There are times when I’m looking for something more intentional. A move towards thoughtful conversation. A moment of connection nestled into the regular, hum-drum rhythms of the week.
That’s when I start planning a dinner party.
Dinner parties don’t have to be fancy or complicated. They are simply an occasion to connect over a meal. Dinner with intentionality, you could say.
A few things can set the mood. For me, that starts with the table. I lay down a tablecloth. I bring out cloth napkins. I use the good dishes.
Then there’s the food. You can go all out or you can make a few things really well.
Going all-out requires planning and mental head space. Usually, it means lots of dishes, many of them labor-intensive, and more than one showstopper. To be perfectly truthful, the all-out dinner party is not easy. There are multiple dishes to juggle, timing to consider, and recovery time required.
Lest you think the tasks of hosting are beyond you, do not fear. Instead, you can opt to make a few things really well. This is my preferred dinner party option, as it’s low on the stress level and easier to replicate for long-term happiness and success.
To begin, start with something simple. Cook what you know and love. Invite a few friends. Repeat. Like all other skills, your hosting ability will improve with regular practice and inspiration.
The experienced host recognizes the profound yet frivolous nature of the dinner party. It’s not going to be the best night of your life, yet it can be memorable enough to stay with you for years. To that end, the host works to make the night pleasurable and enjoyable. If not for the guests, than for himself.
For hosting a dinner party holds great delight. Where else can a person create something deeply personal yet enthusiastically shared by all? A host builds toward beauty and functionality, while composing meaning out of seemingly disparate elements. Food, physical space, and people all combine in one fleeting moment.
At the end of the night, nothing tangible remains (except leftovers) yet the memories stay with us. As the song goes, there will never be another night like this again.
Then there’s the invisible connective thread of the table. People bond over a meal, even without trying. That’s why some shun the idea of eating with people they barely know. The act of sharing a meal creates a curious attachment. It’s not sex, but it’s oddly intimate.
When we sit down at a table, we are forced to sit face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow. Even these small acts can be disarming. Passing the dishes, making small talk, and looking each other in the eye — they are all personal acts of a profoundly intimate nature.
We ask for the bread basket and, in doing so, admit our human fragility; we need others just as much as they need us. We talk about our favorite foods and we risk exposing ourselves, even in this thin sliver of sharing. No, we are not revealing our deepest secrets and desires. But somehow, in sharing a bit about ourselves and asking for bread, we become more open and admit our need. It’s the first step at crossing the great divide, at breaking down the many divisions between us.
Performing these small acts over and over again at the table can’t help but shape us.
But beware the ultimate killer of all dinner parties: hosting to prove your self-worth. I’ve traveled down this road and back again, several times. You are worth more than the food you set on the table. No amount of party planning can show that you are not a failure. (Trust me, you’re not.) Accept your limitations at the table, and you will be able to accept your limitations in life, too.
Plus, no one likes a show-off. Don’t one-up your friends in an attempt to bolster your own ego. Food offered in this way cheapens the entire night. Even if your friends don’t notice — well, your soul certainly will. You can prostitute yourself in this way, for only so long, before it catches up to you.
Instead, host with a different aim: to delight the senses and bring joy through food, drink, and conversation.
Choose the menu carefully, as a deliberate way of saying: I care about you. I have chosen food that celebrates this moment and shows how special you are to me.
Arrange the physical space in your home. In this way, you can communicate hospitality and inclusivity. The message will be loud and clear: You belong here.
And, of course, enjoy the company. That’s why we gather in the first place, isn’t it? Slow down, put your phone away, engage in conversation, and savor the moment.