An evening meal by any other name

What do you call the last main meal of the day?

Having lived in South Wales until my late ‘teens, then London for about eight years and Cambridgeshire since then – and with relatives in the north of England and Devon – I’ve heard varying terms being used.

A recent survey by Travelodge explored the issue.

I daresay the research was commissioned to assist with the company’s marketing plans; but, as is often the case, market research can be of wider interest. During my career in advertising I often needed to use marketing reports and/or provide input into what are called “U&A” (Usage and Attitude) questionnaires. My job entailed routinely using the information generated in the planning of ad. campaigns. But on many occasions I also found the results quite fascinating simply as a piece of cultural insight.

Well, back in Wales when I was a kid we used to call that late afternoon, early evening meal “tea”. After moving to London I quickly learned to revise a number of pronunciations and bits of vocabulary. One key amendment was that “tea” became “dinner”.

(As I write, I’m wondering whether eating habits may be changed long term by the coronavirus epidemic and its fallout; but that issue isn’t on my menu today).

Anyway, here’s a cut-and-paste of the Travelodge press release about the research, which you might like to discuss over tea … or dinner … or supper … or …

29th January, 2020

A new nationwide study exploring Briton’s eating habits has, once and for all, settled the age-old argument about what our evening meal should be called.

According to the majority of British adults (54 percent), the last meal of the day should be called ‘dinner’.

In fact, only four in ten Britons still refer to it as “tea”, while just one in twenty (5 percent) call it ‘supper’.

The survey also shines a light on the assumptions we make about people based on what they call their evening meal. Over a quarter of Britons claim that if you call it ‘supper’, you must be posh, and the same number believe that if you call it ‘tea’, you’re definitely Northern.

It’s no surprise then that the study, commissioned by Travelodge which operates 200 restaurants in UK hotels, found that 43 percent of us attribute differences in what to call your evening meal to where you live geographically.

The survey found ‘tea’ is unsurprisingly more prevalent in the North of the country (53 percent of Northerners call it tea), while ‘dinner’ is more likely to be used in the South (66 percent refer to it as dinner).

The data also revealed that what you call your evening meal can lead to problems, as many as 41 percent of Britons have got themselves into a socially awkward situation when it comes to what to call the third meal of the day.

A paranoid 16 percent worry that others look down on them for saying ‘tea’, while 12 percent have asked a new partner to refer to their evening meal in a different way, to fit in with their family.

An argumentative one in ten Britons has even fallen out with a colleague or friend about the correct term to use.

The survey also reveals that one in five (20 percent) Britons think the term ‘tea’ refers to a cup of tea and a biscuit, while 10 percent assuming ‘tea’ would be a light meal between the hours of 4pm and 6pm.

Meanwhile, 15 percent would expect an afternoon tea with cakes and sandwiches if invited for ‘tea’.

The study found it is not just our main meals that are causing problems – respondents were also divided over the correct term for the sweet course.

Four in 10 Britons (40 percent) refer to it as ‘pudding’, 12 percent say ‘afters’, and 39 percent stick to dessert.

Shakila Ahmed, Travelodge Spokeswoman, said: “We have over 200 restaurants in our hotels across the UK and our Bar Café team members regularly debate whether the evening meal should be called dinner or tea. Therefore we thought it would be interesting to put this age old argument to bed by asking the nation. Interestingly our research findings show opinion is clearly divided across the country. However dinner is growing in popularity.”

The term ‘dinner’ derives from the Latin word ‘disjejunare’ meaning to break one’s fast, whereas supper comes from the French word ‘souper’, meaning evening meal.

The study also explored where we eat our evening meal and found that the most common place is plonked on the sofa with a tray (39 percent), but that 28 percent of families gather around a traditional dining-room table.

A swanky one in five (20 percent) choose to eat at their kitchen island, but one in 10 Britons slope off to their bedroom to enjoy dinner on their own.

More than one in twenty (6 percent) are still slogging away in the office come dinner time, so eat their tea at their desk.

The average UK family eats at around 7pm, with 25 percent claiming it is old fashioned and uncool to eat before 5pm.

In fact, over a quarter (27 percent) of respondents said they didn’t like the trend for feeding children separately to the adults, believing the whole family should eat together every evening.

43 percent of the adults surveyed said the evening meal was the only chance they got to catch-up with their partner and children.

When it comes to what we discuss over the dining table, work, what to watch on telly and the children’s homework are the top topics of conversation.

The study also uncovered the most popular dinners for modern Britons, with spaghetti bolognaise, sausage and mash and pizza topping the list.

An organised 44 percent of the adults polled said they stick to some sort of routine or rota when preparing family evening meals and a similar number


Birmingham – dinner (49%)
Brighton – dinner (82%)
Bristol – tea (52%)
Cambridge – dinner (64%)
Cardiff – tea (47%)
Edinburgh – dinner (74%)
Glasgow – dinner (74%)
Leeds – tea (61%)
Leicester – tea (71%)
Liverpool – tea (58%)
London – dinner (80%)
Manchester – tea (67%)
Newcastle – tea (66%)
Nottingham – tea (51%
Oxford – dinner (70%)


Monday: spaghetti bolognaise – (27%)
Tuesday: pizza – (18%)
Wednesday – lasagne (18%)
Thursday – cottage pie (17%)
Friday – fish and chips (23%)
Saturday – takeaway (20%)
Sunday – roast dinner (49%)



Image credit: Travelodge Press Office

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