Mike, the D-Deck plan here onsite shows the actual seating plan for the 1st and 2nd Class dining rooms, so you can count the places. On a quick scan, I make it about 500 in First Class and 280 in 2nd, which would accommodate everybody in two sittings. I don't know the seating capacity for 3rd Class, but there must have been two sittings at the very least.
A small point but one which has troubled me for a while. The main dining saloon seated around 500 people. If memory serves, there were approximately 300 passengers in first-class on the maiden voyage - so, even if everybody sat down at once, there would still be 200 empty places. And this doesn't take into account those who took their meals in the a la carte restaurant - the actual total in the dining saloon would have been even less. 'Placement' was arranged by the purser's office and passengers sat at the same table every day. Did the stewards set ALL the tables in the dining saloon at meal times, knowing that half would never be used? I hope so - I can't think of anything more depressing than sitting in a restaurant where even the management seemed to expect a poor turn-out! Nevertheless, setting 250 places needlessly would have been a lot of hard work for little or no purpose. Can anybody shed any light on this perplexing matter?
>>Did the stewards set ALL the tables in the dining saloon at meal times, knowing that half would never be used? <<
Very likely they did, and for the same reasons that restaurants do the same thing today. You just don't know which tables somebody will want to use. Yes, it was hard work, but that was the way of things. Considering that the 1st Cabin was undersold, the stewards probably thought they were having a (reletively) easy time of it.
Thanks - but, as I said above, I was under the impression that the seating plan was arranged by the purser and passengers pretty much stuck to the places allocated to them throughout the voyage? If they sat at a different table for every meal, how could they build up those famous 'personal' relationships with the stewards who waited on them?
On an undersold ship, it may not have been that much of an issue. The arrangements may very well have been made as you indicated, but there would have been some room for flexibility as well. If, for example, somebody like Ben Guggenhiem, asked for a different table and it happened to be available, he would be a tough guy to turn down.
Since I'm more of a forensics guy then a passenger person, perhaps somebody who's looked into this would care to comment.
I don't think they had room service as we understand it, although I don't think that it would be a real problem to make arrangements with the Purser to make this happen. In fact, if a passenger was ill or injured, it would be necessery.
A 1st Class passenger could have any or all meals delivered to the stateroom if so desired. These would be brought up by the bedroom steward, who would expect (and generally get) double the usual tip at the end of the voyage for that level of service.
Room service could very easily been arranged and there were a number of passengers on the Titanic that would have required it. Mrs. Ryerson deep in mourning did not leave her stateroom, except for a brief stroll on Sunday afternoon. While I'm sure she would not have had much of an appetite given her circumstances, she would have eaten something at some point and the food would have been brought to her stateroom. Mrs. White on the other hand was injured and likely took many meals in her cabin etc.
As for the Dining Saloon, I believe some passengers (I might be thinking of Artagaveytia) commented that the saloon looked empty with so few people actually using the room. With seating for 554 diners and a number of passengers opting for the Restaurant, I'm sure the room would have been barely half full.
Passengers had assigned seating. While not generally indicated on plans, every table and every chair actually had a number. Of course there was nothing and no one stopping any of the passengers moving tables, but generally, passengers stuck to their assigned seat for all meals of the voyage.*
Given this, it would seem silly for stewards to reset 554 place-settings, knowing exactly which ones will not be used. Perhaps generic settings were left in place in order not to have bare tables, with only the known tables being set for each meal - as each meal would require a different setting accordingly.
* Some passengers who normally took their meals in the Dining Saloon did eat in the Restaurant on occasion.
But now, I have another! Tables in the dining saloon varied in size between two-seater and twelve-seater. On what basis did the purser's office arrange the placement? I'm imagining a scenario in which two individuals, each travelling alone, are allocated a table together, only to take a real aversion to one another. This might get to be rather awkward, meeting three times daily throughout the voyage! And the same could equally apply to two couples or, indeed, groups of any size. Could passengers express a preference for the size of table (and so, indirectly, the number of dining companions) they would like?
