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Dinner vs Supper (moved from Quebec)

So it's finally clear...dinner is a more "low class" name for an evening meal. Supper is used in "upper classes"( "dinner" is a term reserved for a formal evening meal). An average evening family meal is supper. If you are having a formal evening "out" at a restaurant then it can be called dinner.

Also where I come from, the Canadian prairies, dinner often refers to the noon meal because this is when most farm families have a large meal. The farmers working out on the field need some hearty nourishment at noon, often they have been working on their fields since sunrise. By evening they are exhausted and just look for a light meal(supper) and early bedtime! I find that people in Ontario and the U.S. refer to dinner as the evening meal. Strange, I could never call supper, dinner.

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  1. I see it completely opposite. Dinner is a more refined/elegant word to me than Supper.

    I know that in England, and as you said, parts of Canada, Dinner is Lunch... But here, I hear many more people use Dinner than Supper for the evening meal. Supper sounds so 1950's.

    1 Reply
    1. It's a culture dialect thing. USA Dinner = Canadian supper.
      It's basically derived from French "Souper" which is the evening meal and "Diner" which is lunch.

      There is no difference between the actual meals, just the word that references to them.

      Now... if somebody could explain why "Entree" became the reference to the main course...
      (rhetorical, please don't quote wiki at me)

      10 Replies
      1. re: SourberryLily

        Yes, that confused the heck out of me after I studied French in high school and college. My theory is that it's because the main course is showier, making a grand entrance, so to speak? "Voila, l'entree!" No knowledge of this, of course, but I had to find a way to make sense of it. I suspect it's probably just based on a misunderstanding, though, like "lingerie," a word I can't even bring myself to say in American dept stores. I just ask for the underwear department.

        1. re: SourberryLily

          The evening meal is referred to as "dîner" in France and "souper" in Québec (and yes the Français de la France notice).

          Lunch is "déjeuner" in both.

          Entrée really threw me initially when I was traveling in the States and no, I have no idea why that's the term for the main course south of the border.

          1. re: wattacetti

            Since when does lunch = déjeuner in Quebec.

            Déjeuné (in qc) is the first meal of the day, before noon. AKA breakfast.
            NOW... for those who wake up at noon and eat breakfast at noon, well they are the exception :P

            1. re: SourberryLily

              Petit déjeuner = breakfast in Quebec. At least where I'm sitting, and that's with the French-speaking among our heterogenous crowd.

              I don't know anyone who lives in say Maisonneuve-Hochelaga but I'll check with some friends in the regions.

              EDIT: we could always ask for a vote on the Quebec board.

              1. re: wattacetti

                Sure petit déjeuner is a french (france) expression, but more often in quebec you'll hear:
                "As-tu déjeuner ce matin?"
                "On déjeune ou?"

                And on menus, you will always see "Déjeuner". If the restaurant serves it until 3pm, it doesn't mean dejeuner=lunch. It's just saying it's serving their breakfast menu until 3pm.

                Dont mean to get all "corrective" or be insulting to your post in any way. Just don't want an english speaker reading this and thinking lunch is "Dejeuner"

                1. re: SourberryLily

                  how do you get the ' above the e? and the , under the c???
                  my keyboard doesn't allow that...not to change the subject

                  1. re: ROCKLES

                    Put your keyboard settings to Canadian French. The é is made by hitting the ? key (beside the Shift key) on a english keyboard.

                    Or you could hit something like Alt+130

                    1. re: ROCKLES

                      On a US-English Mac with default settings:
                      option-e then e [hold down the 'option' key then hit 'e', then hit 'e' again] gives é
                      option-` then e gives è
                      option-c gives ç

                      option-e then a gives á
                      option-` then a gives à

                      option-i then e gives ê

                      If you want an umlaut (for German, etc),
                      option-u then the appropriate letter gives ä or ö or ü and so on.

                      You can check your keyboard mapping for your default font by doing something like opening a window in a full-featured word processing app like Microsoft Word, then from the top menu under 'Insert' select 'Symbol...' and from the dialog box that comes up select (normal text) for the font then click on the desired character or symbol and see what the 'Keyboard Shortcut' is (if any) shown under that table of characters/symbols.

                  2. re: wattacetti

                    I'm mostly with SourberryLily on this one.

                    In Quebec:

                    breakfast = déjeuner or petit déjeuner (vs. petit déjeuner in France)
                    lunch = dîner (and increasingly just "lunch") (vs. déjeuner in France) (And I don't think I've ever heard the midday meal called "déjeuner" in Quebec, even by transplanted French)
                    evening meal = souper (dîner in France)

                    As for the evening meal in English, I would say it's more usually dinner, but supper doesn't sound out of place to me either. Either of those words used for the midday meal would seem strange to me -- that's just "lunch".

