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Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.
I usually do 30 minutes from starter to main course and an hour between main course and dessert.
This always seems to depend on the temperaments of the guests, but I like to plan for about 20-30 minutes between courses. I always wait dessert until everyone has finished the final course and had a chance to sit back, enjoying wine and conversation. If the conversation lags, use dessert to start it up again! This could put dessert anywhere from 30min - 1 1/2 hours from the final course. I also try to be aware if any guests have a time limit to their evening--baby sitter, crack of dawn shift at work, etc. If I know someone needs to leave by a certain time, I'll make sure the courses move about every 30 minutes, including dessert.
It depends on whether the meal is lunch or dinner and how much wine I am serving. Usually I allow 45 minutes for hors'd oeurvres and cocktails, then 20 minutes for the first course, 40 minutes for the main course and then I wait about 15 minutes to serve dessert . If the meal is lunch, I usually keep everything moving as ALL the diners finish a course and then I serve the next course. I wouldn't remove dishes until everyone has finished their course, so this can influence the timing. This rule applies to both lunch and dinner (unless I am serving a lunch or dinner for 30 or more; then I grab the plates as soon as I can...graciously.
I'm with Dymnyno; If the dinner invitation says, for instance, to come at 7 p.m., I'd plan on serving the first course at 7:45, allowing 45 minutes for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and late scragglers. Depending on what the first course is (allowing more time for artichokes than a soup, perhaps); main course by 8:10, dessert and coffee a little after 9 p.m.
again, as others have said about considering the guests and occasion, i would say that in general, i wouldn't leave more than 15 minutes between courses, though the gap between the main course and dessert (or cheese) always seems like it can go a little longer.
and to me, "between courses" means the time that there are no plates in front of all guests.
For Holiday stuff. It's all served at once, 'family style". Except desert. So the concept of 'holiday' and formal courses doesn't come into play. So, there's no plating design, just a 'feast' and everyone picks and chooses from the dishes at will. Pass the potatoes please.
Thanksgiving at my house growing up was always served in the following manner and I've adopted it myself. Appetizers are always served throughout the day (starting at about 10). Dessert (pie!) is served around noonish because really, do you want to be too stuffed from previous largesse to enjoy dessert? The main course is always mid afternoon and served family style, with all dishes being laid out and people serving themselves. If people are hungry late in the day leftovers are laid out with slices of homemade bread and thick tomato slices and condiments and people can make cold sandwiches. Of course, if it's Christmas, Irma Rombauer's Egg Nog for a Crowd (extra strong alcoholic version) is served in the morning during present opening time because it helps the adults deal with the insanity of Christmas morning with loads of children who have been awake since 5 am. :) Either way, it's a graze all day event!
I agree with those who noted that time of the meal and everyones schedules would factor into how long I'd plan for the meal and each course to take. But, I'd take this even further and suggest that, for me, it' all pretty relative. I take note of how things are playing out. Aside from hour doeuvres, which I might cap at 30 minutes, I gauge each course by how long it takes everyone to finish eating as well as how the conversation is going.
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