I’m going to clear things up from the start: this isn’t how to cook for a dinner party. Food, to me, is the least important part of a party. A heretical stance in the year of 2,000-and-22. Unless you’re filling goblets with ambrosia from Mt. Olympus’ local farmer’s market, no one is going to care about what you cooked unless it’s bad. Grab a few bottles of cheap wine — balance between reds and whites — supplemented with copious amounts of Sparkling Water. You wouldn’t exclude someone from coming just because they aren’t drinking right? A good cheese board and meat plate in whatever form it may take is more than enough. That’s all I care to say about the dinner in the dinner party. Let’s move to the party in dinner party.
The Actual Place
Depending on your comfort level and constraints of your space, you may do a meal with a few close friends after work or a please-evict-me-right-now rager with everyone who follows you on Twitter. In any case, you need a space to seat that many people. How ever many areas someone can comfortably sit that isn’t the ground is how many people you can reasonably host. I’ve found space size doesn’t matter and the hot take here is a smaller space, the better. If you live in a Texan McMansion get off your high horse and come back to us on earth: you’re not using every square foot of your home for your dinner party. You’re more likely to indulge in the T.J. Maxx tyranny of forcing 7+ people to sit facing each other for hours on end with no way to talk to a quarter of those people.
I’ve hosted dinner parties in a huge home and studio apartment. The one common behavior across the board is everyone congregates in the smallest space you never anticipated more than 2 people occupying. Are you standing in the entry way welcoming guests? Everyone will stay there for hours on end now becoming guest greeters. Are you laboring away for hours on end in the kitchen? Your guests will now watch you labor for hours on end in the kitchen. I’ve been susceptible to this too and found myself gathering with people on a roof blissfully unaware of the massive food spread awaiting one level below just because one person congregated us all and we didn’t know to leave. We are all Sims characters in the most delightful way possible inadvertently activating our child-like desire to wander and socialize every time we enter a space with people we might find something in common with. The authoritarian desire to tamp this with assigned seating and a curated menu runs counter to what a dinner party should be: using food as a glue to bring people together who normally wouldn’t meet each other.
My apartment is an open floor plan filled with modular furniture that can seat at least 14 people sitting in a cozy — but confrontational — space. Different seating arrangements encourage everyone to naturally roam around. You’re fully bought in to the conversation(s) at hand and can opt in as an excited speaker or remove yourself to the background as a pensive listener. A diverse group keeps the energy volleying around. Try doing that with your oversized dinner table.
Want to add even more social lubricant? Sell a theme that makes this whole thing silly. I can’t take an overly manicured dinner party seriously — is this a wedding? — because the lower stakes investment of silliness is so much more enriching. How can you maintain your social armor against this brand of absurd themes:
- Celebration of Milk Bar treats simply because I found out overnight shipping of a cake was available.
- An Aperol Spritz Sunday lunch so I could show off pictures of me galavanting through Italy.
No one needs to take this seriously, least of all you. Reject being the Authoritarian host. Embrace being silly. Your guests will like you more for it.
Convincing People To Come To Your Dinner Party
The most high stakes part of any dinner party is convincing people to attend. Michelin starred food, mansion in the hills and whatever displays of opulence can’t counteract the inevitable “Sorry! I can’t make it tonight — I am uninterested dealing with a last minute issue. Maybe next time!”
The best way to defeat this is knowing when to bring who. A party of 20 flamboyant extroverts bulldozes any nuance and sounds like hell. Likewise, a room full of people on their phones never looking up makes me want to spontaneously combust. On the other side of the equation is choosing a day and time. You don’t have to default to 6:00 PM on Friday wrapping up several hours just in time for bed. If a healthy mix of attendees are only free Sunday at 11:12 AM to 2:35 PM you now have a brunch party. If Tuesday at 10:01 PM is the only slot a majority are willing to accept, congratulations you live in Manhattan and your dinner party is going to require you to call out sick tomorrow. Fighting for the perfect time on the calendar is futile. Just surrender yourself to the eternal march of time and make as many new friends before it stops.
Since we’re hosting a dinner party that isn’t focused on the highest quality food, the delightful maelstrom of people meshing together with the social lubricants of tasty snacks and beverages is what actually makes a dinner party worth attending. Don’t be disappointed by the gradient of outlandish excuses masking the real reason so-and-so doesn’t want to attend by knowing who to invite. If you’re the type of person to take rejection seriously, rethink not just hosting a dinner party but vast swaths of your life and learn to move forward healthily through life without such self-destructive behavior.
Cancellations for any reason are healthy and while some may be silly (to you), you can’t coerce an unwilling attendee to shift hours of their day for you. If you do, congratulations you are running a seemingly successful cult. Typically a diverse group of people — friends, acquaintances, strangers, bombastic extroverts and pensive introverts — causes the social lubricant to coagulate into a glue binding new friends together.
How do you calculate who to actually invite? You need several groups of people to form a successful party. A group of people who are always interested in any type of party and can mesh with others forms the core. These may be immediate friends, coworkers or that one person you met on Twitter. Anyone with busy schedules but still sociable takes that as a cue it’s a party worth making time for. Beyond that, you have enough of a group for casual connections to join in.
I feel like I’m fairly good in guessing who would mesh well with who and over what. To prevent awkwardness and excite people, I send out a guest list with short intros so everyone has some idea of who each other is. Maybe you really like conspiracy theories and want to talk about a secret planet behind the sun no one knows about and you’d be pleasantly surprised to hear about applying the Cube Rule to determine if earth is flat or not. Or maybe discussing the state of Florida and its odd master planned communities is exciting. Something is always out there for someone.
So many small flourishes can excite this experience. Really, it comes down to the tactical finishes. I can wax poetic about my favorite interior styles that you should adapt but really, there’s one benchmark to hold your space to: if this were a hotel, would 1 to 10 people have everything they need? Basic amenities in the bathroom, enough silverware, seating arrangements, space for coats and shoes, temperature, glasses water and alcohol, enough ice are all concerns that come from making a comfortable space for you. If you don’t like how you live, neither will your guests. Take care of yourself first and then multiply it from there instead of just buying fancy cups and calling it a night.
The best part? You can have multiple dinner parties and your guests will rave that you’re not just a tortured cult leader but a welcoming host.