                    1. re: Mr F

                      I'll concede. Did a quick poll and most used Sourberry's vocabulary unless they were speaking formally.

            2. My father's side of the family was from the southern US, and my grandparents referred to their large noontime meal as dinner, and the much lighter evening fare as supper (they never used the word 'lunch'). My mother's parents--northerners of French-American ancestry, and Canadian on my maternal grandmother's side--called their evening meal, the largest of the day, supper as well. When I was growing up, my mother called the later meal by either name, using them interchangeably.

              When I moved away from Michigan, I heard the word 'dinner' more often than the other, and use it myself now without thinking twice. Neither word has ever denoted class to me, but calls to mind a different time, and a different way of life. And now *I'm* curious where the word 'lunch' came from, and when it came into popular use. As if I haven't procrastinated enough today.

              14 Replies
                1. re: MGZ

                  Thank you, that was very helpful. I went to look it up and got distracted (shocker). Lonja, pretty word. I like it.

                2. re: onceadaylily

                  My Louisiana and East Texas grandparents from farming families also had dinner at mid-day and supper later. Sometime while I was growing up in Colorado, I started having lunch and dinner. I would always confuse my grandparents when I invited them to dinner at 6:00 :-)

                  1. re: onceadaylily

                    For my rural Ontario grandmother (born 1896) dinner was the noon meal, supper was at 6 pm, and lunch was the snack served in the evening when playing cards (e.g. sandwiches and pickles). Does anyone else use lunch in this way?

                    1. re: sewinglizzie

                      I grew up in rural southern Minnesota farm country. At our house, lunch was the noon meal, supper was the evening meal and dinner was the Sunday afternoon meal that could be eaten anytime after 12 noon but usually before 3pm (1p or 2p was normal).

                      The farmers in my part of the country (in the old days anyway, not likely anymore) had breakfast early, a big meal at noon (dinner) and supper in the evening. They also took a mid-morning (10a) and mid-afternoon 3p or so) break and might have a snack with both referred to as lunch.

                      1. re: John E.

                        Doesn't Howard Mohr explain the difference between lunch, dinner, and little lunch?

                        1. re: paulj

                          He could have, I've never seen his book. I don't know too many people with the exaggerated Minnesota accent. I do have cousins who have some of those inflections, and they live in Wisconsin.

                      2. re: sewinglizzie

                        When I lived in London and Port Franks, Ontario, lunch had the late-night snack meaning as well as the midday meal meaning. If the midday meal were formal (something that happened very seldom) and ladies were involved, it would be a "luncheon".
                        "Dinner" for the noon meal was used by relatives "on the farm". Evening meal (served at 5:30 or 6 pm) was always supper.
                        Never really used "dinner" for the evening meal until I met my (American) husband.

                        1. re: buttertart

                          Ladies Who Lunch may go to Ladies' Luncheons but they usually just lunch with ladies who are Ladies Who Lunch.

                          1. re: huiray

                            Not in the Ontario of my childhood, they were just regular ladies with hats on for a change. ;-)

                              1. re: huiray

                                Not that posh or fancy, but that's cute.

                      3. re: onceadaylily

                        The large noontime meal is still called dinner in most parts of rural Saskatchewan, and the evening meal is called supper.

                        In my experience, in rural and urban southwestern Ontario, supper and dinner are used interchangeably for the evening meal, although supper has a slightly more casual ring to it.

                        What's interesting to me, is that the midnight meal after dances and weddings in Saskatchewan(and probably elsewhere) is sometimes called a "midnight lunch".

                        1. re: prima

                          'Midnight lunch'. I've never heard that before. I like it. It sounds not so formal as dinner, but casually festive.

                      4. Growing up near NYC 50 years ago, the evening meal was generally referred to as supper. Dinner was used for dining out. A dinner party featured the evening meal. A supper party was held late in the evening and was a lighter meal, with cocktails playing a major role. Nowadays, calling the evening meal dinner suits me to a "tea" - let the Anglo battle begin!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: greygarious

                          I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, in the 50's - 60's where the evening meal was always "supper." Dinner implied something more elegant than eating at home (I doubt that we ever "dined" at home; we "ate" at home).

                          Nowadays I never have "supper." Whether dining in or out, the evening meal is always "dinner."

                          1. re: CindyJ

                            Ditto here - same age, but raised in Boston. We always had breakfast, lunch, and supper. Somewhere along the way supper became dinner.

