The Comeback of the American Dinner
Convenience replaced connection, but now coronavirus is switching it back
Remember the good old days? When the whole family gathered around the table for a home-cooked meal, conversation about the day’s events, and a regurgitation of what the kids learned at school. In his farewell address, Ronald Reagan said “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
A plethora of publications and research studies has shown that more meal time together raises healthier children and strengthens family bonds. A June 2015 Washington Post piece is titled “The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them.” Stanford Children’s Health published an article called “Why the Family Meal Is Important.” There’s even a nonprofit named The Family Dinner Project, which was started to promote the exercise of eating together as a family.
The Center on Addiction, formerly The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, conducted a study on the differences between teens that ate a family dinners five to seven nights per week compared with those that ate family dinners two or less nights per week. They found that teens who ate with their families less were:
- Twice as likely to have used tobacco
- Almost twice as likely to have used alcohol
- 1.5 times likelier to have used marijuana
Clearly, family meals are beneficial, albeit an inconvenience (read: Scary Mommy).
30 minutes or less
The decrease of family meals—going down by more than 30% over the past three decades, according to the American College of Pediatricians in 2014—is due to the vast increase in other options. Why go to the grocery store and take the time to prepare food when you can get it hand delivered to your door in just minutes?
In Hungry Howie’s history of pizza delivery, the restaurant chain explains that World War II soldiers getting situated back into civilian life craved the food they had overseas, but couldn’t get it in their towns. New York City introduced “ordered-to-take-home” pizzas and Los Angeles offered free delivery. Other restaurants soon followed:
The 60’s marked the beginning of the fast-food era. By this decade, most Americans had two vehicles, and private cars were common among many American families. Here is where modern delivery systems began. Places from pizza joints to burger chains began offering delivery. This changed the food industry forever.
There’s an app for that
The inception of the internet and its creations were quick to penetrate the food industry. Seamless, largely hailed as the pioneer in online restaurant delivery service, was founded in 1999 as an alternative to paper menus. It later merged with GrubHub.
Silicon Valley did not let competitors steal an order.
Last summer, DoorDash surpassed GrubHub in U.S. monthly sales. A quick glance at the App Store shows fierce competition. Postmates (valued at $2.4 billion in September 2019), DoorDash (valued at $12.6 billion in May 2019), and Uber Eats (estimated to be worth $20 billion prior to Uber’s May 2019 IPO) are all racing to get to customers’ doorsteps.
Pizza shops did not stay stagnant either. A 2017 Bloomberg Businessweek article shows the initiatives Domino’s conceived to become the leader in delivery again:
For the past five years, the company has been emphasizing all the ways you can order pizza with minimal human and maximal digital contact. It’s introduced more ordering methods — Facebook, Twitter, Twitter with emojis, Apple Watch, voice-activated, “zero click,” wedding registry— than new items on its menu. Customers can track their pizzas online, starting as they’re being made…
Cooking during coronavirus
With stay-at-home orders at varying degrees, families around the world really only have two options: support restaurants by ordering takeout or delivery meals, or cook at home the old-fashioned way.
Kitchenware startups like Equal Parts and Great Jones are currently offering guides services to aid in prepping meals. Check out Equal Parts’ Instagram profile for live workshops and recipes or text Great Jones’ Potline messaging platform for cooking advice.
With so much time spent at home, one of the positives that may come out of the pandemic is a return to the dinner table—it might just change America.