What did it take to provide first class food and service aboard a ship like the Titanic?
The first thing to remember is that the Titanic- at least in first class- was staffed and run like the Ritz. That mentality suffused every aspect of the food and beverage operation on board. Only the very best was even considered, and even then not always accepted.
Among the other goodies embarked for the maiden crossing were some 1,500 cases of wine, 20,000 bottles of stout and other beers, and some 850 bottles of spirits. In addition, some seventeen cases of cognac found their way into the ship’s cavernous cellars. Much of the wine was loaded aboard months before her propellers ever turned, in order to allow it to settle properly.
As well as this tidal wave of booze, an additional, reserve cellar held another seventy cases of wine, and another one hundred and ninety one cases of hard liquor. No less than 1500 wine and champagne glasses went into the mix.
As regards food, a great deal was taken on board the ship in Belfast, before the liner even reached Southampton. The Irish city was- and still is- famous for the quality of the seafood, especially for the Mourne Bay Oysters. That said, the bulk of the foodstuffs were taken aboard during the week that the Titanic spent tied up in Southampton, prior to her first sailing on April 10th.
The Titanic would also have taken on extensive provisions during her four day scheduled stay in New York. The big liner was due to sail from Manhattan on her first eastbound crossing to Europe on April 20th, and she was booked solid.
We looked at the first class dinner menu in the last blog, but the Titanic also required a vast amount of crockery and cutlery in first class. And again, it had to be absolutely top quality. In all, the Titanic had something like 57,600 items of crockery on board, 44,000 pieces of cutlery, and some 29,000 items of individual glassware. The crockery was specially commissioned for the White Star Line, and delivered by companies such as the Stoke based Stoniers & Co.
The first class main dining room aboard Titanic stretched for the full width of the ship, and had a curved, moulded Jacobean style ceiling. It could seat some 518 first class passengers at one sitting, and had floor to ceiling windows running down both sides of the full length. It also featured the first ever carpet to go into the dining room of an ocean liner, and individual chairs at table, each one upholstered in green leather. In its day, this was easily one of the most sumptuous and palatial rooms anywhere on either land or sea.
The cuisine was under the direction of French born, 49 year old Pierre Rousseau, who had previously honed his craft on the Olympic, the earlier twin sister ship of the Titanic. The story goes that Chef Rousseau declined to jump into a lifeboat on the night of the disaster, on the grounds that he was too fat, and might have injured somebody else in the boat. Either way, monsieur le chef went to the bottom with the ship, as did most of his catering department.
I think statistics as a rule tend to pale in the reading, but in this case they provide a perfect entree to the mentality that conceived, created and, indeed, permeated the Titanic during her abortive maiden voyage.
I mentioned at the start that the Titanic was staffed and run like the Ritz. And therein lay the entire problem. Because the Titanic, for all her fabulous adornments and opulent luxury, was still a ship. And if she had been run more like a ship, and less like a five star hotel, then perhaps the tragedy of April 14th-15th, 1912, might have been averted.
Everything imaginable was done for the comfort, luxury and leisure of her passengers, and almost nothing at all for their safety. That is their real epitaph.