People in the know are predicting a dinner party renaissance this summer, the most recent being an A-list actress who said, only last week: “I see a return to Eighties dinner parties. I can’t see the attraction of eating out in the near future”.
She may well be right. At least half the point of going out to eat is to make your life easier, and now the much easier option is to stay in and – as the rules will soon allow – cook for friends. Yes, some restaurants are opening on July 4, but who really wants to eat in a plastic bubble, texting the masked waiters, when you can set up in the back garden, smoke all you like, and lie down on the astroturf to digest, if you need to?
But Eighties-style dinner parties? Are we really going back there? It was fun at the time but then so was rag rolling the walls and back-combing your hair like Kajagoogoo, and we’re not doing that again.
The main thing to remember about Eighties dinner parties is they featured the sort of food no-one eats any more. Beef wellington. Stuffed chicken breasts. Lasagne, if you were lucky. Everything was drenched in a sauce. There were always three courses, at least one of which involved double cream, and lashings of French bread and butter. It’s not just that most of us no longer fancy tucking into boeuf bourguignon followed by chocolate mousse; half the people around the table (I was going to say ‘guests’ but that sounds quite Eighties) wouldn’t be able to eat it on account of being vegetarian, or gluten intolerant or just keen not to put on 3lbs overnight. That food has lost its taste.
A dinner party was surprisingly formal back in the Eighties. It’s hard to imagine it, now that all the effort goes into making a dinner look like a thrown together Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern smorgasbord, and the more rustica the better. You want your glasses mismatched, your pottery chipped (maybe not chipped… just distressed), your radish tops on. You want the ambience to be easy and fluid and that applies to the seating plan, the time you eat, the distribution of the sexes, and the way you eat which is all about ‘grazing’ and ‘sharing’ and definitely does not feature meat and two veg.
Also you’re no longer seated around a dining table – as you would have been in the Eighties because back then the kitchen was a separate room, not one end of your main living space – you’re at the kitchen table, or the one in the garden, or both. And you’re probably wearing jeans and a nice top, or an old sundress from Zara and bare feet. Thirty plus years ago you went to a dinner party wearing a puffball skirt, tights and court shoes – Don Johnson jackets and ties for the men. We dressed up for dinner parties the way our children might, but probably wouldn’t, dress up for a wedding. That’s not happening again.
We don’t even call them dinner parties any more. These days you go out of your way not to use those two words in conjunction: it sounds too stuffy and last century, like ‘occasion dressing’, ‘fine dining’ or ‘women’s problems’. Now it’s supper all the way and when you invite people (not guests) for supper (not dinner) you’re incredibly vague and flexible (‘want to come over for drinks and some food?').
The last thing you want anyone to think is that they’re being trapped into three courses, and stuck between two strangers for three hours. Your modern supper host doesn’t want a tidy table of six (‘eight for eight thirty’) but a sprawling, everyone welcome, come as you are, have a shower if you’ve schlepped from Elephant and Castle on a bicycle, arrangement. We weren’t feeling formal before the lockdown and we sure aren’t now, when the easier you can make it to meet up the better. So yes. We see dinner parties, but the summer 2020 sort.