Are Dinner Parties a Dying Art?
When is the last time you went to a dinner party? Not a brunch buffet or a chili cook-off around a big game, but a proper dinner party with the good dishes, flowers, and a table full of guests? Dinner parties aren’t as popular as they used to be as friends tend to gather at buzzworthy new restaurants or order in pizza to eat in front of a movie, tailgate at a game, or sit around the kitchen table with nary a napkin on a lap. While each of those informal events can certainly be a fun way to spend an evening, they’re not quite dinner parties.
Back in 2009, a British study said that the formal dinner party was dying out, in favor of more casual get-togethers, potlucks, and dinners where everyone just helps themselves. As The Telegraph asked in 2016, “What happened to the dinner party? What happened to white napkins and tablecloths and bread rolls and prawn cocktails?” One of the experts they spoke with suggested that the lack of dining rooms in many homes has hastened the demise of the formal dinner party. After all, it’s hard to gather everyone the dinner table when you eat in the kitchen. A 2012 article in The New York Times, asked about dinner parties, “Remember those?” In the same article, etiquette expert Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, bemoans the fact that “people don't even respond to dinner invitations anymore,” claiming it was too difficult a commitment” and thinking “nothing of canceling at the last minute — by text message!” Over at The Huffington Post, an author blamed the lost art of the dinner party on our “fast-paced society” where everyone is talking on their cell phone while “simultaneously writing an email on [their] BlackBerry.” (The article was from 2007, hence the mention of a BlackBerry.)
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Mourning the death of the dinner party isn’t a new topic, either. Way back in 1988 The New York Times reported on the demise of the dinner party. They said that friends would “go to restaurants or have a small party catered” instead of hosting dinners at home, because "the thought of preparing and serving a meal — an impressive meal that will satisfy increasingly sophisticated palates — is overwhelming."
If you’re noticing a trend, you’re right: People have been worrying that dinner parties are on the brink of extinction for a long, long time. If you search the internet for stories on the imminent end of dinner parties as we know them, there has been an article written on the subject almost every year. The fact that people have been writing about their death for over 30 years seems to show that if dinner parties are a disappearing art, they aren’t vanishing all that quickly. In fact, while The New York Times was mourning their loss, just a week later, the New York Post reported that they were alive and well.
In short, to crib a line from Mark Twain, reports of the death of dinner parties are great exaggerated. That said, the way to prevent their untimely demise is to simply throw a dinner party. Send out invitations, set the table with the good china and nice napkins, open the doors, and break bread (or prawn cocktail or steak Diane or whatever you’d like) with friends and family. For dinner conversation, why not discuss whether or not dinner parties are dying?