A seven course dinner is a formal dinner with seven food courses, usually broken up by palate cleansers. It may take four to six hours to completely finish such a dinner, and even longer for those with more courses, such as a 21 course dinner. During the course of the dinner, diners are offered small plates of a wide variety of dishes which complement each other gastronomically. It is typical for those attending to be served by household or restaurant staff.
Typically, when a fancy dinner such as a seven course dinner is served in a private home, it begins with an aperitif, a cocktail hour in a lounge where guests sip light drinks and consume small appetizers. When everyone is seated, the dinner begins with an appetizer course. There may be several appetizer courses, including hot and cold appetizers, usually followed by a neutral palate cleanser to prepare the tongue for the next course.
At some dinners, the salad course is served after the meal, because this is believed to aid the digestion. In other situations, the salad course will be at the beginning, with the appetizers and the soup. Typically, guests at a seven course dinner will be offered a choice of thick or clear soup with the soup course, before a break is taken to consume sorbet or a similar palate cleanser.
There are sometimes several main courses in a formal dinner. Fish is usually served on its own, before the meat courses, and guests may be offered poultry, beef, or lamb as a main meat course. Some dinners also serve one or more separate vegetable courses, which can act as palate cleansers themselves, to relieve the weightiness of the flesh courses. In general, the food gets heavier as the dinner progresses.
No formal dinner would be complete without dessert, which is usually preceded by a palate cleanser such as lemon ice. Dessert choices at a seven course dinner might include a cheese plate, a fruit plate, crème brulee, or a cake course. Desserts are often quite elaborately arranged, and can be decorated with edible flowers, chocolate sculptures, and other edible ornamental accents to draw the eye of the guests. After dessert, strong liquors such as brandy and fortified dessert wines will be offered, to signal to guests that the meal is over.
Typically, the servings of food at a seven course dinner are very small. The idea is to get the guests to taste a wide assortment of dishes, not to stuff or overwhelm them with food. The small portions are arranged on small plates, and silverware is usually brought out with each course so that the table will not be cluttered when guests first sit down to dinner. Wine is also offered, and it is usually carefully chosen to complement the foods being served.