Hot take: Dining scenes are overdone.
No pun intended.
In all seriousness, it’s time we examine the utility of dining scenes. You know the type: a bunch of characters have been assembled so you can Share the Important Information to everyone all in one go. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, these moments are everywhere, and oftentimes, they’re a hallmark of lazy writing. Dining scenes are like putting your characters on an elevator to get from floor one to floor fifty: they’re in close proximity, which provides tension; leaving early causes a problem; and there are likely spectators, people whose presence complicates conversation.
The thing is, these types of scenes are a crutch. They’re an easy way to get a group of characters together in a setting that’s dramatic to leave. How many scenes have you read where someone angrily storms away from a dining table? Or take another example, the family dinner where The Announcement is made (“we’re moving,” “I’m pregnant,” “we’re getting married”). And let’s not forget the proposal dinner. Dining scenes signal to the reader what’s about to happen, which makes that reveal so much less meaningful.
I always encourage fellow writers to make their work unique, whether it’s setting, characters, phrasing, etc. But like beginning a scene with a character waking up, there’s nothing unique about a dinner. Everybody has to eat. So ask yourself, is there another setting I can use that is specific to my story? Maybe your characters are musicians and you can stick them into a practice room. Maybe they’re feuding royals and they end up on a hunting trip together. Maybe they’re space explorers and they get stuck cleaning the escape pod. Whatever it is, pick something that will set your setting apart and make it meaningful. Just please, get away from the dinner table.