Just like armies, Edwardian ocean liners traveled on their stomachs. Dining was an important part of the luxury travel experience that the White Star Line offered to customers, and the Titanic was perhaps the apex of that marketing ploy.
While the Titanic was docked at Southampton Harbor prior to its trip across the Atlantic, it spent a week taking on provisions in astonishing quantities. The ship's larder included 75,000 pounds of fresh meat, 11,000 pounds of fresh fish, 25,000 pounds of poultry and game, 40,000 eggs, 10,000 pounds of sugar, 40 tons of potatoes, 1,750 quarts of ice cream, more than a ton of coffee, and 1,500 gallons of milk among other items. For those who liked to imbibe, the ship was stocked with 1,500 bottles of wine, 20,000 bottles of beer, ale and stout, and 850 bottles of liquor. The ship carried 12,000 dinner plates, 8,000 forks, 3,000 teacups, and 8,000 cut-glass tumblers.
To prepare all that food and drink, the Titanic had a sizeable food service staff, including 60 chefs and assistants, who started laboring in the early hours of the morning, while most of the passengers still slept, and worked late into the night. At 7 a.m., early-birds were served tea or coffee and fruit, and perhaps fresh-baked scones with jam or marmalade, in their staterooms. An hour later, if they were still hungry, they could head to the dining room for a full breakfast.
Before meals, the ship's bugler, Peter W. Fletcher, would pass from deck to deck, playing the song "The Roast Beef of Old England," which was the traditional notice on White Star ships that food was to be served. The passengers would then go to the dining room designated for their class. It's a safe bet that many of them did so with relish. The Titanic's First Class dinner menu for April 14, the last day of the ship's existence, included a hors d'oeuvre course of oysters, consommé Olga, cream of barley salmon, mousseline sauce, and cucumber. Next came a course of filet mignon, lamb, roast duckling or another meat, with vegetables. Then came roast squab, cold asparagus vinaigrette, and pâté de foie gras. Finally, for dessert, there was Waldorf pudding, peaches in jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs, or French vanilla ice cream.
Rick Archbold's and Dana McCauley's book Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner, quotes First Class Passenger Mrs. Walter Douglas: "It was the last word in luxury... the food was superb."
But even humbler passengers ate well. The Third Class Galley offered "good food and plenty of it," according to Titanic historian Daniel Allen Butler. "Especially from the more impoverished Irish counties, the steerage passengers ate better aboard than they had at home."
Want to recreate the Titanic dining experience at home? Get the recipe for one of the delicacies on the menu the night the Titanic sank. »