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The Case of Supper V. Dinner

the difference between dinner and supper

The Husband and I have had this Italian restaurant in Metro Detroit called Ottava Via on our restaurant bucket list for several months now!  We decided to go at 3:30 pm on a Tuesday for “supper.”  I asked the husband what he meant by supper, and he informed me, “You know, it’s early dinner like the old folks have.” Growing up I remember being at my German grandma’s house and hearing her yell across the yard, “Schnickelfritz, supper is ready!” In German, Schnickelfritz refers to a rowdy and mischievous child, which was a bulls-eye accurate description of me circa 1993-1996.  I was inclined to believe this definition of supper because it seems completely plausible. We couldn’t have been farther off the target of the true definition of supper.


Supper versus dinner.  The great meal-time debate!  I decided to put this debate to rest with a little inter webbing. According to the Ask The Etiquette Expert at The Protocol School of Texas, supper and dinner are quite dissimilar and used correctly by few.


Here’s where I dismantle everything you thought you knew about “dinner time.”  Supper and dinner have absolutely nothing to do with the actual time of the meal—the terms refer to the quantity of food eaten!  Mind. Blown. Dinner was used to describe the largest meal of the day, regardless of when you ate it. Did you just binge all your calories for the day watching Stanger Things on Netflix at 2 am?  Dinner.  Did you just eat enough food to feed your entire street at 9 am in the morning at the football tailgate?  Dinner.  Did you just get back from brunch, unbutton your jeans, and feel like you don’t need to eat again until who knows when?  Yea, that’s dinner, too.


We can track this historically to Southern and Midwest America during the farming industry during the 18th and 19th centuries when dinner was typically eaten around the time of day we would eat lunch in the modern age; it was also their largest meal of the day because they’d go back out tend the fields after.  Supper was a lighter meal and was usually the last meal eaten which would consist of soup or a modest course. We can thank the Germans for the word “supper” because “suppe” translates to soup in German.  So it went breakfast, farm, dinner, farm, supper…in that order! 


So how in the heck did this get lost in translation?  When the US moved away from farming and more towards industrial trades, many people chose to work outside of the home.  Society evolved and our meals did too. Families wouldn’t get home until late afternoon or early evening; they’d feast on their largest meal then, bringing forth the rise of what we now refer to as dinner.  Funny how we are now back to a generation of stay-at-homers though, right? 


I’m hearing all the good news here! What I call my late-night snack of sweet or salty demises is now technically supper and dinner can be eaten at any time of day, frankly.  


What does supper or dinner mean to you and your childhood?   What side of the debate are you on? Chances are when you’re invited over for dinner somewhere you can count on a hefty meal later in the day…but also don’t be surprised when I invite you over for dinner and mimosas at 10 am.

About the Author

Casey Kolp

Cheers! I’m Casey! Get ready for a blog full of wanderlust, culinary adventures, and unfiltered opinions – where I spill the tea (and the wine) on all things food, lifestyle, and travel!

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