Is Anyone Coming to Dinner?

Discussion
Nov 06, 2009
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing
Editor, RetailWire

Much has been said during
the ongoing economic crisis about increased dining-in and home cooking
for families. But there is a whole other opportunity for retailers to promote
ingredients and recipes – the fine art of entertaining. Sadly for some,
albeit gladly for others, eating at home with friends is becoming increasingly
casual, at least in the U.K. According to an article in The Daily Telegraph,
a recent study shows formal dinner parties are a dying tradition.

Dr.
Harry Witchel, of the University of Sussex, apparently found, “Dinner parties
are no longer the formal affairs that we associate with the aspirational
middle classes or TV characters.” Instead, he has identified significant
changes in both behavior and attitude with “a move away from the days of
dressing up for dinner, laying the table with an arsenal of cutlery or
waiting for the host to pour the wine – instead diners are increasingly
favouring a more relaxed dress code, with guests serving themselves at
the table.”

In a less formal response
to the study, another Telegraph piece welcomed the supposed trend.
Depicted as a “middle-class excuse for preening displays of one-upmanship
and pretension, from the menu and place settings to the guest list,” its
demise is a source of relief for some.

“Too much of our lives
has been wasted twiddling napkins, negotiating ranks of cutlery, and trying
to guess which one is the water glass,” wrote columnist Liz Hunt.

Furthermore,
she said, dinners have “become a jollier and more intimate affair for friends
and family, rather than for business contacts, colleagues and stellar guests
whom one wants to flaunt” and would prefer not to “endure.”

Some of the
conclusions expressed by Dr. Witchel, described as “a social behaviour
expert,” reflect
the possibility of a shift to American-style potluck suppers, which would
be a novelty over here. This may be contradicted, though, by the popularity
of a show called Come Dine With Me in which four people take turns hosting
dinner parties in an attempt to win prize money. Either way, dining in
and sharing a meal at home is enjoying an upsurge with myriad possibilities
for hosts, hostesses and those selling the chosen component parts.

Discussion
Questions: What appeal, if any, does the dinner party hold in the
U.S.? Should retailers and brands be doing more to revive formal
dining? Is casual dining with friends becoming a bigger opportunity
than formal dining ever was?

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13 Comments on "Is Anyone Coming to Dinner?"


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Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 6 months ago

I’ve always had this fantasy of going to a formal dinner party in a white dinner jacket, my wife in a Balenciaga gown and all the pretentious accouterments that go with it. The reality is I wouldn’t know which fork or glass to use.

There’s nothing wrong with being aspirational. It’s good for you. It shakes off the cobwebs of consistency and mediocrity. That being said, casual dining is what people really want and what they are capable–socially and financially–of doing. For the most part, supermarkets sell food. With everything that’s going on, people need venues that will bring them together and there’s a great opportunity for supermarkets to promote lifestyles, parties and casual get-togethers beyond the usual beer and belch tailgate parties.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 6 months ago

As a person with a complete set of beautiful but unused Rosenthal dinner china that was purchased years ago, I would love to have the formal dinner party with white tablecloths return. But I apparently bought that china when the formal dinner party era was in its declining cusp and I completely missed its signal. Since then, the formal dinner abdicated its role to get-togethers at informal convivial settings–sans white tablecloths–that require no cooking or dish washing, just quaffing, oogling and enjoying.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

While the formality may be disappearing, there is definitely an opportunity for assisting consumers. I read some research a few years ago that said that any dinner preparation taking more than about 15-20 minutes was considered to be as elaborate as preparing Thanksgiving dinner. If that is true, there are many people out there who may not have a lot of experience with cooking a variety of dishes and may welcome assistance in preparing something new and different.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 6 months ago

Entertaining at home has become the mainstay in this ‘era of frugality’. Reviving or reinforcing the concept of the dinner party is an excellent initiative for grocers to take. The basket building opportunities are limitless. Take a look at the LCBO (that’s the Liquor Control Board of Ontario for all you non-Ontarians) at http://www.lcbo.ca and you will see the epitome of dinner party marketing. And they only sell one component of the dinner party!

