Denby has collaborated with food historian Dr Annie Gray and quizzed 2,000 Brits to produce a guide to The Art of Entertaining.
The report from the tableware manufacturer explores modern day eating habits and reveals that we are a nation of entertainers.
Some 87% of Brits say they regularly host friends and family at home – a figure that jumps to 93% within the 24-35 age group, who host dinner parries three to four times a month. That’s despite the decline of the separate dining room and the ever-rising age of buying a first house.
But the way we host has changed dramatically. Only a third of people in the UK say they lay a traditional table setting for dinner parties (and only 25% opt for a three course meal).
The remaining two-thirds follow a number of emerging dinner party trends. One example is the stand up supper. A quarter of us keep things very casual, serving food to guests on laps or standing up. Denby has seen a dramatic rise in bowl sales with an increase of 40% in 2015 against 9% for dinner plates, reflecting this trend for serving bowl food at dinner parties.
Another trend is the one pot wonder, with 33% of 24-45 year olds serving one pot dishes at dinner parties. These are hearty dishes made for sharing, often served with bread on the side for friends to tear, dip and share.
A third trend is the small plate party. With some of the UK’s hottest restaurants (such as Duck & Waffle, Polpo, Spuntino and Barrafina) opting to serve small sharing plates over the traditional a-la-carte menu, this trend is starting to filter through into home entertaining. Almost 20% of 24-45 year olds are dishing up small but plentiful plates to guests.
According to 77% of respondents, good conversation at the table is just as important as good food when entertaining. But as the style of dinner parties has evolved, so too has the list of conversation topics deemed taboo. Whereas politics was once a major subject to avoid, it now appears to be more of a conversation starter than a conversation killer, with 98% saying they’re up for political debate.
However, there is one subject that Brits are as keen as ever to avoid talking about while tucking into their food: sex. Overall, the top five taboo subjects for modern dinner party guests are: sex life, religious viewpoint, salary, baby plans and marriage prospects.
Christmas is the nation’s favourite time of year to entertain (45%), followed by summer barbecues (20%) and birthdays (10%). Most Brits dine in company at Yuletide. Some 25% will sit around a table with five other people and 10% will be surrounded by more than nine other people.
But as much as we love Christmas, it’s certainly time-consuming. An average of 263 minutes is spent preparing Christmas dinner, compared with 54 minutes spent eating it and 41 minutes spent clearing up.
For many, Christmas is the meal where Brits pull out all the stops when entertaining. A total of 64% will lay a more formal table for their festive feast, while 33% will buy table linen and 35% will accessorise using candles and flowers.
Dr Annie Gray said: “The idea of Christmas as a season to entertain, and of Christmas dinner itself as the main meal of the season, is deeply embedded in our psyche. And despite the family pressures and time-consuming cookery, nearly half of us rate it as our favourite time to entertain at home. It is this, perhaps, that leads almost two-thirds of us to take a more traditional approach to entertaining on Christmas Day than we do throughout the year.”
The rise of more informal food trends such as sharing plates, one pots and bowl food has perhaps influenced the remaining third of Brits who prefer to keep things casual yet contemporary at Christmas.
For a more modern approach, Denby’s design director Richard Eaton suggests starting with neutral tones, by introducing neutral tablecloths, runners and napkins in greys and off whites, and adding ferns and foliage. “It’s not all about flowers,” he said. “Evergreens introduce a festive aroma to the table.”
He continued: “Gone is the day that a table should be set with a traditional layout – be flexible. Have fun and play with different settings to ensure your personality shines through.
“Experiment with colour, texture and shapes. Natural materials work really well with ceramics, whether it is wood, metal, glass or slate. And focal pieces, whether brightly coloured or patterned accent plates or a bowl, create a statement.
“Use candles for a classic finish. Candles create a wonderfully warm atmosphere and are an essential part of any stylish table setting.”
Finally, social media now plays a huge role in food and according to Denby’s report, it’s the most shared subject on Instagram. The survey reveals that 45% think the way food looks on the plate is just as important as how it tastes, 32% love it when people share pictures of their food on social media, 25% post pictures of restaurant food on social media and a quarter will pick their favourite plates to take pictures of their food.
Denby’s Natural Canvas range is suitable for entertaining