While we've not yet set the clocks back for return to Standard Time, shabbos usually commences before I arrive home. As a consequence, dinner must be prepared early before work and reheatable, so I get up early each Friday morning to make it happen. This may be my longest continuous personal tradition, going through a number of minor revisions over the years. In college, there was a communal meal at U of Penn Hillel. In med school a very private but special meal, usually prepared at home but sometimes eaten out at a vegetarian restaurant within walking distance of my apartment. I always had kiddish though not always challah. As a resident and newlywed, I could not always get home on time or sometimes at home at all. Other than that, shabbos dinner has been the family constant from the early days of marriage, through raising our kids to now.
The meal is usually simple: mostly chicken though in my younger years we had beef more often than we do now. Chicken has been compared by many professional chefs to a blank canvas that allows creativity. Plain chicken breasts work well early in the morning but sometimes a whole chicken roasted the night before, butterflied whole chicken roasted in the morning or on sale chicken parts slow cooked in the crock pot adds variety. There is almost always a starch, typically couscous from a box or rice or a baked white potato or sweet potato. Occasionally some fancier form of kugel or latkes during Hanukkah adds a measure of festivity though at some added effort. Usually some vegetable, which I try to make fresh but sometimes have to settle for frozen in the interest of time. We used to have gefilte fish more than we do now. Rarely have dessert. Soda or beer to wash everything down.
The important element may be that it is different from the rest of the week. Planned in advance. Prepared in advance. Introduced by the ceremonies of kiddush and challah. It becomes the intended point of separation that continues until the following night.