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The Monthly Dinner Party: a new era

As I write these words, we’ve reached the three-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. While we all knew something ominous and dangerous was unfolding for a while before the lockdowns were imposed, I remember planning to host a St. Patrick’s Day party at my house, which did go ahead, and was a great time, but afterward, I recall a friend texting me, “thanks for hosting ‘the last’ party”.

While much of life feels relatively “normal” these days, attending concerts, eating out at restaurants, and air travel, I know a residual impact is still very much with me. Despite a myriad of good times, large and small I’ve had in recent years, the pandemic’s impact, paired with the reality that life often becomes less dynamic as we age, has made my life feel too routine and static. I have many wonderful people in my life and yet, it often feels like I don’t see them enough. Consequently, I find myself seeking ways to shake out of the routine, but am always looking for more.

This is why I want to tell you about the dinner party I hosted that was inspired by Brunch is Hell: How to Save the World by Throwing a Dinner Party. I came across this book via The Art of Manliness podcast. Not only was the book hilarious, but it did a great job of selling why we should throw one and why it doesn’t have to be perfect or hard to be great. They dug into all aspects of one with riotous and helpful descriptions, but here are the key takeaways.

  • The Food. To make the evening as easy and fun as possible for your guests, the host provides all of the food, which should, for the most part, be made in the host’s kitchen. But don’t feel pressured to make a show-stopping meal. Remember that if you were invited to a friend’s place and the food was only ok but you had fun, the good time is all you’d remember.

  • Invite good people. They talk about how to think about building a fun group. Tell them to bring some bring and come prepared to have a good time.

  • Music matters. They share their thoughts on what makes a solid playlist (here's mine) and how it will not only help set the mood but cover up any awkward silences.

  • Clean your bathroom. While you may be the kind of person who wants their place in tip-top shape, if push comes to shove, the one place to make ensure that is clean is your bathroom.

My house isn’t huge so, I decided 6 to 7 people including me, was a good place to start. And by my design, they wouldn’t all already know each other. Three of them arrived right at the designated start of 6 p.m., with the other two arriving twenty minutes later.

I began my planning and shopping earlier in the week, settling on a butter chicken recipe (Milk Street) that would be able to coast, depending on when we decided to sit down for dinner. I paired it with a simple arugula salad (The 4-Hour Chef). My welcome appetizer, aside from some veggies and dip, was grilled zucchini and mozzarella, which sat on a baguette. Somewhere in my prep, whether it was the dinner party book or elsewhere, someone suggested taking whatever appetizer you are thinking of and putting it on bread to ensure your guests don’t get wiped out by the booze that will be served.

The authors do encourage you to have an easy-to-serve welcome cocktail on hand, to help people settle in, and from there, you let the wine they bring take center stage. As the resident cocktail guy, I flexed a bit by using a rum and ruby port clarified milk punch that could be poured and sipped.

My prep for the party began in earnest the night before, making the butter chicken sauce and a handful of other items as well as cleaning. The next morning I knocked out some other tasks, before settling into the actual work I needed to do that day. Around 4 p.m., I was freshened up and ready for the final push. But as I began mapping out my to-dos, I realized I was behind. There were several sequential time-sensitive tasks I hadn’t considered. I kicked things into 5th gear, occasionally kicking myself for having overlooked this, and occasionally reminding myself that good friends were coming over. They’d understand if I was harried when they arrived. Fortunately, I found myself in pretty good shape with about 5 minutes to spare.

People arrived, welcome cocktails were dolled out, greetings and getting-to-know-yous were exchanged, occasional awkward pauses took root, but in relatively short order, the conversation began to flow on its own, wine was uncorked and appetizers were snacked upon.

I worked to fall into the conversations and growing laughter as much as possible while keeping an occasional eye on the food. After things were flowing, I grabbed one of the guests to help me shift some furniture to make way for my dining setup, a requisite in my smaller house. Within minutes that was complete, salads and baguettes were served, roaring laughter grew and conversations deepened. I staged the entreé so people could serve themselves. From here, there wasn’t too much for me to do other than melt into the evening. One other thing the book’s authors suggest is aside from clearing plates, and wiping down any major messes, do not begin cleaning up. This will distract from the party’s energy and perhaps even signal to some its time to go.

Early on, within the first hour of the party, there are moments when it's hard to not examine the dynamic and wonder how this will proceed. How long will this keep up? What I can share now is that by the time the salad course was in front of people, it was clear this group would have no shortage of things to chat about. The wine kept flowing and more than once someone stopped to say, “this is the best dinner party I’ve ever been to.”

Just before 11 p.m., the first guests headed for the exit, and the next three headed out about 20 minutes later.

Having now pulled off my first #dinnerparty, I can’t see how I won’t end up continuing this tradition. It was so much fun. And aside from the prep and clean-up time, the reality is I probably spent as much hosting 5 people for dinner as I would at a nice dinner with drinks on myself with today’s prices being the way they are. So this was not only a great time but an affordable way to gather my friends.


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