Dear Miss Manners: I enjoy a well-laid table and appreciate that table settings are meant to help a meal progress with little trouble to the guests. When I invite guests for lunch I'm happy to take into consideration their varied dietary needs and preferences.
The most elegant solution, menu-wise, has been to offer soup, salad and sandwiches so that the vegans, the gluten-averse and the omnivores can all eat their fill.
The problem? How to serve these foods so that all can enjoy the meal at the same time. Serving the food in courses would defeat the purpose of letting guests choose the foods that suit their needs.
So how does one arrange the tableware? One or two plates? And what about the bowl? I am left wondering if it might be easier to make a vegan, gluten-free meal for all, but that would be so limiting.
Gentle Reader: Isn't there a saying, "Those who know etiquette history are content to repeat it"?
No? Perhaps that is just as well.
Nevertheless, Miss Manners enjoys plucking solutions out of the past, and she has one for you. That is, if you don't mind skipping back, oh, about a century and a half ago.
That was when Russian service, the serving of meals in several sequential courses, began to catch on. Before that, a company table would be elaborately set with everything for the main part of the meal on symmetrically arranged platters from which the guests could help themselves.
These would include a soup tureen, usually two of them with a choice of clear or cream soup. You could make one a vegetable broth. The table would be set with soup spoons and bowls that would be removed with their underliners, so that the larger plate underneath would be used for whatever the guests choose among the salads and sandwiches.
Even at huge 19th-century banquets, when fat was called "statuesque" and where such tables were artfully arranged with an overwhelming variety of dishes, guests were not expected to eat from each. The style is therefore highly suitable to today's, ah, specialized eaters.
Another custom you might revive is that of placing menu cards on the table. Not intended to resemble restaurant menus, these are pretty cards that state what is being offered so that people can choose, pace themselves, and refrain from calling out, "What's that over there?" to guests across the table.
Beware captive audience
Dear Miss Manners: Is it polite to step into an elevator and continue a conversation with a friend, relative, etc., about politics or religion, with everyone else in earshot?
I feel that these subjects should be more private and should not be exposed to strangers who are not at all interested in your conversation. I believe that one's political views and religious views should be kept to oneself or discussed in private, not in public.
Gentle Reader: Rude? To the other passengers? Certainly if you were loud, or were voicing bigoted opinions or using offensive language.
But Miss Manners must warn you that the worst offense is to yourself. Others may be only too interested. And you may be sure of two things:
In every trapped audience, there is someone who thinks that your views, however sound or pious, are crazy.
That person knows someone whom you know.