So, I present to you today, from the Hand-Book of Practical Cookery (1868), "the following table [which] shows how many dishes of each kind are to be served at dinner to a certain number of persons:"
|"||1||1||1||2||2||2||4||4||4||6||8||8||Relevés of fish.|
|"||1||1||1||2||2||2||4||4||4||6||8||8||" of meat.|
|"||1||1||1||2||2||2||4||4||4||6||8||8||Salads of Greens.|
|"||2||2||2||4||4||6||8||Large side pieces of Relevés & Entrés.|
|"||4||4||4||8||8||8||16||16||16||24||32||36||Plates of Dessert.|
Following the table, it is written, "The above table shows the number of dishes, but more than one dish of the same kind can be served; for instance, four kinds of potages, relevés, etc. are served for forty; but two or four dishes of each kind can be served. The size of the relevés and rôts should be according to the number of guests."
Now, what does this mean, exactly? Well, if you recall in The Supersizers go Victorian, each course at their meals contained more than one dish—this is a rough method of determining how many dishes to serve during each course, as each recipe would presumably become too difficult to create after a certain number of portions were accounted for.
In more modern approaches to food service, we tend to serve simpler courses and meals. Each course tends to comprise but one dish—maybe two at the most. We in the American/French tradition serve plates with a single protein, a sauce, a vegetable, and a starch—or some variation thereupon—because that's how cooking has evolved in the last hundred or so years. Think about your dinners at home—you eat, say, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots; and your dinners at restaurants—say, roast chicken with mashed potatoes, carrots, and asparagus.
It's interesting to see how our tastes have changed—and how they haven't. After all, for Thanksgiving this year, my family had Turkey and Beef... maybe we're not so different, after all.