This Titanic menu offers a fascinating look at the opulent dining experience enjoyed by first-class passengers on the doomed ship — though such fare was not available to everyone onboard.
On April 11, 1912, first class passengers on the RMS Titanic sat down to enjoy a meal of oysters, duck, beef, and French ice cream. Just three days later, the ship struck an iceberg and sank into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. Now, a rare Titanic menu from that night has sold at auction for $102,000 (£83,000).
“Original Titanic menus, they’re just not discovered,” Andrew Aldridge, managing director of Henry Aldridge & Son Ltd, which sold the menu, told The New York Times. “We know where most of them are. So to have a completely fresh discovery of this nature and this caliber is very, very exciting.”
Indeed, the menu offers a fascinating look at what life was like on the Titanic — at least for the people who could afford a first class experience. But what was dining on the doomed ship like for everyone else?
What Was The Food On The Titanic Like?
The dining experience aboard the RMS Titanic depended entirely on someone’s ticket. Passengers could buy first class tickets for $150 ($4,000 today), second-class tickets for $60 (about $1,600 today), or third class tickets for between $15 and $40 (or about $415 and $1,100 today).
As Ultimate Titanic reports, first class passengers had a couple of options of where to eat. For the most formal experience, they could chose to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the first-class dining room on D deck. The dining room was one of the ship’s grandest rooms and contained a fireplace as well as enormous windows looking out over the sea.
First class passengers could also choose to dine in the À la Carte Restaurant on A Deck. This was smaller but more expensive, and was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“[The À la Carte Restaurant] was the last word in luxury,” a first class passenger who survived the sinking later said, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “The tables were grey with pink roses and white daisies… the stringed orchestra playing music from Puccini and Tchaikovsky. The food was superb: caviar, lobster, quail from Egypt, plovers’ eggs, and hothouse grapes and fresh peaches.”
Dining on the Titanic was slightly different for second- and third-class passengers, however. Both had their own dining rooms which were less opulent than the first class dining room. That was especially true for the third-class dining room on G Deck, which was more functional than fancy.
Within these dining rooms, different Titanic menus offered different things. So what exactly did food on the Titanic look like?
The Titanic’s Menus: What Did The Doomed Ship’s Passengers Eat?
Feeding the 2,200 passengers and crew on the Titanic was a, well, titanic undertaking. As Irish Central reports, the ship employed 69 kitchen staff who served 6,000 meals a day. But what people ate depended on their class.
For first-class diners, a Titanic menu might include oysters, lamb, foie gras, and French ice cream (as it did on the night of April 14, the night the ship struck an iceberg). The menu sold at auction from April 11 shows that they also enjoyed deserts like “Victorian pudding,” which The Guardian describes as a “boiled dessert” made of “flour, eggs, jam, brandy, apples, cherries, peel, sugar, and spices.”
On that same harrowing night of April 14, passengers in second- and third- class had slightly different menus on the Titanic. In second class, passengers dined on baked haddock, chicken and rice, and American ice cream. Passengers in third class, on the other hand, ate roast beef, boiled potatoes, and Swedish bread.
For the approximately 1,500 people who died on the Titanic over the next several hours, these meals were their last. That makes Titanic menus like the one that just sold for $100,000 rare and haunting documents. So how did the menu from April 11 come into the hands of Henry Aldridge & Son Ltd?
The Sale Of The April 11 Titanic Menu
As The New York Times explains, the Titanic menu from April 11, 1912 was discovered in an album owned by Len Stephenson, a community historian in Dominion, Nova Scotia. Titanic rescue efforts were based out of nearby Halifax, which is probably how Stephenson came to acquire it.
“I’ve spoken to several museums globally, and I’ve spoken to a number of our Titanic collectors,” Aldridge, the auction house director, said of the April 11 Titanic menu. “I can’t find another one anywhere.”
The menu, which has water damage and was presumably plucked from the Atlantic Ocean, lists the opulent foods available to first-class passengers under the proud red insignia of White Star Line. Experts suspect that it was grabbed by someone as a keepsake as they fled the sinking ship.
And it’s not the only keepsake that the auction house sold. In addition, Henry Aldridge & Son Ltd also auctioned off a tartan blanket used by a survivor to stay warm in a lifeboat and a pocket watch owned by Sinai Kantor, a Russian immigrant who died during the sinking.
The sale of the menu, blanket, watch, and other items were not without controversy. Harry Bennett, an associate professor of maritime history at University of Plymouth, told The New York Times that items like these “are really probably better in museums than actually in private hands.”
Wherever they end up, they certainly tell an evocative tale of what life — and death — was like on the doomed RMS Titanic.