The best description of a rout comes from a manuscript titled the "Receipt Book of Mary Whiting Sewell". It is published in the Georgian and Regency Lady's Fashion Plates CD-ROM from Prints George and is reprinted here with permission.
"Receipt for a Rout
Take all the ladies and gentlemen you can get, place them in a room with low fire--stir them well--have ready a Piano Forte or Harp--a handful of Books and Prints, with a few packs of cards--put them in from time to time--When the mixture begins to settle, sweeten it with briteness of wit if you have it--if not, flattery will do as well and is very cheap. When all is stewed well together for two or three hours,--put in one or two fowls, some tongues, sliced beef or ham, seed cakes, sweetmeats and wine. The more you put the bettter, and the more substantial your rout will be---
N.B. Fill your room quite full and let scum rise off of itself."
This tongue in cheek 'receipt' tells us a great deal about the usual rout. Music, conversation about books and art, occasionally cards and certainly a good supper were the key ingredients of an enjoyable evening party. The last sentence offers a wonderful rebuke of the society.
Jane Austen does not much speak of 'routs' but in Emma, Mrs. Elton does bore everyone with talk of rout-cakes. And indeed, a noted cookbook writer of the time, Maria Rundell includes a recipe for 'Rout Drop Cakes' in her 1806 book and its many subsequent editions.
"Rout Drop Cakes
Mix two pounds of flour, one ditto butter, one ditto sugar, one ditto currants, clean and dry; then wet into a stiff paste, with 2 eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, ditto rose-water, ditto sweet wine, ditto brandy, drop on a tin-plate floured; a very short time bakes them."
These sound the perfect compliment to lobster patties, buttered prawns, ratafia cakes and orgeat.
Evening dresses would be the requirement for attendance at a rout, perhaps knee breeches for the gentlemen. James Gillray offers a sly look at such a gathering in this carton "Lady Godina's Rout"--plumes appear, in some ladies' minds, to have been mandatory.
A rout-party had the advantage of being able to be hosted in an average town house. A formal ball required a ballroom and few but the greatest homes had those. But anyone in fact could hold a rout. A hostess could place conversation and music in the drawing room, cards in the morning room or small parlour, and supper in the dining room. The perfect Christmas party, perhaps?