Recently, on Facebook, the question was posed as to what the difference between supper and dinner was. It was only then that I realized that there was a noticeable difference, and one that I unconsciously observed.
In modern American culture, supper refers to a light evening meal, informal in nature. It is always served in the evening. Dinner, however, can be either the midday or the evening meal, and indicates a more formal meal, and it can include multiple courses.
Of course, these meanings have regional fluctuations in nuance, and for many people, dinner is always the midday meal and the largest meal of the day. Few Americans today actually observe this agriculturally based tradition, and for most Americans, the largest meal of the day is now the evening meal, after everyone has returned home from work and school. For most people, lunch is the term used to indicate a lighter midday meal, such as what is typically eaten at school and work.
Using these terms can both clarify and confuse people as to what your expectations are, depending on their own cultural origins. Once upon a time, through out the South, including the Gulf Coast, dinner was the large meal served at midday. Who has the time or energy to deal with that with our more modern routines?
It was also an urban tradition to indulge in dinner at a later hour, with the full multiple course routine and guests arriving in formal attire. Those influences still exist, though few of us give that kind of lavish dinner party today.
Now a supper party, on the other hand, is an informal affair, just as informal as the hors d’oeuvres buffets often served at informal affairs, but with much more substantial food. It’s still a light meal, often soup and bread, served in the evening, and frequently after a shared activity such as attending a movie, a dance, fireworks, etc.
A luncheon is more formal than a lunch, and is usually a ladies’ affair. These are often social gatherings, and the luncheon may be served either before or after the scheduled activity (such as a meeting). The meal is still light and “ladylike” in quantity, style, and ingredients. Finger sandwiches, soup, a salad, fresh fruit…these are all items which might be found at a luncheon. Portions are usually quite modest, for after all, ladies are not hearty eaters!
A tea is another more formal affair, and like a luncheon, it is geared more for the feminine set. Typically, it will offer tea (of course!) and small cakes, cookies, or other delicacies. More substantial teas might also offer small finger sandwiches.
Coffee parties tend to be more boisterous, less gender specific, and less formal. Typically, these will offer coffee (of course!) with cookies, pies, cakes, rolls, perhaps cheeses or meats, etc. in a more buffet type setting. These can be almost anytime of day, from midmorning to post-dinner evenings, and are casual affairs that work well for socializing with your guests, introducing friends to one another, etc.
Open house parties happen to my favorite format. It allows the host or hostess to host far more people than they could possibly invite to a sit down affair. It works well with accommodating all of your guests’ schedules, as the time of their arrival and length of their stay is entirely up to them. These parties tend to be very informal and family-friendly too, especially when a no-alcohol edict is issued. I have found that eliminating the alcohol simplified things for everyone, but especially when including families who may not want their children exposed to Happy Harry’s jokes after the fifth martini. It also means that the host isn’t stuck with the dilemma of what to do with Happy Harry after five martinis when he is at YOUR house and you don’t want him driving home.
For a menu for the open house party, almost anything works. It can be a coffee-and-dessert sort of affair, or it can offer finger foods, soups and stews are great because they can be kept hot in a slow cooker all day without a loss of quality, seafood boils are a favorite along the coast, fondue parties…if its something that does not require continual fussing or must be served immediately, it can be adapted to the open house party. Just remember, the reason for the open house party is to allow the hosts to enjoy the guests, so don’t occupy yourself continually in the kitchen unless your kitchen is where you expect your guests to hang out! The hosts need to be where the action is, not hiding in some corner busy getting food ready to serve.
Parties are fun when they are done right, even if there is a lot of preparation work. Good preparation ensures a great party, and makes clean up (the other hard work part) afterwards that much easier.
- To find a party style that suits both you and your occasion, think about the parties that you have attended and enjoyed the most. Ask the hosts of those parties for advice.
- Read whatever you can, online and off, about giving a party.
- Figure out your budget so you know what you can reasonably afford to spend on the party.
- Decide on your guest list, and send the invitations. Ask your guests to RSVP if you need to have a guest count before the occasion.
- Set up your schedule for the party. Each step, from shopping to chopping, setting the table to disposing of the trash, needs to be calculated. Leave room for those “Oh crap” moments, because they do happen!
- Try to keep last minute preparations to a bare minimum. The hosts need time to dress, compose themselves, and have their smiles ready when that first early bird guest arrives too. Great parties never happen with out of sorts, frustrated, and unhappy hosts!
- Remember, have fun with the party. Your guests will relax and enjoy themselves too.
Hopefully, these hints will help you host a party successfully and enjoy it!