Family Dinner Time? Better Leave the Cell Phone Behind

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Family dinners have customarily held a sacred place as part of family life, holidays, and traditions. But what do they look like to Americans today? To better understand what modern “family dinners” mean, The Harris Poll found out who’s invited, how often the table is set, and what role technology plays at the table.

A majority of adults who live with others sit down to family dinners at least once a week, and 93% of Americans say family dinners are something to look forward to. But be careful about what you bring to the table – 90% of Americans say cell phones don’t belong. Other technology, however, is welcome, with nearly 4 in 10 eating their family meals in front of the TV (37%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,236 U.S. adults surveyed online between March 16 and 21, 2016.

Who’s got the time?

Among those who live with others, a vast majority (87%) sit down to family dinner at least once a week, while just 5% say they never have family dinners. Those most likely to sit down once a week tend to have incomes of $75K or more. Married Americans are more likely than those who aren’t to sit down every night (34% vs. 21%). For many, just getting dinner on the table can turn into a family affair, with 65% saying it’s a group effort, especially among adults with kids under 18 in the house (71% vs. 61% of those without).

But is it enough? Those who don’t sit down more often say it’s because it is too difficult to coordinate schedules (29%) – a reason cited more often by unmarried Americans (36%), compared to their wedded counterparts (24%). Those excuses may be regretted in the future, however, as over 4 in 10 Americans (44%) say they wish they’d had more family dinners when they were growing up – a sentiment especially strong among adults with kids in the house (53% vs. 39% without). On the other hand, four in 10 (42%) are perfectly content with family dinner frequency, saying they sit down together as often as they would like.

Forget the table, bring on the television

The proverbial dining room may be losing its appeal. Although a majority of Americans (71%) say they eat around a table, 37% eat in front of a television and 22% eat on the couch. Kids definitely make a difference, however, as adults with kids in the house are more likely to eat at the table (76%) compared to those without (68%). On the other hand, adults without kids in the house are more apt to eat in front of the TV (44% vs. 27% with kids), as are unmarried adults (42% vs. 33% married).

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Most commonly, spouses (65%) and immediate family (58%) are present for family dinners. Two in 10 (20%) say their parents attend, and around 1 in 10 (11%) say extended family or friends join in as well. Millennials are much more likely to have friends, parents, extended family, and roommates attend family dinners, compared to their older counterparts.

No matter who may be in attendance, many are just happy to have their family together. With all of the recent emphasis on healthy eating, local sourcing, and organic foods, it may be refreshing to hear that over 8 in 10 (86%) say the family eating together is more important than where the food comes from. At the same time, however, 79% say they have made changes to make their family dinners healthier over the past couple of years.




This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between March 16 and 21, 2016 among 2,236 adults. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.  Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #41, June 7, 2016

By Leslie Krohn, Senior Vice President, The Harris Poll