                        2. I grew up in southern New England with parents from NY.
                          Dinner vs. Supper, which word to use.
                          It was determined by time of day.
                          Dinner was a large meal served before 6PM
                          A meal served after 6PM was Supper. Supper could be large or small
                          Dinner was still considered an evening meal.

                          The idea of a 'Sunday Dinner' served in the early afternoon was foreign to us. Somehow, Jews didn't have dinner in the afternoon after church..........................

                          1. and then there's regular folks in England, who call it 'tea'.

                            (you see upscale restaurants with a dinner menu, but I've never seen an upscale menu with a supper menu...there are supper clubs, of course...but that's a different topic, yet)

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Sunshine, in Phoenix AZ, there is a local restaurant, noca, getting a lot of love. I happen to be a fan. They have a Simple Sunday Supper which is a giant step away from their usual Monday - Saturday fare; it's less expensive and more casual. On Sundays, the tab is a straight $35 with several course choices. It is very easy to hit three figures pp when ordering from the regular menu. I've included a link so you can look at some examples. While noca is not one of those hushed temples of gastronomy where everyone tip-toes around, the silver clinks quietly and conversations are carried on sotto voce, I would consider it upscale.


                              1. re: Sherri

                                there's an exception to anything...when you can provide lists of restaurants in multiple cities worldwide that call the evening meal supper, then I'll reconsider my statement.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  ...... just pointing out the exception to the rule. I thought perhaps you might be interested in our quirky noca. It is a gem. Peace.

                                2. re: Sherri

                                  I live in Phoenix now and the evening meal is always called dinner regardless if it's at a restaurant or pizza on the couch in front of the TV. Where I grew up (Montana) the evening meal is always called supper regardless if it is in or out.

                                  FYI - NOCA is on my wish list to try, especially their Simple Sunday Supper.

                              2. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?t...
                                "c.1300, from O.Fr. disner (11c.), originally "breakfast," later "lunch," noun use of infinitive disner (see dine). Always used in English for the main meal of the day; shift from midday to evening began with the fashionable classes."

                                So 'dinner' comes from an old French term for breakfast (Spanish breakfast is desayuno - ayunar is to fast). In the historical mysteries that I've been reading, 14th century dinner is about 10 am.

                                As others have noted, in farming communities in North America, dinner at noon is common.

                                I suspect two trends have moved dinner to the evening:
                                - the fashionable one, where dinner is associated with evening formal dinners and parties
                                - 9-5 jobs and long commutes. lunch is eaten at work or school, dinner in the evening when everyone is home.

                                1. "So it's finally clear...dinner is a more "low class" name for an evening meal. Supper is used in "upper classes""
                                  I wonder how you came to that conclusion. To me, "dinner" is the main evening meal, to my family and to everyone else I knew in my middle-class milieu when I was growing up in a society influenced by the British, while a snack-like meal late at night before retiring to bed might be called "supper". This was also the same when I was attending university in England. "Supper" was the main evening meal for the lower/working classes, by and large, in my experience. "Lunch" was what one had for the meal around midday or so, for the middle and upper classes.

                                  You are from Quebec, as suggested by your postings. I would caution one that making sweeping statements that ostensibly apply to the entire world is unwise.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: huiray

                                    In Britain the more commonly used term for supper would be "tea" or in writing often simply "T", especially when it is an informal sort of thing with the family for example. In fact Tea seems to denote any meal taken roughly around tea-time, so from 4pm to 7pm or so. People definitly have lunch too but I hear very few people apart from foreigners like myself ever talk about dinner unless it's more or less a black-tie event.

                                    I do think people would take dinner to mean an evening meal though but mainly because that's the only cooked meal eaten here (not counting scrambled eggs and bacon sandwiches), and I for one always think of dinner implying "cooked".

                                    (I refuse to call my dinner/supper "tea" as I don't drink tea.)

                                    1. re: Xantha

                                      Well, I would say the vast majority of my evening meals during my years in England were cooked, sit-down, proper cutlery etc, events - and they were all "dinners" (for me and as referred to by others) Including those I had in the Dining Hall in College or at restaurants or at home. They were rarely before 8 pm when eating at home or at restaurants, and IIRC I rarely ate at Dining Hall earlier than, oh, 7-ish/7.30 or so. If I ate earlier, I would call it "Early Dinner". Oh, I heard folks say "supper" to refer to their evening meal, of course, but the circumstances and backgrounds appeared to be different. Yes, I grew up with the notion of "Tea" and tea-time, too; and was fond of Low Tea on the occasions when we had it, if we had Tea. Otherwise, one just had a snack if one felt hungry between lunch and dinner.

                                      Throughout my life growing up and to the present day my main evening meal is "dinner", not "supper".

