As we move away from the festive period of meals with friends and family, Nick Johnstone from our Business Development team looks back on the changing face of having friends round for dinner, from the formal three course meals of old to ‘drinks and nibbles’ and street food.
The recycling still hasn’t come. They stood us up. We put the bottle bin out on our allocated day on the assumption that before the sun came up the bottles would be discarded and our neighbours would be none the wiser to the vast amounts of entertaining that we actually did….
In our defence:
A – We had lots of guests
B – hey, it was Christmas
Over the festive period, my wife and I hosted multiple family members with a variety of soirees, which mainly consisted of drinks and nibbles.
Only on one occasion did we actually have friends over to sit down and eat at our dining table. Sitting at the table was as formal as it got, we cooked a hearty chilli with all the trimmings, homemade guacamole, salsa, jalapeños and cheese. We then retired to the comfy chairs and played games and had a nice time.
Generally speaking, when we do get together with friends the back drop is a relaxed setting; a games night with drinks, in the summer we will fire up the BBQ and in the winter months we may suggest a take away or yes, you guessed it; drinks and nibbles.
None of these gatherings even come close to the formal setting of the dinner party that I grew up observing around my mum and dad’s dining table. This got me thinking, are we the only ones? Or has the dinner party been condemned to a bygone era?
Growing up my parents were serial dinner party hosts. These evenings took on a fairly formal setting, with three courses, all homemade.
My mum would be cooking all day, smells wafting throughout the house; starters would be the classic prawn cocktail or a homemade soup, main courses would be something like a lamb shoulder, coq au vin, pork braised in sherry or braised beef bourguignon with colcannon mash. Mum would make her own dessert too, meringue or poached pear followed by a strong scented cheese board, coffees and some after dinner mints, no doubt. They went one short of retiring to another room with cigars, but I am almost certain my grandparents would have done.
The homemade table extender would be brought in from the garage and the ‘emergency chairs’ would be brought up from the shed. Table linen was ironed, napkins were folded and candles were lit.
Slowly but surely guests would arrive and the evening would begin. For the initial arrival, as the youngest, I was usually on coat duty and then taking drinks in.
My parents were both keen on us interacting with the adults, even from an early age and once we had updated the guests on school or the local Sunday league team, we were packed off upstairs to watch a VHS sourced from the local Blockbuster. Our dinner would usually be cheese on toast (until our palates were sophisticated enough to enjoy the fruits of mum’s hard work.)
I can still remember coming down stairs the next morning, my dad, stood by the sink amongst a sea of glasses and plates, the table strewn with the pungent remains of the cheeseboard. There would be a patch of salt in some corner of the room, where presumably some claret had been spilt.
So, what has changed?
It may be indicative of the way we consume food now, with the street food scene proving to have the longevity way beyond being a fad, showing you can have the best food in the most informal of settings. Even Michelin have wised up to this, giving an award in 2016 to Hawker Chan from Singapore.
Hospitality has also evolved. Very rarely are clients asking for traditional fine dining, they are looking at sharing platters and grazing boards. The varying dietary requirements people have these days can also be a minefield that may put off would-be hosts.
There is no denying that social media will also front some of the blame, we now rely on WhatsApp and other mediums to stay in touch.
Ultimately there is hope in those bottle bins outside our home. It is proof that the coming together of people happened. The dinner party isn’t dead, it has just evolved. Cooking is what makes us human, we have made it an art form, a pastime due to our pursuit of pleasure, however formal or informal it is.