Alice Scott

The Death of the Dinner Party. The Rise of Supper with Friends

We predict that 2020 will be the year of supper with friends. That is, gathering your most joy-inducing, culture-imbibing, nearest-and-dearest around a table to eat, drink and be very merry. It’s a scene that looks a little like this:

Hotchpotch chairs sit around a kitchen table set with equally disparate crockery. Food is torn/ spooned/ sloshed. The host is relaxed, they’re amongst family and friends. We spy the patch outside that has emptied its larder for this homely feast. Local, seasonal and sustainable are the buzzwords. Bottles are popped, "alcoholic or equally epicurean soft?" Chatter sparks. These are the fireworks of the night.
Photo by Christiann Koepke on Unsplash

Here we explore the trend reports and journalistic gems that have led us to this conclusion. We then suggest the brilliant brands that deserve a place at your table.

“Staying in-in is the new going out.” This is what Stoves told us in their 2018 report. Their stats show that 50% of us now prefer to stay in and cook for friends than go out for meals. Denby told a similar tale, reporting that “a massive 87% of Brits told us they regularly host friends and family at home, a figure that jumps to 93% within the 24-35 age group, who host dinner parties 3-4 times a month.” But the dinners of which they speak are far from the formal affairs of the 70s. Sorry Martha Stewart, but we don’t have the time nor inclination to prep for over a week in advance.

In her Times article last year, India Knight surmised that “I hate dinner parties, which are the opposite of the loveliness of having friends round for supper.” Therein lies the key, in casual suppers with friends. Denby attests that “gone are the days of the traditional dinner party, with a standard three courses, dished up onto ‘guest plates’.” Today, few of us have the space for a dining table, fewer still the tableware to dress it with. In our interview with Wedgwood last year they recognised the shift towards mix-and-match sets. But for the aesthetically driven, take a leaf from Outstanding in the Field’s book when it comes to simplicity, or have Social Studies take the hassle away and deliver your table-scape.

We’re spending less time setting the table and prepping the food, but care more than ever about the quality and provenance of the food and drink. The Future of Cooking told us that “since the 1980s the average time spent cooking in the UK has more than halved.” When it comes to prepping Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, suggests that “for your main course” you should “opt for one-pot dishes. Hearty braises and stews are prefect for the time of year and require little if anything in the way of accoutrements.”

Photograph by Sami Repo for Gastronomics

A plethora of chefs cater to the rising trend of fuss-free suppers with friends. Try Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Table; a collection of recipes for gathering. Or, for the time (or skill) poor, brands like Gastronomics deliver menus and prepped ingredients developed by Michelin-starred chefs through your letter box - all you have to do is the final assembly. Further still, we predict the rise of initiatives like Resident, where a professional chef takes the whole hassle off your hands.

In 2020 seasonal, local, quality and sustainable produce will dominate the chef lexicon. BAIN cover the trend, reporting that “sales of high-end food grew 6% from last year [2018]. Of particular importance was the “ethical nutrition” trend, reflected by consumers’ desire for authentic, quality, freshness and transparency regarding a product’s origins.” The Waitrose Food report agreed that “when we do spend we want the results to be special — for instance, seeking out unusual treats,” whilst the Soil Association note a 5.3% increase in organic sales from 2018-2019.

Photographer Anton Sucksdorff for restaurant Pinella

2020 will see more homegrown veg, more vegan, vegetarian and plant based diets, busier farmers' markets and a focus on a circular waste economy. Where we do eat meat, nose-to-tail and fin-to-tail eating will dominate. We love Josh Niland’s The Whole Fish Cookbook and Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s The Book of St. John. The latter, a witty manifesto that shares the secrets of a successful, ingredient-led restaurant:

“I am a great believer in genius loci — the spirit of place — by which I mean that things taste best when closest to the place from which they came. No one feels good after a long flight and the same is true for a tomato.”

This idea of locality is made easier in the beverage sector by the growth and success of the wine industry in the UK. In fact Nyetimber, who we spoke to for our British Brands piece, won three gold medals last year at the International Wine Challenge. But the International Wines and Spirits Record tells us that 65% of millennial alcohol consumers in the UK are trying to cut back on their alcohol intake whilst the Office for National Statistics say that one in five adults in the UK are now teetotal. Seedlip and its own Æcorn Aperitifs have dominated the market but we noted some worthy competitors in our No-Low insight piece last year.

Photograph by Richard Moran for VINIV featuring Château Lynch-Bages

We must note, however, that with Global wine production set to fall to a 50-year low, we’ll also be whole-heartedly imbibing our favourite wines from further afield. With Bordeaux winemaking in crisis, we recommend Château Lynch-Bages of our prestigious clients, Famille JM Cazes. Also, Vinteloper and other vineyards living in the devastating hangover of the Australian bushfires.

But the most important ingredient in a kitchen supper of 2020? The conversation. In her article for the New York Times, Gabrielle Hamilton surmised that “a dinner party is about what is said, not what is eaten.” She describes the food and drink as “just the props — the conduits for funny and real and meaningful conversation.” Today’s kitchen supper conversation is characterised by authenticity. Denby tells us about how political conversation has evolved from taboo to a catalyst, “with 98% stating they’re up for a political chitchat.” Norn is the hipster members club that cultivates deeper connection through conversation. It describes itself as “an interpersonal way to explore what matters to you.” Kinou-Cazes-Hachemian reminisces on the true moments of happiness that “tend to be based around an open bottle and a lively table, where everyone speaks their own mind, and shares their varied experiences.”

Let’s raise a glass to 2020, and the moments of connection soon to be cultivated at your own supper with friends.

Alice Scott