Whisper it quietly, but it seems as though the backlash against technology is picking up pace. Yes, you will still see the smartphone zombies checking their Twitter and Facebook statuses at Costa Coffee and Starbucks but, all over the country, families are instituting mealtime bans and returning to the old days of enjoying family meals around the dining table.
As the days shorten and nights out require more effort, it is natural that attention should turn to creating a space that is a warm, cosy haven for family and friends to get together over a big dish of pasta or winter goulash.
Whether you have a formal dining room or prefer to keep things as relaxed as possible by eating in the kitchen, there are many things you can do to ensure that the younger members of the household are happy to jettison their phones and join in with family life for a change.
The first – and most important – aspect of creating the perfect eating experience for your family is to choose a table that is not only long enough to seat everyone in comfort but wide enough to allow plenty of room for all those steaming dishes. Nobody wants to have to employ the sideboard as a temporary food storage area, so bear that in mind when you are taking measurements for your table.
Jonathan Stewart of Wharfside, whose Shoreditch warehouse specialises in high-quality wooden furniture, says, “We specialise in creating solutions for busy families whose time together is precious. Whether the plan is to retain a room as a formal dining area or make the kitchen the heart of the home, our skilled craftsmen can ensure that every member of the family is seated in comfort.”
Of course, the best way to ensure that even the least sociable members of the clan are happy to turn up to communal mealtimes is to make the environment as attractive as possible. Laying the table might not seem like the most exciting job in the world, but if you have a couple of teenagers who prefer to eat takeaway junk food on their laps in front of the TV while texting their friends, a well-presented table can act as a declaration of intent.
With space in many British homes being at a premium there is always the issue of choosing a table large enough to be a practical venue for a lavish dinner, yet small enough not to occupy too much of the kitchen when not in use.
“We work with some of the best companies in Europe to provide bespoke solutions for our clients,” says Stewart. “If a refectory table that can seat 12 is what is required, we can easily arrange that, but we find that most of the time what is needed is something that can be adapted, depending on current circumstances. At Wharfside we have a number of tables that can be extended for large dinner parties and family get-togethers. These feature retractable leaves and panels that can considerably extend the dining space. For instance, Team 7’s award-winning Nox table is a beautiful but very sturdy piece of wooden furniture, yet it can be made considerably larger very easily.”
Eating together can have considerable benefits. Columbia University’s National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse issued a number of reports stating that children who sit down at least five times a week to eat dinner with their families are at significantly less risk of contracting problems such as eating disorders and even alcohol and drug abuse.
There are even more obvious benefits as well, such as parents having the opportunity to quiz their children on their day and find out about any problem areas that might need action, but even more than these issues is the feelgood factor generated by gathering family and friends together.
“Autumn is the perfect time to start that process,” says Stewart. “After a couple of decades of families going their own ways at mealtimes there has most definitely been a move back to the old-fashioned family dinner. Now is the moment that we find our clients redefining and rearranging their homes to ensure that the scene is set for that essential reconnection at the end of the day.”