It’s been a long-raging debate, from university halls to places of work around the country, but we think we may have solved it. The UK – on average – refers to the third meal of the day as ‘tea’.
If you’re currently settling down to tuck into your dinner or supper, don’t recoil in horror, dinner is still a widely used term too.
- 52% of the UK said they predominantly called their evening meal ‘tea’
- 37% said they called it ‘dinner’
- 5% said they called it ‘supper’
- And an indecisive 6% said they used the three terms interchangeably, depending on what they were going to eat
Four lads about to tuck into their tea? (credit)
North vs South
Perhaps predictably, there was a fairly obvious north-south split between people who eat dinner and people who eat tea. (we’ll get to people who eat ‘supper’ in a moment).
Newcastle had the highest percentages of tea-eaters. 92% said that’s what they called their evening meal. Manchester, all of Yorkshire, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Belfast all favoured calling it tea in varying amounts.
The only major northern city not to favour ‘tea’ is Edinburgh, where 64% call it dinner and 11% call it supper.
Down south terminology is more variable. Brighton boasts the most dinner eaters. 70% call their evening meal dinner. London and Bristol, the South East and much of the South West also favour dinner. Cardiff had the largest proportion of tea eaters in the south of the UK, with 78%.
Outliers and key battlegrounds
There were a number of places dotted around the UK where use of tea and dinner were fairly evenly split. There were also areas that didn’t match the north-south trends, such as Edinburgh (mainly dinner), London (mainly tea) and York (mainly dinner)..
Manchester was the most obvious terminology battleground. 46% favoured calling it tea, while 44% called it dinner. London, Glasgow and Norwich also had a relatively even distribution of people favouring tea or dinner.
Is Manchester the UK’s linguistic battleground?
Of those who said they used different terms*** depending on the food being served or the time it was eaten, most said that tea referred to a light late afternoon meal, dinner was a larger meal and supper was either an informal or casual hot meal served later in the evening, or a light snack eaten after dinner.
Leeds had the highest degree of variability between terms. 21% of residents said they used different names for their evening meal depending on what they were having.
What about Supper?
Although very few people use the term, it was almost as contentious as dinner vs tea. Down south, supper is what you might call an informal evening meal if dinner is typically formal, with guests and multiple courses. Up north, it’s more commonly used to refer to a snack before bedtime. Examples given in our study were toast, tea (the drink), digestive biscuits, cereal or a sandwich.
The Last Supper (credit) probably didn’t consist of toast or hot chocolate (northerners) or a light hot meal served informally, typically in the kitchen and with no more than six guests (southerners)
Supper was not meaningfully represented in any major cities other than London, where just 5% of residents use it predominantly to describe their evening meal. The same percentage said they use the three terms interchangeably.
Supper is a significantly more popular term in the south. At least 10% of people living in Essex, Gloucestershire, East Anglia, South Wales, Oxfordshire, Devon and East Sussex say supper instead of dinner or tea. Edinburgh was the only place outside of the south of England that did the same.
Regan McMillan, director of Kiwi Movers, believes the spread of usage says a lot about the UK’s ever-evolving demographics.
“We move people into and out London all year round, so we always notice interesting variations in words and terms people use. For example, the name for a bread roll seems to vary with every person you speak to – be it barm, cob or batch – but the most obvious and contentious one has always been what we call our evening meal.
“A Londoner may ask if we’ll be finished before dinner, while someone from Yorkshire will likely ask if we’ll be finished before tea.
“But it’s a myth that this is purely a north-south trend. It’s actually fairly mixed. We’ve certainly noticed people from certain parts of the north saying ‘dinner’ and even ‘supper’ and the same can be said for places down south and in London saying ‘tea.’
“Our research suggests the presence of large or multiple universities and the types of industries in certain areas may influence the choice of language people use.
“For example, Leeds and Manchester are both in the middle of ‘tea’ country, but less than two thirds of residents in Leeds and less than half in Manchester favour that term. When you look at the demography of these places, Manchester with their large media industry and Leeds with its financial services industry, it’s easy to see how local language and idioms are coloured by internal migration.”
Evening Meal Names Across the UK’s Large Cities
|tea %||dinner %||Supper %||Interchangeable %|
|Brighton and Hove||13.0||69.57||10.14||7.25|
About the study
*We polled 3,000 UK adults between the dates of January 31st and March 3rd.
**We also analysed social media posts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to determine the frequency of different terminology used across the UK.
***We asked those who used terms interchangeably to describe their usage habits in a free text field. We then collated the results. 182 in total said they used interchangeable terms and 24 of those went on to describe their usage.