- Optimum Size: 6-8 people
- Only invite a few if you think they might ask to bring a friend
- could tell them before the invitation is just for them
- No phones
- its a nice break
- no distractions, no leaving table
- Before meal
- ask about allergies
- ask everyone to arrive at the same time
- everybody contributes
- requirement for us because we do it every single week
- delegate easy things like wine or dessert
- have conversation starters
- “icebreaker” if people don’t know each other
- you the host make the main dish and a couple other things
Dinner parties are one of the best networking tools you can use. Here’s how to host them.
The vast majority of my close friends I met either as roommates (including my wife) or through a dinner party. And I’ve hosted or been at about 400 in my adult life. How? I keep Shabbat, so without fail, every single Friday there’s a meal with family or friends. There are good ones, and bad ones. And then there are ones where the food is spectacular and you feel like you’ve made new friends for life. That’s the goal.
Optimal Meal Size
I find that the optimal size for a dinner is 6-8 people. Any ess than 6 people and there’s a risk of the conversation waning. This is especially true if you’re inviting people you don’t know so well. More than 8 people and there’s a risk that the table will split into two conversations. This is fine if you’re okay not getting to know some people well, but the most memorable meals have been 6-8 people.
6-8 is also a great range because almost anyone has room for this many people. Dinners can become a real hassle if you have to hunt down a larger table or more chairs. Plan ahead and make sure you have enough space to seat everyone comfortably. There are few things worse than battling for elbow space with a lefty (sorry!).
Once you’re decided how many people you want to have, it’s time to start inviting people. I try to invite people 5-7 days in advance but you might need more depending on how busy your guests are.
In my circles (likely because we do this every week), single people (and sometimes couples) often ask to bring a friend. Be aware of this and leave some leeway with your invite list if you need to. (Or you could tell people that the invitation is only for them)
In terms of the types of people to invite, you will probably want to try to balance out the meal between introverts and extroverts. Having a great conversationalist over can take the pressure off you.
You should ask guests if they have any allergies or if they have any strong food preferences (or maybe they’re vegan). You should also tell them to arrive at a pretty specific time, ideally before your food will be ready. The last thing you want is for a guest to come late and leave everyone waiting.
If people ask what they can bring, you can either decline or ask for wine or a dessert. You can also be more specific. I will usually ask people if they can bring a either a red or white depending on what I already have, what other people are bringing, or the menu. Same goes for dessert. Guests appreciate when you make it easier for them.
When there’s someone I’ve invited I don’t know well, I’ll sometimes do a little research on them to try to find their passion - the thing that makes them come alive when they talk about it. It can make the difference between a dull meal and an unforgettable one.
- Hopefully this goes without saying, but tidy up your house
- Wipe the table and chairs
- Take out the trash
- Make sure the bathroom is stocked with toilet paper and a fresh hand towels
- Buy a bag of ice (or freeze)
- Stock the fridge with bottles of water at least a few hours before the meal
- Prepare a playlist
As a rule of thumb, for any meal I host, I cook the following:
- 1 soup (during the winter)
- 1-2 main dishes
- 2-3 side dishes
- One vegetable dishes
- One carb dishes
- 1-2 salads
- 1-2 desserts (if guests don’t bring)
- Optional: Hors d’oeuvres
Woah, that’s a lot of food, but that’s standard for Jewish meals.
You’re also fine just preparing a pasta and salad! Up to you!
If you can’t decide what to cook, it can help to cook in theme like a cuisine (Italian, Japanese, etc) It’s often easiest to pick a cuisine and make a few of their popular dishes.
In terms of preparation, I generally leave the salad making until the end which works out well if people arrive early. Putting together a salad is a safe enough way to allow your guests to help. Plus they should only (usually) be dressed last minute.
I would also suggest you don’t try to make anything way outside your comfort zone. If you do though, limit it to one or two non-main dishes.
The Meal Itself
The time has finally come. Hopefully your food is almost ready, the candles are lit, and light music is playing.
People start arriving and you start offering drinks and introducing people that don’t know each other.
“Josh, this is Amy. Amy, this is Josh”
Josh and Amy exchange a few basic niceties but it doesn’t become a conversation. What went wrong?
According to Leil Lowndes in her book “How to talk to anyone” (it’s great, read it), you should never do a “naked” introduction. When introducing people, always include an interesting add-on.
For example: “Josh, meet Amy who likes to torture herself by running ultramarathons. Amy, meet Josh who just returned from a month backpacking through India.”
Since I keep Shabbat and most meals I host are on Friday night, there are no phones at the table (or the whole night and day). I feel that this makes a huge difference in the kind of connection you make with people at the table. Hopefully people at your meal don’t use their phones at the table as well. In fact, even the New York Times guide to hosting dinner suggests asking guests not to use their phones.
If you’re serving alcohol, offer it, but don’t ask anyone why they aren’t drinking. They could be early in a pregnancy or a recovering alcoholic. You never know and frankly, it’s none of your business.
“Rules” like “don’t talk about religion, sex, or politics”. But often the best conversations come from these topics so don’t shy away.