If a passenger took a dislike to his or her dining companion/s, I doubt any of the ship's staff would force them to sit at the table. In fact, the Purser would try to make sure that all passengers were comfortably accommodated and would certainly be moved (if possible) to another table. I believe that Helen Candee was not happy with her table companions (taking a dislike to Alfred Nourney, I think) and moved to another table.
I'm not 100% sure how tables were assigned, but passengers who knew each other could certainly ask to be seated together - so I'm sure the Purser was relieved of some of his work by passengers requesting and therefore allocating their own groups. To avoid awkwardness, I'm sure two strangers would not be placed at a table for two. Instead, strangers would likely be placed at larger tables where there is more scope for conversation and interaction with a number of people. Furthermore, the Purser would attempt to put people of a certain nationality at the same table, so they could at least all talk the same language. This seems to have worked (to an extent) when Artagaveytia, the Penascos and other Spanish-speaking passengers were placed at the same table; however it was odd that Bowerman and Chibnall were also placed at that table! Someone in the Enquiry Room goofed! Canadians are also known to have been placed at tables in groups. Some cross channel passengers seem to have sat together, although there were some people at their table who did continue to New York.
All this is of course based on a voyage like Titanic's. When 1st Class on Olympic was reasonably full, I'm sure it was a little more difficult to place everyone in groups they would like as fewer tables would be available to relocate passengers.
Out of 115 tables in the Dining Saloon, only 30 were either two or three-seater tables. I would say that these were more than likely kept/assigned to couples or associates traveling together or passengers wanting to dine alone. Mr and Mrs Straus were seated at a table for two and Mr Ismay had a two-seater table for himself.
Most people left the placings in the hands of the Chief Steward, and if they were 'regulars' they would expect him to know their preferences. But any who wished to do so could 'book' a table of specified size when they bought their tickets. A couple would generally book a larger table only if they knew that close friends would be traveling on the same voyage and likely to accept an invitation to join them. Anybody was free to play musical chairs during the voyage, but would not move to join an existing group except by invitation. I think it's certainly safe to say that the Chief Steward would never place strangers together at a table for two.
Ah! The Novotel in the 1970s... the Head Honcho summed you up with a beady eye as you entered the dining room, and seated you accordingly - with total strangers. He was brilliant at it, and huge fun was had by all.
This is jolly interesting...I've recently been re-reading 'Last Dinner on the Titanic', by far my favourite spin-off book on the subject of the disaster. It features that frustratingly blurry photograph Father Browne took in the dining saloon during lunch on 11 April. It certainly looks to ME as if all the tables are fully laid, even though most appear to be unoccupied. I keep wondering who it is we are looking at in this picture - it is too fuzzy to make out any one individual clearly, with the exception of a plump, balding, middle-aged man on the far left, who is sitting with his back to the camera. I do, however, fancy that I can see a lone woman at an alcove table, underneath a ceiling fan - it very much looks to me like she is wearing a hat...wasn't this a subject of debate ('did first-class ladies dine in their headgear?') on an ET thread some time ago?
If I'd have been Helen Churchill Candee, I'd have taken against Alfred Nourney too - an attractive Society woman, travelling alone, would have been easy prey for a social-climbing upstart like him! She must have been relieved when 'Our Coterie' came to her rescue.
I was aware that the Canadian contingent stuck together at meal-times...but you are right, Mrs Chibnall and her daughter would indeed make strange table companions for the Penascos and the other Spanish speakers...I doubt they all discussed votes for women...
The delicate art of placement must really have exercised Purser McElroy and his team. Wasn't there a nightmare case in the '20s (possibly on the 'Majestic'?) when one party in a celebrated divorce case found himself seated at the same table as his co-respondent?
Actually, Bob is right, I think I've credited McElroy with more work than he could handle! Indeed, it was the Chief Steward who was responsible for seating arrangements. I will respond to the other questions once I'm at home and have my sources at hand.