                                    2. re: huiray

                                      I had the opposite experience in the UK. The upper classes called the evening meal "supper," the middle classes "dinner" and the lower/working classes "Tea." This was both from firsthand experience with a wide range of Brits, as well as from news sources, such as this one:


                                      That said, it wouldn't surprise me if there are regional dialects where the local working class may use the term supper, but certainly in London and the Southeast/Southwest, supper was an posh terminology, whcih amsued me because in my decidedly middle class American childhood we used the word supper primarily because that was what our PA and VA grandparents, also from middle class/farming stock, used.

                                    3. Never even heard the word "supper" while growing up in DC. There was breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each reflected time of day eaten. When I finally learned the word supper, it seemed a much more casual meal in the evening. Perhaps it happened at the same time as dinner for us, but it seemed very casual.

                                      13 Replies
                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                        What was the pattern on Sunday? For a church going family, Sunday dinner is likely to be at noon, after church, and supper a light meal in the evening. This would be true even if the week day pattern was lunch at noon, and dinner in the evening. An alternative is a late morning Sunday brunch.

                                        In modern American usage, dinner is the big meal of the day, either noon or evening. The lighter meal is lunch if eaten at noon, supper if eaten in the evening.

                                        There's nothing wrong with a lunch-supper pairing - if both meals are comparable in size and informality.

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          In Britain I've often come across "Sunday Roast" simply. If pressed further i would say that the mid-day meal would still be referred to as "Sunday lunch" but then I know a lot of people who would have a sunday roast in the evening anyway so perhaps their lunch is nothing special. To be honest I think it's less to do with that it's a Sunday and more a description of how the meal is cooked and serves. I've not heard of a sunday lunch/dinner so called without a Sunday roast.

                                          1. re: Xantha

                                            This is the kind of 'Sunday Roast Dinner' that I had in mind
                                            It doesn't mention the time of day, except that a lot of the preparation was done the evening before. The roast could have been in a slow oven all morning, while the family was off at church.

                                            In the US the menu would have been somewhat different (no Yorkshire pudding). I remember pot roast (braised beef) more than dry roast.

                                            I not surprised that in modern Britain, with a significant drop off in church attendance, Sunday dining patterns would be different from Victorian days.

                                          2. re: paulj

                                            The only difference on Sunday was that we did have a meal together after church, whereas the rest of the week we never had lunch together. On Sundays I guess it was sort of a brunch, since it often involved eggs. But the big meal of the day was always dinner, which was always 6-6:30pm every day of the week.

                                            EDit: the only exception to the dinner rule was Thanksgiving when the big meal was usually around 3pm.

                                            1. re: mojoeater

                                              When I was growing up, Sunday supper was lighter than usual, sometimes just popcorn. Sunday noon meal (dinner) often had guests, including 'Roast preacher' :)

                                          3. re: mojoeater

                                            <"Never even heard the word "supper" while growing up"> and I grew up North of Boston. We had Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. I can't remember anyone in my family or friends of family ever using the word Supper to refer to a meal they were serving at home. What I Do remember is that if my mother or her friends were invited to a "silver tea" it would be called a Luncheon, and served about 1:00PM..

                                            1. re: Gio

                                              And in church they celebrated the Last Dinner? :)

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                Haha... In Milan... and, as we have noted all over this thread the word Supper Is used for meals in many areas of the world....

                                                1. re: Gio

                                                  Leornardo da Vinci's famous painting is supposed to be titled "L'Ultima Cena", I believe. Google translate says "cena" can be either "supper" or "dinner". Italian speakers, what is the either the literary or colloquial meaning of "Cena" in Italy? In Italy during da Vinci's time?

                                                2. re: paulj

                                                  Hmm, i read elsewhere that the term "the last supper" does not appear in the Christian Gospels/New Testament...

                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                    I Cor 11:20 has 'Lord's supper' (in nearly all English translations)
                                                    κυριακὸν δεῖπνον in Greek
                                                    On Deipnon, main meal, usually late in the day (and Ancient Greek meals in general)

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      Yes, "Lord's Supper" is what seems to have entered discussion and teachings in English (Anglicans & Presbyterians?), translated from the Greek which doesn't itself quite say that; and is not the same as "(The) Last Supper". Thanks for the references.
                                                      ::friendly smile::

                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                        When I first mentioned it, I wrote Lords, and later changed it to Last. One refers more to the sacrament or ordinance, the other more to a particular event, illustrated in the Sistine Chapel. I probably should have left it as Lords, not that it really matters.

