As one of the most famous monarchies on the planet, it can be easy to assume we know a lot about the royal family. But there are so many things we don’t know. Among them is what it might be like to sit and have dinner with them. However, insiders have spilled the beans on some of their unusual dining secrets.
20. Strictly no shellfish allowed
The royals will specifically avoid shellfish when dining, according to the BBC. But the reason is purely a practical one. You see, shellfish carries a greater risk of food poisoning than a lot of other dishes, and getting ill could jeopardise their official engagements.
The British broadcaster claims that royals are told to avoid rare-cooked meats, anything that’s particularly spicy or exotic and tap water when overseas. But that’s not to say some of its members aren’t averse to trying quirky dishes; the BBC notes that the Queen ate slimy sea cucumber during a trip to China in 1986.
19. The Queen has a set breakfast every day
Don’t mess with Her Majesty’s breakfast. Apparently a creature of habit, she sticks to the same thing every day without fail. Each morning, the Queen will reportedly devour a humble bowl of Corn Flakes and wash it down with a cup of English breakfast tea. Indeed, there is no fancy smashed avocado on toast for this monarch.
But there’s one unusual food that the Queen may enjoy as an additional treat. According to former royal servant Charles Oliver, Elizabeth II is partial to kippers, after being drawn to their aroma as a child. He claimed in the book Dinner at Buckingham Palace, “Kippers, in a number of uncomplicated variations, have remained a favorite with the Queen ever since – for breakfast, as a savoury or a late-night supper.”
18. The Queen pre-approves all menus
Darren McGrady worked as a chef at Buckingham Palace for more than a decade, and he claimed to Hello! magazine that Her Majesty isn’t necessarily a food connoisseur. He also said that the Queen receives a book of menus every week for her to check over, though she apparently sticks to select meals that she loves. Darren went on, “She would put a line through the ones she didn’t want.”
“Sometimes she’d put a line through it all and put something different,” Darren explained. “Like if she was having dinner with Prince Andrew, his favourite was crème brulee with Sandringham oranges.” Among the Queen’s favorite meals are game, steak served with a sauce of mushroom and whiskey, venison and a Gleneagles pâté made from mackerel, trout and smoked salmon, according to the former royal chef.
17. Talk throughout dinner is measured
Her Majesty has a strict procedure at meal times, Taste of Home claims. For instance, during the starter, she will address the person sitting to her right. Then, for the main course, she’ll talk to the person to the left.
The Queen also refrains from imparting her opinions with guests. Instead, she will ask questions of whoever she is dining with. And all this takes place while observing typical table manners everyone should observe. The website Delish claims that these include not talking while chewing – which should be done with a closed mouth – and not using fingers to eat with.
16. When the Queen is done, everyone else is, too
Diners had better pay close attention to the Queen’s movements while eating. You see, when Her Majesty is finished with her meal, that’s a sign that all other guests must also stop eating, Hello! reports. And that includes her immediate family. Indeed, former royal butler Paul Burrell relayed an alleged incident aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia involving a prince from the South Pacific.
Paul told The Guardian that the prince filled his dessert bowl with fruit, cream and sugar – forgetting to follow Her Majesty’s lead. He recalled in 2006, “I was standing behind the Queen looking horrified. He was about to raise the bowl to his lips to drink it when he looked at the Queen and realized he had made a terrible mistake.” However, Elizabeth apparently then sipped from her own bowl to spare his blushes.
15. Royals must use cutlery correctly
Using utensils correctly is something the royal family take very seriously. For starters, knives are reportedly held in the right hand, while forks should be used on the left with the prongs curving downwards. What’s more, there’s a proper way of utilizing them.
Once gripped correctly, things reportedly turn into cutlery acrobatics. The knife and fork are used in sequence, and when the former isn’t cutting, it will be used to pile food onto the back of the fork. The cuisine is then carefully balanced there as it’s lifted and placed into the mouth. Furthermore, royals apparently never let cutlery screech against crockery.
14. Royals should discreetly excuse themselves from the table
According to Business Insider, royals follow strict instructions when it comes to bathroom trips during meal time. Dinner guests merely say “excuse me,” without further explanation of where they are going. And there is a trick used which apparently lets dining room staff know that the guest hasn’t finished their meal.
