The relaxed brunch where six young professionals gather around a table packed with craft products in the heart of Brussels' diplomatic district is a far cry from the formal dinner parties of the 1970s. While in those early boom days of home entertainment, guests and hosts had to navigate a minefield of class and gender expectations, here it's about like-minded people getting to know one another and sharing knowledge about food and drink, all in a convivial atmosphere.
The Sunday brunch is one of dozens of similar events taking place all over the world that weekend through a peer-to-peer service called Bookalokal.com, where hosts from Washington to Jakarta open up their homes and their kitchens to friends, tourists, locals and expatriates. Another online service, La Belle Assiette, offers nearly 340 private chefs who travel to customers' homes and create tailor-made experiences in their own kitchens and dining rooms. It's an experience host Sergio Fabozzi says “gives value -- you have your own chef at home, just for the night.”
These are perfect examples of how the lines are blurring between entertaining at home and going out, with people welcoming friends, family and peers into their private spaces for everything from cocktail classes to craft workshops. This surge in popularity of 'Hometainment' presents exciting new opportunities, and has been fuelled by the massive social, technological and leisure shifts since the last Golden Age of dinner parties more than four decades ago.
Dr. Megan Blake, a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, says the underlying reasons for hosting have remained the same. “It's a way of demonstrating worldliness or cosmopolitanism... it's not just about getting together with your mates and having a good time - there is a bit of display that goes on,” she says.
Thankfully, the days of shrimp cocktail, coronation chicken and pained conversations over a limited wine list are behind us, with the form and content of dinner parties morphing to reflect economic and social shifts. Hosting is no longer the domain of a housewife in the suburbs: chefs, mixologists and sommeliers are now household names thanks to television shows and books, while exposure to exotic new food and drink through travel means people are keen to challenge themselves in the kitchen and to create a Premium experience to share with friends.
And the boom in social media means the display is not limited to those gathered around the dinner table. “People are interested in what you put around the plate, how you present a meal - we try to create an atmosphere with a choice of colours, lights and music,” says Jean-Pierre Corbeau, a Sociologist at the University of Tours in France. “The dishes are photographed and put online... You are creating an event that will continue in social networks - not just a memory.”
The same applies to the home itself, which has transformed from a place to raise a family behind closed doors to a place where you throw the doors open and let people in. First came the rise of the “Do It Yourself” culture in the post-war years, which has blossomed into a full-blown craft revolution in the Internet age. On YouTube, you can access videos demonstrating everything - from putting up a shelf, to crocheting your own bedspread all the way, to mastering the Cosmopolitan cocktail. The home therefore becomes a reflection of the person living there, and a display of their passions, skills and interests.
The seismic shift in the typical household has also transformed the way people work, live and make friends. About 50% of the world's populations now live in cities - a figure expected to jump to 70% by 2050 - and a family of two parents and two children is now far from the expected norm. Solo living is increasing; people are living longer and having children later; globalisation means workers will move countries and continents to find the best job, creating growing expatriate communities.
These are demographic groups with traditionally high disposable income - and spending it on improving the home and pastimes like cooking, fine wines or spirits, and technology, means they are keen to show their spoils off to their social circle.
Beatriz Ramo, director of the Netherlands-based firm STAR strategies + architecture, foresees a future where people adapt by sharing more communal spaces, fostering even greater interaction. Already homes are changing to become multi-functional and adaptable to growing numbers of guests. Beatriz Ramo describes one home she designed with an adaptable main room: “You can pull out a sofa and it becomes a living room, you can pull out two tables and it becomes a big dining room for 10 people... or you bring out all the chairs and it becomes a place to watch films with your friends.”
The march of the middle class is also contributing to the Hometainment shift. The social group is due to increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020, fuelled by growing wealth in the developing world. However, many nations with a growing middle-class population are also pre-occupied with security concerns. In Mexico City, an increase in kidnappings over the last decade has made people wary of going out, fuelling the preference for entertaining at home.
Some entrepreneurs already provide solutions. In the Brazilian city of São Paulo, more than 150,000 motorcycle delivery boys will bring everything from laundry to a hairdresser directly to your door, an ideal service in unsafe neighbourhoods.
All over the globe, companies are tapping into the commercial possibilities of the phenomenon. Technology was the first industry to seize on it, with sophisticated home entertainment systems providing films, gaming and music. With 40% of the world's population now connected to the internet, technology is opening up the home to the outside world.
“Conviviality and the digital revolution are linked,” says Alain Dufossé, Managing Director of Pernod Ricard's Breakthrough Innovation Group (BIG). “It does trigger new ways of consuming because you have access to mixology, you have access to tutoring in terms of how to appreciate these products, how to consume them. So I think digital is enriching experiences, and that is good for our industry because it creates additional interest, it creates touch points which did not exist before.”
The Wines and Spirits industry has traditionally geared its marketing towards consumers in bars, clubs and restaurants. But market research by BIG shows that sales for consumption at home have now outpaced sales in those traditional spaces in most countries, opening up a wealth of new possibilities.
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