Dinner parties were a staple of life for young professionals and parents through the 1980s and 90s, but as the UK’s restaurant scene has exploded – are we seeing the slow death of the once much vaunted tradition.
Millennials will remember sneaking a peak through the banisters at their parents and grown up friends getting a little merry and enjoying the delights of a smoked salmon starter, followed by some pesto fettuccine, and poached pears for dessert. This, it seemed, was how adults caught up.
Pubs were already starting to die towards the end of last century, as people tended to catch up with friends at home over an increasingly good bottle or three of wine. And the restaurant revolution had not yet picked up pace in the UK, with the food now being cooked by those following a relatively simple Delia recipe often on par with that of the local eatery.
This was what “adulting” looked like for at least two decades, so what happened? Why have millennials stopped hosting dinner parties like their parents before them?
Restaurants, both established and popups, play a large role in the changing attitudes people have towards dinner parties. It is now easy to eat out and find fantastic food for almost any budget, and that changes how people approach food and a social activity.
The meals we now pick up from a street-food seller for a fiver are beyond the imagination of most just a decade or two ago, and with friends likely scattered across a city it is much easier to catch up with people after work at a communal location than have people over to your flat and squeeze into the kitchen. And even if you do prefer to share food at home, companies like Deliveroo are now on hand to get the food from your favourite local restaurant to arrive right on your doorstep. The friendly rivalry of the dinner party has changed, with home cooks today now competing not just against their friends, but the professional chefs of local restaurants – and that has changed the game.
And then there is the issue of space. In the 80s and 90s, when money flowed and houses were cheap, it seemed like everyone had a dedicated dining room, but that is no longer the case. Very few people can afford a house with a spare room left empty to entertain friends a few nights a month. If you want to be able to share a dinner with more than three or four others, then today that means eating out.
The dinner party may be dead thanks to popups and the housing crisis, but the warm atmosphere and love of sharing food with friends remains, the guest lists have just been shrunk, the pretence lost, and the evening rebranded as a “kitchen supper” or a “chilled dinner with friends”.