The diner will cross their cutlery on the plate so that workers know they haven’t finished eating, the publication added. That way, staff will know not to clear it away while the guest is otherwise occupied. To indicate that they have finished eating, cutlery should also be pointing towards the bottom-right on the plate – or the 4:20 position on an analog watch.
13. Napkin etiquette
Royals follow strict rules when it comes to using napkins while eating, according to Business Insider. You see, guests are expected to keep their faces clean during meal times, and it’s not the done thing to wipe errant food away with the back of a hand.
Should a smudge of food occur, the diner must wipe it away with the inside of a folded napkin. But it doesn’t end there; apparently the linen should then be returned to the lap folded in half so as not to soil clothing.
12. The royals only eat at official events
For safety reasons, the Windsors won’t eat food outside of an officially sanctioned event, according to the Delish website. The Palace takes security seriously, and food will be approved as safe for them in order to avoid any risk of poisoning. And the Queen apparently takes it a step further.
Elizabeth will not have a meal made specifically for her at a banquet, according to Hello! Instead, the dish gets selected at random. Royal commentator Emily Andrews told the magazine in August 2020, “After everything is plated up, a page chooses at random one of the plates to be served to Her Majesty. So, if anyone did want to poison the monarch, they’d have to poison the whole lot.”
11. Dining is more relaxed at Balmoral
The royal dining experience isn’t always a stuffy formality, and there are apparently some surroundings that demand a far more casual approach to meal times. For instance, dinner is an altogether more relaxed affair when the Queen takes a family vacation to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, housekeeper Sheena Stuart told the TV show Countryside. And the staffer claimed that Her Majesty even pitches in setting the table.
Sheena claimed on the show, “[The Duke of Edinburgh] cooks, [and] the Queen sets up the table. There are no staff that come out to serve.” Meanwhile, former chef Darren McGrady claimed, “[The Duke] was an amazing chef. He loved to cook on the grill, he loved to cook at Balmoral. He’d teach me things and he was so knowledgeable.”
10. Arrive in appropriate attire
The royals are always camera-ready thanks to their role in the public eye. But it turns out that even dinners at home are formal, according to Taste of Home. Yes, the Queen’s guests are expected to remain presentable even when they’re family.
Dining is a formal affair in and of itself for the royals, and they are expected to dress appropriately at meal times. The publication added that women should wear dresses and keep their legs covered with stockings. Necklines, too, should remain modest with no cleavage on display. Men, meanwhile, should wear pants and coats.
9. Hunted animals are on the menu
The Windsors are a family of avid hunters – particularly on the grounds of their country homes. And while it may be a questionable pastime for some, the pursuit for the royal family is not merely for pleasure; they reportedly often eat the food that is caught.
Darren told Hello! that the royals are fond of game meat – particularly the Queen. The ex-royal chef went on, “For a main course she loved game, things like Gaelic steak, fillet steak with a mushroom whisky sauce – especially if we did it with venison… She loved using ingredients off the estate and so if we had salmon from Balmoral from the River Dee, she’d have that, it was one of her favorites.”
8. Royals must hold their teacups properly
Afternoon tea is apparently a regular occasion for the royal family. However, there is a proper way to hold a tea cup, etiquette expert called Myka Meier told People. The top of its handle should be gripped between the forefinger and thumb, with the middle finger resting on the bottom of the handle for balance. But there’s a correct way to pour tea, too.
Delish claims that the royals follow particular rules when it comes to making tea. Once it has brewed in the pot, the tea should be poured into the cup before adding milk. And the spoon apparently shouldn’t clatter against the cup’s sides when the drink is being stirred. Furthermore, royals will never be seen or heard slurping their tea.
7. Meal preparation stops when the Queen enters the kitchen
There’s one thing that’s a must for kitchen staff – whether dinner time isn’t due for another five minutes or five hours. Everyone has to stop what they’re doing if Elizabeth enters the room, according to Delish, and they can only return to their tasks once she leaves again. So, dinner could be ruined if a cook is caught out at a critical moment.
