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This was originally the system operated in early Parisian restaurant (since Boulanger opened his in the mid-1760's). The principle was that everyone sat at the same table, were carving was also undertaken. Those arriving first, would sit at the head, and have the pickings - those arriving later, sitting successively further down, and often receiving a worse deal.
The practice continued until 'Service a la Russe' - which presented diners with their food carved and plated - came into being near the end of the 18thy century.