Your Guide to Starting Your Own Dinner Party ClubPhoto by Lee Myungseong/Unsplash Food Features entertaining
Looking for a way to connect with friends over delicious food without going to a bar or a restaurant? Consider starting a dinner party club!
Some start dinner party clubs to meet new people; others tap into their existing circles of friends and use them as a way to catch up. The ultimate goal should be to share a meal with great conversation and few distractions while discovering new dishes along the way. Not a cook? That shouldn’t stop you from joining in. It’s easy to participate without turning on the oven—just supply the wine, bread, or a charcuterie board full of goodies.
Ready to get started? Here are some simple tips for starting a dinner party club, including examples from the club that my friends and I recently began.
Make a Guest List
First, think about who you want to invite to the club before reaching out to them. You’ll want to account for space and seating options at each member’s home. We had five people for our first dinner, but the group size will likely increase for our next installment.
Decide How Often You Want to Meet
This is completely up to you and the others in the club, but monthly dinners tend to be a good option—it’s often enough that you’re getting together with the group relatively frequently, but it’s much less of a time commitment than weekly meetings.
Select a Host and Date
Eventually, everyone will take a turn to host, so anyone can be up first for hosting duties. Then, schedule a date and time.
Choose a Theme
Themes can be as simple or as elaborate as you and your friends want them to be. Pick a country or cuisine, and plan your menu around that. Celebrate a specific ingredient that has to be included in every dish. We went with Italian food for our first theme because we felt like it offered enough options for all cooking skill levels.
Plan the Dishes
The host is responsible for the main dish at each gathering, and the guests are responsible for appetizers, side dishes, desserts and beverages. This is also the stage where you’ll want to figure out if any members of the group have dietary restrictions. The main dish at our inaugural gathering was pasta, and the four guests were assigned either an appetizer, a salad, wine or a dessert.
Create a Way to Keep Track of Planning
Whether it’s a shared spreadsheet, calendar or group chat, you’ll want a way to communicate with everyone to keep track of dates, hosts and the dishes that everyone is bringing. A group chat worked best for us, as we were a smaller group.
Gather and Enjoy
On the evening of the dinner party, be as prepared as possible, especially if you’re hosting. The main dish doesn’t have to be ready to eat as soon as the guests arrive, but it should already be in progress if you want to make things easier on yourself. At our recent gathering, the host made pasta al forno—baked penne with sausage, tomato and mozzarella—that she assembled ahead of time and popped into the oven after the guests arrived. If you want to focus on socializing, your side dishes should either be ready to eat, reheat or quickly throw together.
I was responsible for the side dish this time, so I brought along the ingredients for a caprese-inspired salad: sliced mini bocconcini, halved baby tomatoes, fresh basil and a balsamic vinaigrette. I put it all together as the pasta baked.
Appetizers should be immediately ready to eat or require minimal prep once you arrive at the host’s place since everyone will be digging into them first. For our first dinner party, one guest brought everything for a salumi tray, including prosciutto, salami, soppressata, provolone and taralli, which she arranged on a serving tray upon arrival.
Once you sit down, take your time and savor both the meal and the camaraderie. Dessert, a chocolate bourbon pecan pie that wasn’t exactly on theme but delicious nonetheless, was purchased from a local bakery and warmed in the oven while we ate our main. And the wine was flowing all evening!
Set a Date for the Next Soirée
Before everyone says goodbye, schedule your next dinner party and select a host so the planning can begin! You can call it a night there, or you can keep the party going after the meal has ended by breaking out a board game or putting on a movie. Another option is to make the meal prep an interactive experience with everyone involved, which can make laborious tasks easier to manage.
While it’s can be smart to stick with some type of framework for your dinner party club, you shouldn’t feel restricted by rules. Themes can be planned based on everyone’s bandwidth for a specific meeting. If everyone has a busy month leading up to a gathering, take some of the pressure off by having everyone bring a store-bought dish instead of something homemade rather than rescheduling. The key to a successful dinner party club is flexibility, so you can adapt to each member’s skill level, time constraints and food preferences. Most importantly, remember to have fun with it.