The À la Carte Restaurant was located on B Deck aft of the Aft Grand Staircase. The Restaurant was a luxurious restaurant open exclusively to first-class passengers. The Olympic and Titanic were the first British ships to feature restaurants separate from their main dining saloons. This was in imitation of the Ritz restaurant first featured on board the Hamburg-Amerika liner SS Amerika in 1905, which had proven to be enormously popular. The restaurant could accommodate 137 diners at a time. On the Olympic, the room was sandwiched between the Second-Class promenades on either side, making it smaller than the version on Titanic, whose restaurant extended to the port side of the ship and whose starboard-side promenade deck was converted to the Café Parisien.
The restaurant was the preferred alternative to the main dining saloon and gave passengers the option of enjoying lavish French haute cuisine at an additional cost. A passenger could choose to eat exclusively in the restaurant for the duration of the voyage and receive a £3-£5 rebate on his/her ticket at the time of booking. Unlike the main dining saloon, the restaurant gave passengers the freedom to eat whenever they liked (between 8 am and 11 pm). The restaurant was not managed by the White Star Line; Luigi Gatti ran it as a concession and his staff were not part of the regular crew.
The restaurant was one of the most luxurious rooms on the ship, decorated in the Louis XVI style, with exquisitely carved French walnut paneling trimmed in gilt-brass accents. Fluted columns interspersed throughout the room were carved with gilded ribbons and the plaster ceilings were delicately molded with flower and ribbon motifs. Mirrors were installed within the paneling imitating windows and the room was divided into bays along either side with oval mirrors inset. Along the forward wall was a large buffet with a peach-colored marble top and along the aft wall was a raised bandstand for the orchestra, with buffets on either side containing the silver service and cutlery. The Restaurant featured its own custom Spode china service in gilt and cobalt blue. Axminster carpeting in Rose du Barry covered the floors and the plush chairs of French walnut were upholstered in pink rose-patterned Aubusson tapestry. The À la Carte Restaurant provided the most intimate atmosphere on board. In fact, half of the tables in the restaurant catered for two people, whereas very few of such tables were offered in the main dining saloon.
The restaurant had its own reception room located next to the aft grand staircase on B Deck. That room was decorated in the Georgian style: featuring armchairs and settees draped in carmine-coloured silk; and a space was reserved for the orchestra. It allowed passengers to gather together before and after their meals.
Artifacts from the Restaurant
The 2001 Ghosts of the Abyss expedition attempted to gain entry to the À la Carte Restaurant, only to find that the aft end of A and B Decks in the seriously damaged stern section had collapsed upon one another. Relatively few artifacts have been recovered from the debris field that are identified with the À la Carte Restaurant. The most noteworthy is the door from a safe once contained in the Restaurant office which is displayed in various traveling exhibitions. Other pieces are a twisted gilt-brass light chandelier, a gilded wall sconce, and many intact pieces from the Spode china dinner service believed to have been made for the Restaurant. In 2012, a paper menu pad from the restaurant was displayed with the travelling Titanic exhibition in Las Vegas.
Much of the exquisite gilded woodwork from the Olympic's À la Carte Restaurant was purchased before her scrapping and survived for years in private homes in the North of England. In 2000, Celebrity Cruises purchased the panelling, with mirrors and sconces, from the owners of a private home in Sheffield and installed them in a new RMS Olympic-themed restaurant aboard the Celebrity Millennium. Another home was found to contain about 24 panels from the restaurant in 2012.
Loss during the sinking
Some of the invited passengers included: Sir Cosmo & Lady Duff-Gordon, Lord & Lady Manton, Georgiana Grex, Harry Widener, John Jacob Astor & Madeleine Astor, Dorothy Gibson and Pauline Caroline Gibson.