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Fancy Feasting and Dinner Manners

Historic Dinner in Flynn MansionIt’s November! That’s the month of great food and family dinners! Sometimes those dinners are fun and easy. Sometimes those dinners are fun and FANCY! There might be fancy plates and extra forks and knives. Or a fancy flower vase in the center of the table. For these special times, families might eat in their fancier dining room, instead of at the kitchen counter or table. Do you know how to act at a fancy table? Those fancy meals can mean kids need to know good dinner etiquette! What is Etiquette? Think of it as practicing good manners.

Flynn Dining Room

Queen Victoria

The Flynn Mansion at Living History Farms has a very fancy dining room. The house was built 144 years ago during the Victorian period. What does it mean to be Victorian? Victorian means things and people who were around during the time that Queen Victoria was the queen in England, from 1837-1901. Victoria was very fancy and proper. She wanted people around her to use very good manners. Victoria was a popular queen. People liked to do the same things she did; even here in America! That fancy dining room in the Flynn Mansion was a good place for these Victorians to use their manners.

The owners of the Flynn Mansion, Mr. and Mrs. Flynn, had ten children—five boys and five girls. What would it be like to live in the Flynn Mansion with nine other brothers and sisters? All of those children had to learn good etiquette or dining room manners for special dinners. Today, we are going to learn how you would behave at that fancy dining room table if you lived 140 years ago. That would be about the year 1875! Would you know how to eat a fancy meal? Most kids had to be at least 13 years old to eat in the dining room when company came to dinner. Younger kids ate most of their dinners in the kitchen with their brothers and sisters. For a simple dinner in the kitchen, your table would look like this: 

kitchen table

For the Flynn kids at this table, dinner might be soup and then meat, vegetables, bread, and maybe a dessert like pie or cake. The kitchen table was a good place to learn manners and practice what to do. And, there were a lot of manners to practice.

A meal in the Flynn dining room on a special occasion would be even more complicated. Younger children had to be invited to have dinner there and needed to have practiced that dining “etiquette”. Let’s pretend we are going in to dinner in that fancy dining room. Dinner at Flynn Mansion

Go in quietly. Find your place at the table. There might be a little card with your name on it next to the plate. Pull the chair out and sit down. An adult might have help you scoot the chair up to the table. Be careful to sit up straight and keep your feet still.

Napkins on the Flynn table
Now you can pull out your napkin. In 1875, it would be made of cloth and it would have been pretty big! It might even be folded in a pretty shape. Place your napkin across your lap.

So now we can bring out all the food, right? Well, no. It would come out a little bit at a time. The Victorians liked to eat very fancy meals in courses.  This means the food wouldn’t come out all at once, but one dish at a time. Maybe even between 5 to 12 separate times! Soup would be separate from salads and separate from meat and vegetables!

place setting

In front of you, there would be many pieces of silverware. Each piece of silverware was meant for a very specific food course. It was good etiquette to know which food was eaten with which piece of silverware. You would have to learn to eat fish with a fish fork and soup with a soup spoon! Luckily for you, for the most part you could start on the outside and work your way in. Like any proper Victorian child you should continue to sit up straight, with your feet on the ground through the entire dinner. You also would not speak unless someone spoke to you. You would definitely not leave the table unless you were excused. And under no circumstances would you chew with your mouth open.dinner at Flynn Mansion

The positive side of all this fuss is that you would be served a lot of delicious food. How does this meal sound to you? Every fancy dinner started with an appetizer like oysters or fried cheese puffs. Oysters might be served in their shells on a special oyster shaped dish.

oyster serverThen you could have a soup like turtle soup or mushroom or carrot soup. Next, you might have a bit of baked fish and potatoes.


food at Flynn Mansion

Then you could have ham and green beans or roast beef with carrots or macaroni dressed in cheese. Another course might be duck meat and peas.


Then maybe a cabbage salad, cheese and pickles. Some very fancy dinners ended in three or four courses of desserts, like frozen fruit ice, cakes, ice creams, fruit and chocolates.

Chocolate Charlottefrozen fruit ice

That’s a lot of food to eat! It could take two hours to eat all those courses! That’s another reason kids often ate in the kitchen instead. Two hours of sitting very still with their best manners was a very long time. But for ice cream and cake, it might be worth it!

Do you like to have fancy meals? What is your favorite food at a fancy meal? Do you like steak and baked potatoes? Or turkey and dressing? What is your favorite fancy dessert? Do you like birthday cake best? Or how about a fancy chocolate pudding or pumpkin pie?

Parents and Caregivers: During the winter season, Living History Farms offers meals by reservation at our 1900 Farm house, the Tangen Victorian Home, and at the Flynn Mansion. Many people ask us if children are welcome at our Historic Dinner programs. Children are welcome to attend, but there are several things to consider to ensure your children will have a fun experience:

1900 Farm Historic Dinner

  • Sitting Down Time. The 1900 Farm dinner and Tangen Home dinner are both child friendly, if children can sit at the dinner table for 45 minutes at a stretch. Guests do have a chance to get up and move around the houses during these two programs. Guests spend about 20 minutes in the parlor at the beginning of the evening, then are seated for 45 minutes to an hour at the dinner table eating the main meal. Guests then spend 30 minutes exploring the house/taking a barn tour at the 1900 Farm or playing parlor games/taking a house tour at the Tangen House. At the end of the program, guests are seated at the table for about 30 minutes to eat dessert and talk about recipes. Both of these dinner programs last about two and a half to three hours overall.
  • Food choices and reservation costs. The 1900 Farm and Tangen Victorian Home historic dinner programs are served family style. Meat, vegetables and breads are presented in serving bowls and platters; this allows kids to choose which items they would like on their plate. However, the menu is set ahead of time and it is not a la carte. Reservation prices for the meals are set and do not include a children’s rate or menu. Historic Dinner
  • We do find that kids like the turkey and stuffing menu at the 1900 Farm and macaroni and cheese side dish at the Tangen House. Menu details can be found on the Living History Farms website.
  • Time of Day and Activity. The evening seatings at Tangen Victorian Dinner and the 1900 Farm dinner begin at 6:15 pm and last until around 9 pm. On Saturdays, the 1900 Farm also seats guests at 1:15 pm in the afternoon. Sometimes this afternoon seating is easier for children. If a family is booking the entire program seating (10 people or more), the Tangen dinner can sometimes be offered at 1:15 in the afternoon by advance reservation. The 1900 Farm dinner program offers a chance for children to meet the farm animals, especially during the afternoon seating. The Tangen program offers a chance to play parlor games and explore the toys in the house sitting room.
  • Less Formal programs for Flynn. The Flynn Mansion offers a tea program on weekends in the month of April. This program serves tea sandwiches, tea, and pastries. Program time is around 2 hours. This is a good fit for children’s attention time and taste palate. The Flynn Mansion dinner program in March is much more formal. Guests are seated at the dining table for over two hours at a stretch and are served oysters, duck and other unusual foods. For a fancy Victorian kids’ experience, we highly recommend the Flynn tea program for children under age 12, rather than a full Flynn dinner.

We have had many positive experiences hosting families with children at our 1900 Farm and Tangen Victorian dinners and the Flynn tea programs. If you have more questions about menu or program content, please call 515-278-5286 ext. 130 to speak with our reservation coordinator. You can also visit our website to find out more about our Historic Dinners >

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