                                                        Luke 22:15-16
                                                        “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
                                                        may be the basis for later writers calling it the last supper

                                            2. Perhaps where you live the terminology is a class issue, but to apply your observation to the entire English-speaking world population is rather myopic, don't you think?

                                              The terminology is actually more about region/country than it is class.

                                              1. Quoting Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory "dinner refers to the largest meal of the day" whether that would be at mid-day or in the evening.

                                                The same speech pattern can be observed in several other languages such as the Scandinavian ones - "supper" translates to "kvällsmat" (lit. evening-meal) in Swedish for example but is a term that is generally only used to refer to a light meal. "supper" also translates as "supé" meaning "a party/gathering/event" generally starting after 9pm at which food is served, supé corresponding to the French words dîner and souper.

                                                I can see why a class distinction might appear in usage however - in many countries working class eats a hearty meal mid-day to sustain them during hours, a habit that has to some extent transgressed physical labour, whereas in the upper class might be more common to eat a larger meal in the evening. Climate can be a factor as well - in the mediterranian area in Europe it would be very common to have a light meal at noon and a larger one late in the evening, especially in the summer due to the heat.

                                                I do however ultimately disagree with the OP in saying that dinner is a low-class name for an evening meal.

                                                1. And this is finally clear how?

                                                  1. Both are interchangeable, except by the pretentious.

                                                    1. In southern Ohio where I grew up, the evening meal was always referred to as "supper" as in, "Hey Mom! What's for supper?" I have since thought of it as a regional term that diners in more educated circles refer to as "dinner". In my understanding, a light meal eaten late at night can correctly be called supper, but I never use the word in that way. I've come to dislike the word "supper" and I don't use it at all.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                                        Really? Like you, I have the same memory of how that word was used, and I use the word dinner always now as well, but the word supper still has a very intimate feel to it for me. I suppose I think of these two words less in terms of educational circles, and more in terms of formality. Dinner was either out, or (as with my paternal grandparents) the heavier midday meal, and, in either case, dinner seemed to be marked with gravity, and responsibility. Supper implied a more relaxed affair to me, of family tables at the end of the day and all that. I'm still fond of the word.

                                                        The different reactions are interesting. I've liked this thread.

                                                      2. I don't think this is an issue where we will find consensus; my own family isnt even consistent! I tend to use supper and dinner interchangeably, but the big meal on Christmas Day, which we eat around 1pm is always dinner.

                                                        My grandmother always called the midday meal dinner, the evening meal supper. To cloud the issue even more, my grandfather was a dairy farmer and had LUNCH every night around 10:30 pm because he said then he didn't have to eat before his morning milking.

                                                        1. What terminology do restaurants use?

                                                          A lunch menu or specials, and dinner menu is common. I don't think I've ever seen a supper menu.

                                                          Even this Wisconsin Supper club has lunch and dinner menus
                                                          small town cafe in SW Saskatchewan
                                                          THE STAR Café & Grill is open for lunch and dinner

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            paulj, please see my post above. I had never seen a supper menu until noca came along. It has proven to be wildly popular.
                                                            If you open the link, click on "Simple Sunday Supper" for the menus.

                                                          2. Certainly in the UK, I'd say there is a geographical/social class difference with dinner/supper. Dinner is my main evening meal and supper might be a light snack just before going to bed. Supper as a main evening meal appears to be more southern England and "upper class".

                                                            1. Here's an interesting US dialect survey that detailed many different things, including the usage of "dinner" vs. "supper"


                                                              FWIW, I remember calling the evening meal supper when I was a youngun (I lived mostly in northern Florida at the time, with a brief stay in Virginia in between.)

                                                              When I moved out to California, the evening meal eventually was referred to as dinner, but I still throw in the word supper every now and then.

                                                              1. It's the opposite, dinner meaning upper....do you ask a lady out to dinner or supper?? Dah

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Debbilee101

                                                                  Ah, now that could be either. Please check out my 12 August 2011 post above. :-0

                                                                  Although what on earth I was doing posting on an internet food discussion board on my 39th wedding anniversary I do not know. But you can correctly assume that she accepted my invitation and the evening went well.

                                                                2. When I was a kid, growing up in Brooklyn, the evening meal was always called supper. Now, I call the evening meal dinner. Just as we never used the word "dinner" as a kid, so we never use the word "supper" now. I don't know exactly when the change came about -- maybe when I started preparing meals that were somehow "elevated" from the meals of my childhood.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                                                    I know Cindy, we grew up with my mother yelling outside, "supper time" to round up us 5 kids.... Now as an adult, my preference is dinner as my meals are mimicked extravagant meals as I had many " dinner dates". So it's dinner and only dinner for me.