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Banqueting Chairs – Fit for a Banquet?

The term “banquet” conjures up something very special, with pristine white table linen, gleaming cutlery and glasses, and sumptuous food served by impeccably dressed waiting staff. A banquet promises so much more than just a “dinner”; to describe the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, for instance, as “the Lord Mayor’s Dinner” just doesn’t do the occasion justice. A banquet implies a certain amount of pomp and ceremony, although that may not always have been the case if our history books are correct.

One of the earliest recorded banquets was hosted in Rome by Nero in AD64 and recorded by the historian Tacitus. By his account, it was very much in keeping with Nero’s somewhat questionable character, as he writes that “the entertainment took place on a raft constructed on Marcus Agrippa’s lake. It was towed by other vessels, with gold and ivory fittings. Their rowers were degenerates, assorted according to age and vice.” From his account it appears that there was as much emphasis on the “entertainment” as on the food, although it was common for Roman banquets of that time to be excessive in the amount of dishes offered and in their preparation (a hare with wings attached to its back, for instance, to simulate Pegasus). It was probably rather more of an orgy than a traditional feast!

The Elizabethans were also renowned for their banquets, with the landed gentry vying for the accolade of serving the most unusual visual preparations, which included using peacock feathers for decoration. It is also likely that the nursery rhyme, “Sing a song of sixpence” which refers to “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” was actually an elaborate joke, with a pastry case covering the poor blackbirds who then flew out when the case was cut.

Whilst the Romans enjoyed their feasts and banquets reclining on cushions either on the floor or on low benches, most Elizabethans had to sit through hours of feasting on hard benches, with the exceptions being the monarch and the wealthiest of the aristocracy, who had specially padded chairs which were often carried around for their use when they visited other manors or stately homes.

In the interests of comfort, participants in modern day banquets, at least in the Western world, can usually expect to see banquet chairs that are rather more suitable for sitting in for two to four hours duration than the Elizabethan benches or the Roman cushions. “Banquet chair” generally means that there is some padding, often both in the seat and in the back, and the frame is usually quite ornate. There are many different types of banquet chair, depending on whether they are in a venue used solely for that purpose, in which case they can be quite substantial and possibly have arms, or whether they are in a multi-purpose venue such as a community centre, where they have to be stored away when the hall is being used for other purposes. In this situation is quite probable that the chairs would stack, for easier storage.

If you are looking to set up a venue to be used either for regular banquets, or for other purposes as well, it is worth having a look around and seeking the advice of a specialist supplier of contract furniture, as they can give an indication of the different styles, colour, materials and prices available to suit your individual needs.

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