The term is derived from the French souper, which is still used for this meal in Canadian French, Swiss French and sometimes in Belgian French. It is related to soup. It is also related to the German word for soup, suppe. (The OED, however, suggests that the root, sup, retains obscure origins. OED Online, Accessed 31 October 2007.)
In Britain, whereas "dinner" is a fairly formal evening meal, "supper" is used to describe a less formal, simpler family meal. In working class British homes (and also in Australia) "tea" can be used for the evening meal. In some areas in the United Kingdom, supper is a term for a snack eaten after the evening meal and before bed, usually consisting of a warm, milky drink and British biscuits or cereal. In the United Kingdom, particularly in Scots, Scottish English and Ulster Scots, a fish supper is a portion of fish and chips. The word is used also as a modifier in this way for a range of other similar meals, such as a "sausage supper", "pastie supper", "haggis supper" and indicates the addition of chips.
In Australian English, supper may refer to a late light dessert or snack (such as toast and cereal) had some time after dinner. In New Zealand it is similar – generally cake and tea/coffee served later in the evening, particularly when people have visitors.
In most of the United States and Canada, "supper" and "dinner" are considered synonyms, both served between 6pm and 8pm, although in the rural American South serving between three and five o'clock is common. In the South, the term "dinner" can also be used to describe the meal at around 11am, while supper is used to denote the evening meal. A Southern "poor man's supper" consists of some type of beans such as pintoes, potatoes, fatback, and cornbread. In rural areas of the Upper Midwest supper is an evening meal which is adapted to the daily rhythm of farm life and similar to eating customs in northern Europe where most of the inhabitants originate from. Supper is the last of three to five daily meals: breakfast, (morning lunch), dinner, (afternoon lunch or "coffee") and supper. The main meal is between 11.30am and 1pm. Supper is usually lighter and often consists of flesh with cold meat, organs, soup, salads, fried potatoes, egg dishes and / or dairy products. The decline of typical Midwestern farm culture and urbanization of American language and habits has led to a change in Midwestern eating habits in the past thirty years. Supper is still usually considered lighter fare and a more casual setting, and may be served before a usual dinner time so that evening activities may be unaffected.
In the Republic of Ireland, a "chicken supper" is a meal of chips, gravy, onions, peas and chicken breast.
In Germany supper is called Abendessen (evening meal) or Abendbrot (evening bread). The main meal ("Mittagessen" or dinner) is usually at noontime. Supper is generally eaten between 5.30pm and 8pm. A large variety of breads and rolls are baked for this meal. Cold meats, sausages, various sorts of ham, cheese, pickles, tomatoes and other sliced vegetables are served with the bread. Usually one drinks coffee or herbal tea, fruit juices, milk or beer with this meal.
In the Philippines, supper or in Tagalog, hapunan, is taken from as early as 6pm to 9 pm.