Surveying the dirty dishes and streaky glasses after a midweek dinner party, it would be easy to agree with the YouGov survey announced yesterday that 40 per cent of us can't face the hassle or expense. After a dash home from work to tidy up and throw together a shepherds pie (I always forget the homespun end result comes from laborious preparation), by 10.30pm I'm wishing my guests would bugger off so I could go to bed. Then there's the clearing up ...
But there's something rather dispiriting about the idea of people across Britain sitting quietly in their kitchens, eating alone, as the age of the dinner party passes into history. Apart from anything else, there's the question of what will happen to the sales of Ferrero Rocher?
Dinner parties – whether formal affairs with placements and tablecloths, cheese courses and decanters – or the more modern embodiment, the "kitchen supper", are the fabric of society. Without them the social discourse disappears. Yes, we can follow our friends on Twitter to catch their witty verdict on The Bridge, and we can see their holiday snaps on Facebook, but there's no satisfactory replacement for actual, you know, conversation; the kind that meanders around from the local book festival to movie gossip to politics.
The cost is a legitimate anxiety. The survey states that the average dinner party costs £60 and most of us hold six of them a year. My own profligacy/show-off tendencies put me at the upper end, I reckon, but there's no doubt that everyone – apart from the most haute of hostesses – is feeling the pinch. My own solution is to use Sunday's leftover roast lamb for the shepherds pie and buy wine when it's on special offer.
I do agree that performance anxiety gets the better of many would-be hosts. With wall-to-wall cookery shows on TV, who'd want to present their pasta with pesto in front of an ardent Great British Menu fan? But those shows are entertainment, not how-to videos. It'd be a very strange guest who expected salmon and caviar rolls with candied celery.
I once met Jamie Oliver and, on my husband's instructions, invited him round for dinner, assuming that no one else does. Sure enough, he says he never does get asked round, because everyone thinks their food isn't good enough. (He never came.)
But that's the point – dinner parties aren't actually about the food at all. It can be a large bowl of Doritos and a jug of mojitos; which is stretching the term dinner party to its limits, I agree. I still want people to Come Dine with Me – not least because my children learnt to converse, which they do brilliantly, by watching the grown-ups at our dinner table.