Future fading for dinner parties
THE dinner party, that great social institution variously loved and dreaded by the middle-classes, reportedly is in decline.
If there is to be a place for chat about house prices and schooling for little Oliver, it will not be around a table awash with wine and irregular soup spoons.
A recent UK survey has revealed that almost 40% of us think dinner parties are too expensive, time-consuming and stressful to bother with.
Similar studies report a recessionary "cocooning" effect: we'd rather hunker down with a cheap oven pizza than clink glasses over canapes.
Should we care?
If the dinner party can be exemplified by Hyacinth Bucket's "candlelight suppers" - from the 1990s sitcom Keeping Up Appearances - then its wobbling popularity, like an anaemic salmon terrine, is surely to be celebrated.
But there are compelling reasons for a revival.
Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher and keen host, believed the dinner party was a vital forum for the stimulation of the self and society.
Social dining was a "veritable medicine for the mind", while he thought eating alone encouraged "intellectual self-gnawing".
The prognosis for today's minds would appear gloomy.
Stephen Bayley, the writer and cultural critic, believes it "has not gone away but that its menu has been simplified".
Bayley, 60, says the Bucket supper has "succumbed to the dominant contemporary taste for informality".
"In the '80s, when I was more interested in social competition, I used to give dinner for 10 twice a week," he said.
"Today we're more likely to have one other couple on Sunday evening."
For the endangered contemporary host, competition remains crucial and television's reality cooking shows have turned the dining table into an arena for culinary point-scoring.
At the same time, glossy cookbooks and TV chefs have sent aspirations soaring.
When food becomes social capital, it doesn't come cheap. Earlier surveys have put the average cost of a dinner party about $100.
If the dinner party is to survive, we'll need to be more imaginative.
Alice Hart, a UK food stylist said "food should be about sharing, not competing".
"I don't want a gussied-up five-course bonanza, I want people to relax and enjoy themselves," she said.
She suggests simple dishes that can be prepared partly in advance.