As I mentioned, mealtimes in the UK can be complicated; so much so, I’ve had to make flowcharts to try to figure out which one it is I am eating. All too often, it feels like the names are arbitrary and completely interchangeable without rhyme or reason – this post is my small attempt at trying to make sense out of something that really shouldn’t need explaining, yet somehow does because… dots…
Now, I may revise this entry later on with an actual flowchart if it still isn’t clear, but for the moment, I’m going to break it down into bullet points for each meal name so that you have some basic criteria to work with before you sit down to eat.
The easiest meal to figure out, this is the only one that does not have an interchangeable name – probably because everyone is still too groggy when they wake up to mumble anything more than “morning” and “pass the marmite.”
- Eaten anytime before 11AM
Get a good look at that ease and simplicity, because you will not see it again for the rest of the day. You were warned.
- Eaten between the hours of 11AM and 2PM
- Only one course
- Typically consumed in one hour or less
This is the meal you eat when you are working and plan on going back to work when you are done with your break. It’s simple and generally not very heavy, though on occasion someone may have the odd “take-away,” fast-food combo deal.
- Eaten at any time after 11AM and 8PM (that isn’t a typo, I swear)
- May have more than one course
- You’re going to be sitting there for at least two hours
- the biggest meal of the day
- May be eaten after “breakfast” or even after “lunch”
If you’re eating over at someone’s place at noonish, and they call it dinner; expect to not be hungry for the rest of the day. This is a ploughman’s meal – if you can visualise such a thing, if not, try thinking of how much a lumber jack can pack away and that’s basically it. There may or may not be a desert afterwards.
- Eaten anytime after 5PM
- Usually only one course
- Expect to sit there for an hour or two
- Typically eaten after “lunch” though may be had after “dinner” (uncommon)
Confused yet? You’re going to be, I promise.
- You are asked if you are “having Tea” not if you would “like Tea”
- May be eaten after “lunch” or “dinner”
- Eaten anytime after 5PM
- Usually more than one course – though tend to be lighter than “dinner” courses
- More formal than “supper”
- Expect to eat quickly and then sit there for 4 hours
Please note that there is no traditional “desert” meal – it’s usually rolled into being a part of the last meal of the day, if you have it at all.
Okay, so now you know which one is which (presumably), but do you know based off of the meal you had last which one you will be having? Yeah, this is where it becomes a craps shoot – I’m still trying to figure it out, but so far I have the following combinations (the natives are more than welcome to correct me if I’m wrong on any of this):
Breakfast/Dinner/Supper (only if you plan on doing a Poo Bear stuck-in-the-door impression on your way home)
Breakfast/Lunch/Tea (uncommon to have two light meals back-to-back but can happen)
Given this information, the only safe assumptions you can make are the following:
- Party/Holiday/Special Event at home? Assume you’re eating “dinner” at some point that day – be it noon-ish or later in the evening.
- If you’ve already had “dinner,” and celebrations are still going on, expect to have “tea” that evening.
- If you have “lunch” and there are no special events, you will have “dinner” or “supper”