I like to organize dinner parties by size — Small, Medium, Large. Each one possesses a particular feeling, mood, and purpose. Each one has its merits and drawbacks.
By listing the pros and cons of each kind of dinner party, I’m hoping you’ll see the diversity in hosting. There are different kinds of parties and different kinds of connecting. People usually prefer one kind of party over another. However, I think life is best when hosting and attending a mix of dinner parties. Sometimes you need cozy, intimate get togethers with your closest friends. Other times, you’re looking to mix it up and have a rowdy, good time.
Here, at the medium size dinner party, you’ll find meaningful interaction but with the conviviality that comes from a mix of people.
The Medium Size Dinner Party (6-12 people) is the less intense yet still meaningful option for a dinner party. Adding a few extra people makes things lively. Now the night has become a merry and festive affair, with anticipation of the unexpected. As a host, you are essentially throwing everyone into a giant pot and stirring with a large spoon. The goal is to mix it up, have fun, and create more social connections.
With 6-12 people, there’s less pressure on the host to make the party work. A happy nucleus of guests ensures amiable chatting and connecting, even when the host is called away. Life happens, even at a dinner party. The dessert needs serving, children require attention, someone arrives late, the beer is spilled. There is nothing more pressure-filled than inviting guests over for dinner, tending to other duties, and returning to awkward silence at the table. With more friends, the conversation can continue without you; a good time is not dependent on your hosting or conversational abilities. Now there’s enough people to fill in the gaps, but not too many so that it feels overwhelming.
For this size party, I like to combine new and old friends. As much as you love and trust your besties, mingling friendship groups can inject freshness and liveliness into the moment. Instead of the usual banter and talk, you’ll be charting unfamiliar terrain together. Surprisingly, this leads to animated, spontaneous discussion and a more memorable night in general.
The real secret to making medium dinner parties work are mixers — open, amiable people who can mix with just about anyone. These friends are essential in breaking the ice, getting the conversation going, and livening up the mood. Good mixers are well-connected, friendly and warm, and possess the social know-how to put others at ease. They are the bridge builders that make everything smooth.
I like to keep a mental list of the good mixers in my life, because they make dinner parties seem effortless. And fun. Invite good mixers to your party, and rest assured, the conversation will be stimulating and interesting.
Another person of note is the quiet helper. With more people comes more things to manage. Sometimes, you need a friend or two who’s willing to help clear the dishes, bring an extra chair to the table, and help with coffee and tea. The quiet helper requires little attention yet their assistance with the small things can make for a less stressful night. As a host, I am grateful for these treasured friends; they take the edge off while expecting nothing in return. They are the ones you gladly invite over and over again.
Balancing the guest list with both talkers and listeners also adds to the ambiance of the night. Be careful not to lean too heavily in one particular direction. Too many talkers and people start competing for airtime, leaving quiet guests on the fringes. Too many listeners and the conversation becomes stilted and awkward. Like I said, you need both.
Serving food for 6-12 people can seem challenging. One option is to make something you know well and simply double the portions.
For my first dinner party, I made roast chicken, spaghetti with jarred marinara sauce, and salad with balsamic dressing. It was my favorite “fancy” meal to cook at home so I multiplied the portions for a doable dinner party with great results. At the end of the night, I felt I had conquered Mount Everest!
Nowadays, I employ this same technique. Whatever I’m loving or craving for dinner becomes multiplied at my next dinner party. If I’m loving curry chicken, I make a huge batch and serve with homemade roti and roasted vegetables for dinner with friends. If I can’t stop eating fattoush, I make a giant 10 person portion the next time I’m hosting, alongside lamb meatballs and white bean puree. Whenever I find a recipe that I can’t get enough of, well, that becomes the food inspiration for my next party.
When choosing the menu, I generally make 3-4 dishes in large portions. But as Deb Perlman says, you only need one showstopper at a dinner party. I heartily agree. The other dishes should be fairly easy or something that can be assembled ahead of time. This is not the time to make 3 fancy, complicated dishes you’ve never cooked before. Instead, choose one showstopper and make or assemble 2 sides that you’ve already made with moderate success. You’ll feel more confident and less harried, which will result in a better night for you and your friends.
The medium size dinner party brings a breath of fresh air to our normal weekly routine. We desire fun, entertaining conversation, and an opportunity to make new friends in a low-key setting. Here’s an event that’s not too stuffy yet still special enough to look forward to.