In defence of the casual dinner

Fresh off the manic Christmas and new year’s eve rollercoaster, January tends to be a time for reconnecting with friends and family whose schedules you couldn’t sync with during the party-heavy run-up to the holidays.

With days still short, the temperature dropping and everyone looking to cut down on bad habits, it can be tough to find the right context in which to see people. Anything that requires too much time outdoors is very unappealing, while a pub for drinks won’t work for anyone attemting ‘dry January’. Inviting people over for dinner may feel like an obvious option, but it can be very expensive to host, and after all the palaver of Christmas day, you’d be forgiven for not being too keen on the idea. Enter: the casual dinner.

Casual dinners are basically a post-work occasion punctuated by eating, but without the formality and expense of the standard “going out for dinner”. They may involve staying in with friends, playing board games and munching on crudites and dips, or meeting up with family at a cafe that’s open late for a nice pot of tea and some simple but delicious nibbles.

The casual dinner isn’t stuffy or prescriptive, or — crucially at this time of year — overpriced. It has the benefits of a lunch date in that it’s laid-back and allows for flexibiliy: those who wish to can have a glass of wine, others can go straight in for a sweet treat rather than a full meal, and you’re not rushed out as soon as the eating is over. But unlike organising a lunch, a casual dinner can work any day of the week, giving you more options to fit aorund people’s schedules.

Hannah, a 31-year-old marketing manager from London, has been doing casual dinner for years: “I never really thought about it, but it’s definitely my favourite way to meet up with friends,” she said. “Dinner parties feel really stuffy and drinks are tricky as I have friends who avoid alcohol for health reasons or have kids and aren’t up for big nights out. We tend to meet places where the food is pretty varied and there’s no pressure to drink, that way everyone’s happy and it works out at less than half the price of going to a standard restaurant where you might have cocktails, starters and deserts just because you’re trying to prolong your time to chat.”

Another benefit to the casual dinner is its ability to cater to the various different dietary requirements of our friends and family, which seem to increase exponentially after the excesses of the Christmas period.

According to statistics from Twitter, eating healthier is our number one resolution this year, and that may include cutting out gluten, sugar and dairy, or going completely vegan — a trend so popular that it has its own campaign with ads on the tube.

While most people won’t stick with their new diets beyond the month of January, it can make a logistical nightmare of trying to organise a meal that everyone can enjoy. By eschewing the old standards of what a social dinner event should consist of, it allows for a more flexible way of combining eating with socialising, even if you just encourage everyone to bring over a tupperware of whatever they fancy eating and you provide the sofa, drinks and good conversation.

Whatever your circustances this January, don’t let preconceived notions get the better of you. The most important thing is to enjoy time with friends and family in a comfortable, low-stress environment which everyone will enjoy.

Farmstand is open until 9pm from Monday to Saturday. We offer a range of meals and snacks which are cooked by our chefs in-house and use ingredients that are only sourced from UK-based suppliers to keep things as local, seasonal and sustainable as possible. We offer free still and sparkling water as well as a selection of wine and beer, to keep everyone in the group happy — come and join us for your first casual dinner of 2017.

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