But the Queen isn’t the only royal that pays the occasional trip to the chefs’ kitchen. Darren told The Independent in October 2017, “[Phillip would] come down to the kitchens and discuss what food we’d have. [He would ask], ‘Do we have any salmon that any of the family have caught? The Queen’s been picking strawberries with Princess Margaret, let’s have those for dinner.’”
6. The Queen is fussy about the number of guests
Her Majesty is very strict about the number of guests she dines with at any given time, according to Delish. But this is a choice that’s made out of respect for other guests. You see, the Queen may entertain less than 13 guests, or very many more than that. But you will apparently never see her with precisely 13 diners at the banquet table.
However, the Queen’s reasons for avoiding this number of guests isn’t necessarily because of her own beliefs. The number 13 is, of course, considered to be unlucky by some, although it’s not thought that Her Majesty believes this. But she will reportedly avoid that number while dining, out of consideration for the guests who are superstitious about the number.
5. The Queen tries to only eat food in season
Her Majesty reportedly often returns menus to catering staff with multiple edits. Darren told the website RecipesPlus, “You can send strawberries every day to the Queen during summer at Balmoral and she’ll never say a word.” He went on, “Try including strawberries on the menu in January and she’ll scrub out the line and say, ‘Don’t dare send me genetically modified strawberries.’ She absolutely does eat seasonal.”
But not everyone is a fan of the Queen’s food choices. In fact, a British TV documentary called Secrets of the Royal Kitchen claimed that Charles takes his own selection when visiting his mom. Darren said, “Whenever the Prince of Wales came to stay with the Queen, he would always arrive with a hamper of his own produce. The instruction was to put two plums and a little juice into the bowl and send it into him for breakfast.”
4. The royal hierarchy applies at dinner time
More astute fans of the British monarchy may have noticed that the Windsors arrive at events in a particular order. Well, the same succession applies at meal times. You see, the royal family walk into a room or take part in a procession in the same sequence that they are in line to the throne, according to Delish.
So, the Queen – as head of state – will always be seated for dinner first, along with her husband: the Duke of Edinburgh. They are followed by the Prince of Wales as first in line to the throne, and his wife Camilla. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will follow, with their children George, Charlotte and Louis. Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are supposed to come last.
3. It’s rude not to meal swap if a royal asks
Perhaps they’re just used to getting whatever they ask for as the royal family. But you should apparently oblige if a Windsor decides that your meal looks more appetizing than their own and they ask to swap. What’s more, the publication claimed that the Duke of Edinburgh had a tendency to wander into the kitchen and swap meals with staff.
As Darren recalled to women’s magazine Marie Claire in 2017, “[Prince Phillip] came into the kitchen and said, ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’ And I said, ‘I have these little 1-inch eyes of lamb meat for you, your Royal Highness.’ He looked and said, ‘What’s that – what are they?’ And I said, ‘Oh, those are chops, Your Highness.’ He wanted to know who they were for, and I said, ‘staff.’ And he said, ‘Oh, can’t we have those?’ I ended up giving him these big meatier pieces, and the staff had the other pieces.”
2. The Queen can have mangoes whenever she wants
The Queen is a huge fan of locally sourced produce, but she also has a soft spot for a particular tropical fruit, too. Delish claims that kitchen staff will always have mangoes available for her, and she apparently asks how many are around the palace at any given time. And there are other foods Her Majesty is incredibly fond of as well.
Darren told Hello! that the Queen is “absolutely a chocoholic.” He went on, “Anything we put on the menu that had chocolate on, she would choose, especially chocolate perfection pie.” And considering he worked in Buckingham Palace’s kitchen for over a decade, that potentially amounts to a lot of chocolate.
1. The Queen enjoys the occasional tipple
The publication Business Insider alleged in 2017 that the Queen had quite the drinking habit – as many as four cocktails a day. However, Darren denied that claim, saying, “She’d be pickled if she drank that much. All I said was she likes a gin and Dubonnet. That’s her favourite drink.”
“[The Queen] doesn’t wake up in the morning and have a large gin and tonic,” Darren added. Nevertheless, Elizabeth will sometimes indulge in an alcoholic beverage at meal times. When she does, her go-to drink is a glass of sweet German wine. The former royal chef clarified, “Just in the evening. She certainly doesn’t drink four glasses a day.”