Titanic-Time and Sp

Aquitania Compared to Wembley Stadium

Above: Aquitania’s length was exaggerated slightly in the above comparison card, issued circa 1924. She was not ‘well over 900 feet in length,’ rather she exceeded this mark by a mere eighteen inches. (Author’s Collection.)

Didn’t Aquitania’s grill room serve as an a la carte restaurant?
No. Contrary to popular belief, Aquitania did not have an a la carte restaurant. Cunard’s negative attitude towards an extra-tariff facility of this sort was rather different to the White Star Line’s, or that of HAPAG.

When Olympic entered service in 1911, she proved very popular with first class passengers. Her a la carte restaurant was so popular that additional tables were soon ordered, and it was enlarged during the ship’s 1912-13 refit. One Cunard observer thought that the restaurant’s décor made it one of the nicest public rooms on the ship. However, Cunard’s naval architect, Leonard Peskett, felt that the restaurant created ‘a new class of passenger’ – aloof from other first class diners, or the crème de la crème of first class. He felt that this was a major objection, despite the revenue possibilities. This attitude continued into the post-war years. When the German liner Imperator joined Cunard’s fleet and was renamed Berengaria, her a la carte restaurant was removed and instead the room served as a ballroom; after the Cunard White Star merger in 1934, the a la carte restaurants onboard both Olympic and Majestic were closed down before the year’s end. (The galley equipment from Majestic’s restaurant was removed early in 1935.)

An early plan for an a la carte restaurant onboard Lusitania and Mauretania was cancelled before their first class public rooms were finalised. Similarly, Aquitania was bereft of an additional extra-tariff restaurant. In fact, Aquitania’s arrangement was rather unique. The main first class dining saloon was designated as a ‘restaurant.’ However, an additional first class grill room was also provided aft of the dining saloon – on the port side – and it is this room which is often mistaken for an a la carte restaurant.

The New York Times reviewed Aquitania’s first class accommodation when she arrived in New York for the first time, writing:

aquitania first class restaurant grill room

(Author’s collection/courtesy New York Times)

It is clear that the meals available to first class passengers in the grill room were offered ‘without charge.’ The room did not serve as an extra-tariff restaurant, merely providing an additional seating area for first class diners if they preferred to eat in the grill room’s more intimate atmosphere. When Aquitania made her maiden eastbound crossing in June 1914, some difficulties arose due to the large number of first class passengers:

‘Owing to the dining room now being called [a] restaurant, and it being advertised in New York that a la carte meals would be served, without charge, full advantage has been taken by the passengers. It has been one continuous meal, and I am afraid large numbers of crew will not sign on again.
‘…I would suggest that a notice be printed on the breakfast menu that no a la carte orders for luncheon can be taken after 10 o’clock, and on the luncheon menu that no a la carte dinner orders can be taken after 2 p.m. The menus are all of good variety, and to relieve the great pressure at luncheon, I put each day two dishes extra, marked as “special dishes” and it met with a great success.’

John Maxtone-Graham’s fine book, Crossing & Cruising, examines the issue of the grill room in detail.

Why was the grill room removed?
By 1935, the first class grill room was not as popular as it had been, nor were first class passenger lists as high as they had been during Aquitania’s heyday. At an executive committee meeting in early September 1935, some defects were noted:

‘…very shabby appearance of the Ruboleum tiling in the grill room of the Aquitania, also in the corridor leading to that room. Renewal of this tiling was included in the schedule submitted for the vessel’s overhaul last winter but was deferred.
‘Removal and re-laying the tiling would cost approximately £335, but in view of the fact that the grill room is not very extensively used, it has been submitted that the deck be covered with carpet ex Olympic restaurant which is in quite good condition.’

During a meeting in September 1936, Cunard’s Board decided that they needed to increase Aquitania’s tourist class passenger capacity to meet an anticipated increase in tourist class passengers in 1937 and beyond. Since the grill room was ‘not very extensively used,’ it was sacrificed:

‘It has been found possible, by converting the existing grill room on D-deck into passenger space, to provide for 44 passengers [sic]. The cost of the work is estimated at £7,000, and the passenger department is satisfied that this increase in the vessel’s earning capacity would produce £18,000 in the first year.’

Although Aquitania’s first (and, later, cabin) class passenger lists recovered in the late 1930s, they did not regain their pre-1931 level. In 1937, her highest cabin passenger lists were 436 westbound and 413 eastbound – less than her averages in the 1920s. They were easily accommodated in the main first class restaurant (or dining saloon). Sure enough, in tourist class, Aquitania had a slightly better year in 1937 and recorded her best performance since 1932; third class numbers rose very sharply, to their best since 1924.