By Jack Sharkey, September 22, 2016

Unless it’s a special occasion, we don’t often spend a lot of time and energy on breakfast and lunch – so for the purposes of this piece, we’ll ignore them both. Here in the US, we pretty much use dinner and supper interchangeably, but there are some differences. To some people, you eat supper out and dinner at home with family. To others, supper is an informal meal grabbed quickly while dinner is a more formal event. Supper is an afterthought, dinner takes planning and effort. Either way the end results are very similar: You eat. The differences lie in the depth of the experience.


Back Story

Last Friday the nuclear family unit went for a quick dinner in East Nashville. I was in the mood for a dive place with a good burger and a beer. The hipster child unit suggested a place in her neighborhood she had never been before that she thought might fit the bill.

The place looked really nice in that hip funky Nashville way that made us fall in love with this city in the first place but my first clue this wasn’t a dive came when the waiter greeted us by saying ‘good evening’ instead of that ever popular server greeting: ‘Hi guys! How are you guys tonight?!!

It was obvious beer and burgers were out so we ordered cocktails: The hipster-unit ordered a Mule (vodka, gin, rum, bourbon with ginger beer and lime). The long-suffering-life-partner ordered a glass of 2013 Altes Garnatxa red. The beer list was complicated so I ordered a Diet Coke. My focus on a burger and a beer was blurring up quickly.

Eastland Cafe

Starving, we agreed an appetizer would be fun. I perused the menu for chicken fingers or jalapeno poppers, but alas, there were we ordered the Goat Cheese Brulee (fresh goat cheese with flatbread, roasted tomatoes, local honey, roasted red peppers, balsamic). There also were no crayons or pictures on the placemats. In fact, there were no placemats.

For our entrees the long-suffering life-partner ordered the pan-seared salmon with braised leek barrels, parsnips, pear and parsnip puree and charred parsley pistou. The hipster unit ordered the Tennessee Hereford Cut with roasted baby carrots, celery root puree, crispy red potato and demi-glace. I never quite got out of dive-restaurant mode and being as there was no burger on the menu, I ordered the Margherita pizza.

Everything was delicious, including the pedestrian Margherita pizza which was really only pedestrian in the sense that it was not pan-seared salmon or Tennessee Hereford steak. While I looked longingly at my beloved family members’ wonderful entrees, drinking my Diet Coke and eating my pizza I came to the simple conclusion: Dinner kicked supper’s ass.


But, like Paul Simon once famously asked: what is the point of this story?  

There is a difference between dinner and supper. I’m sure some of you die-hard supper fans out there will get angry and upset that I am seemingly denigrating your favorite meal – I’m not, I’m simply pointing out the differences between the two. I eat supper on average 73.5% more times than I eat dinner, so I’m not one to talk, but seriously, facts is facts.

Here’s a handy table to help you visualize the difference between dinner and supper: 

Dinner vs. Supper

Visual representation of supper

Above: Visual representation of supper

In 1970 Americans spent $42.8 billion on dinner and forty years later in 2010 (the last year I put any effort into finding statistics for) we spent $520 billion (Time Magazine 6-21-2010). In 1970, chefs were anonymous chain-smoking fat guys with drinking problems. In 2016, chefs still chain-smoke but they’re now rock stars, with private planes, production deals, awesome tattoos, really, really expensive haircuts and well-fitting jeans. Might there be a connection between our increasing distance to food as an experience and our new-found idolization of people who spend their lives making food an experience? Are we longing for the time when food mattered? I offer that since we now spend so much time eating supper those who make us dinner are our new heroes. Music, television and movies have become more fractured in our collective consciousness but the one thing we all have in common is eating, so it stands to reason that the people we now elevate are the masters who teach us how to make our eating experiences more like dinner and less like supper. We are all masters of supper but very few of us take the time to be masters of dinner.

Visual representation of dinner

Above: Visual representation of dinner

Bread and theater is now our favorite entertainment; the winners of the multitude of cooking shows our new cultural heroes. We exult our chefs like we used to exult our rock stars.

Of course we love supper – fish sticks on rye bread with Kraft tartar sauce and slice of American cheese (remove the plastic wrapping please), some potato chips and a glass of iced tea is my idea of a perfect supper. But sometimes I really wish I’d ordered the pan-seared salmon.

If every meal was dinner we’d grow bored with the experience but if every meal is supper we miss out on a lot of the experience wonderful food has to offer. The same thing could be said for music: You don’t love music any less because you treat it like supper, but you don’t enjoy it to its fullest extent either.

Why not make room in your life for both?