. When the family were amongst themselves these dinners could be very lively occasions.
Nevertheless, at official dinners the family maintained a discreet reserve and left it to the highest-ranking member present to speak, never recounting anything of private import or, above all, venturing a personal opinion. Complaints that imperial family life was dull only ever came from outsiders who were permitted to attend official dinners. At family dinners Viennese cuisine was preferred and the menus featured the favourite dishes of family members.