Dinner, tea or supper: what do you call your evening meal?


Updated on 21 March 2017 | 6 Comments

Lovefood unleashes a whirlwind of debate around what to call an evening meal.

What do you call your evening meal: dinner, tea or supper?

New research by removals firm Kiwimovers (yes really) found that just over half of people call it tea. Contrary to popular belief, though, that term isn't confined to the north of England.

Over a third call it dinner, while just 5% call it supper, and the rest aren't all that bothered.

Definitions

TeaKate Fox, in her book Watching the English, says the term you use for your evening meal is directly related to your class.

Tea: If you call it tea, and eat it around 6:30pm, you are very likely to be working class. The higher classes use ‘tea’ to mean ‘afternoon tea’ (a working-class word), which consists of tea, cake, scones (pronounced with a short ‘o’), and dainty sandwiches.

Dinner: It is only the “higher echelons” of English society who call it ‘dinner’. [Perhaps Heston Blumenthal’s latest restaurant wouldn’t be so pricey, had he called it ‘Tea’ instead]. Referring to your midday meal as dinner is considered a “working-class hallmark”.

Supper: If you call your informal, family evening meal ‘supper’ (pronounced ‘suppah’), you are probably upper-middle or upper class. ‘Dinner’ for those same people is used for more formal evening meals.

God help a foreigner invited to ‘tea’. Do you turn up at 6:30pm ready for a feast, or 4pm with jam and cream? Kate advises that you ask what time you are expected “the answer will help you to place your hosts on the social scale”. Crumbs. Are we really so judged by what we call tea/dinner/supper?

Luncheon

We haven’t mentioned lunch. What does it say about us if we use the word lunch or, heaven forbid, ‘luncheon’?

1. The word ‘lunch’ has been around since the 1820s, and is taken from the more formal word ‘lunchentach’ – a meal aimed to fill the gap between more substantial feasting.

2. The upper-class English enthusiastically adopted the word in the 19th century, when ladies whose husbands would eat at their gentlemen’s club took the opportunity to lunch with each other. And lunch was still referred to as a meal “given by and for women” in Emily Post’s Etiquette, published in 1945.

3. A ‘ploughman’s lunch’ (cheese, cooked meat, pickle and bread) is class-less, apparently. It was the brainchild of the-then Milk Marketing Board, which promoted the meals nationally to boost sales of cheese.

In conclusion

We don’t know what to think. Kate Fox seems pretty certain that it’s a class issue; but what about the influence of parents or friends? And perhaps some people just don’t like the word ‘supper’? And there must be some regional aspect, given that everyone in Coronation Street calls it ‘tea’, whereas it’s ‘dinner’ down south in EastEnders.

What do YOU call it?

Let us know what you call it and why in the Comments section below.

Liked that? Try these:

Ed Baines' raspberry scones recipe

Is Your Nosh too Posh?

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