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Amazingly interesting piece, especially since it was the topic of conversation between Mrs. Scanner and me as we ate dinner together last night, seated on the sofa with dog at foot. We reminisced about dinner gatherings we had in what almost seems a previous life. We pondered the thought of the forthcoming holiday season with the inclination to attempt such a thing again. As mentioned, the ‘good china’ lay dormant in the buffet, longing for an opportunity to come out and play amongst the silver and the lace. While we pondered, we thought of the scents and flavor of the delectable treats, then left the idea where it likely belongs, in the buffet. The gatherings will likely occur but the ‘good china’ will likely stay dormant. The formal dining room will be used for its unintended purpose as a serving table rather than for guests to sit around. The laughter and conversation will abound amidst the juggling of a plate and mug and the inevitable spill on the carpet. A good time will be had… Read more »
Pamela Danziger
Guest
Pamela Danziger
11 years 6 months ago

My company has been doing research in the tabletop dinnerware market for years. The key trend we have tracked is toward a more upscale, but casual dining style. Consumers want simple dinnerware that they can dress up or down as the occasion calls. They reject formal frigidity and don’t want to clutter up their home with formal dinnerware services that only see the light in their china cupboard. They want dinnerware that works for them, not that they have to work for, so it has to be suitable for microwave, dishwasher, oven, refrigerator, and freezer.

Casual lifestyle characterizes consumers dining and entertaining preference by a wide margin.

Ben Ball
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Perhaps there is too much formality in British dining and the move to a more “jovial approach” is warranted. But I agree with Len and Gene that there is a lack of the proprieties here in the U.S.

A perhaps counter-trend–but nonetheless welcome–development in a couple of circles we frequent is the “dinner club” or “gourmet club.” And I have noticed a much more formal flair to the monthly or quarterly events over the last year or so. It’s a very pleasant development.

But the casual dining opportunity is still by far the larger sales potential for retailers. Sea horses will swim in the sterling silver soup tureen before caviar and champagne outsell brats and beer at Super Bowl in this country.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 6 months ago

In my circle of friends, home entertaining in the form of small dinner parties is still considered fun and is very much part of our dining and social scene. Not gowns and white tie, not pretentious or show-offy but taking turns entertaining using our “good” dishes, candles, tablecloths, (not necessarily white) and enjoying quiet conversation, thoughtful preparation of quality food and nice wine (the same wine that would cost $50.00 a bottle in a restaurant).

I do think that marketing to a new generation stressing the “coolness” factor and gratification of cooking and entertaining at home could bear retail fruit. Heck, I even think a clever and humorous marketing campaign aimed at boomers–urging them to drag out their long ignored china, crystal and silver and USE IT would be a lot of fun, too!

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Provocative topic, Bernice! Perhaps some kind of hybrid model could become all the rage…I know it has been for me. Rather than let my fine china and crystal gather dust, I use it when entertaining clients in our loft office and at home for otherwise casual dinners with friends. Doing so makes everyone feel special (I hope) without digging out the dinner jacket.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

While formal dinner parties may be out, there is definitely an increase in the number of ‘social dinners’ that people are having. We do work for a lot of the liquor boards in Canada, and I can tell you that entertaining at home is behind a lot of the increases in their revenues.

This increase in entertaining represents a huge opportunity for retailers. Get past the food and wine needed, and suddenly you see the need for more home decor items, and the often inevitable ‘hostess gifts’ that are brought by guests.

Have to run…having guests for dinner tonight, and have to pick up something to bring over to friends tomorrow night!

Deena Neronsky
Guest
Deena Neronsky
11 years 6 months ago

I agree with Liatt. My social group consists of mostly 29-34 year olds–singles and newly-wed couples. We’re all on a budget for reasons ranging from job-loss to wedding expenses to high mortgage rates. It’s much more likely to find us taking turns hosting “family” dinners, than dining out. None of us have registered for, or even desired, “good china.” We do enjoy making our best recipes, enjoying good wine, and setting the table with interesting items–but it is all for the sake of relaxed fun and amusement.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 6 months ago

Maybe the Midwest is not as haughty as it should be, but we value friends, family and fun. Hot dogs and hamburgers with the neighborhood give everyone a chance to relax, reflect and revitalize themselves. The idea of spending hours of cooking and drinking an expensive bottle of wine crammed around the formal dining room table with friends (and no kids) is not something I see happening. My generation is much more focused on the family.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 6 months ago
Movies and TV influence–and reflect–American society in a number of major (e.g., violence) and minor (e.g., language, “dude”) ways. One of the minor ways is formal dinner parties, which in movies and TV are always scenes of slapstick humor, betrayal, arguments, flirtation, or crime-solving. It’s one of the few devices that allow writers to gather all of the primary characters in one place for plot advances. No Norman Rockwell paintings here. As opposed to Britain, American dinner parties are more like the scene from 1983’s “The Big Chill” in which the central characters gather in the kitchen to cook and boogie (trivia: the dead guy we never see was played by Kevin Costner). For many, the fun of entertaining is in the food prep. One only needs to scope out the robust sales of cooking paraphernalia and books to see this. I just bought my first smoker, and I’m as cranked up about smoking the Thanksgiving turkey as I am about entertaining my family and friends. It was between the smoker and Char-Broil’s new infrared… Read more »
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