Certain people — etiquette experts, event planners, and some old, rich people who sound for all the world like they haven't personally cooked a dinner party in years — think the dinner party is dead. These days, in lieu of gathering over a seated meal, we have smart phones and dubious food allergies.
The Times is reporting on this trend, but is it really true? I feel like I go to dinner parties pretty frequently — once a month or so. And I host one about once per season (I skip summers because just the idea of turning on the stove in July makes me break a sweat — but I make up for it in the fall and winter, I swear). At the risk of mistaking my fairly diverse group of 20-something/30-something/40-something New York City-based friends for a representative generational sample, I'd say dinner parties are going strong.
Here are five of what I would consider to be the top dinner party ideas.
1. Themed dinner parties
Themes can be simple or elaborate, but often it helps for a party to have an organizing principle. For years, I've been getting together with the same group of friends to have dinner parties where we eat and dress according to a decade. (Well, the last time we did a "normal" dinner party because we realized we'd worked our way through all the tasty/stylish/easy decades already, but it was fun while it lasted.) The 80s "nouvelle cuisine" dinner party was a particular highlight. Unlike a regular old costume party, you can't pick a dinner party theme for sheer ironic kicks — it has to inspire a menu that people will actually want to eat. I find this constraint enhances, not diminishes, creativity.
2. Religious dinner parties
I'm not Jewish, but some of the best dinner parties I've been to were shabbat dinners thrown by friends. I probably got hooked in college, when a friend of mine used to throw a boozy shabbat pot luck every week. (I found I could easily segue into this event after my own weekly Friday crafting-and-drinking open house, Crafternoon.) I think any religious gathering, provided the hosts are inclusive of nonbelievers (and not just in a proselytizing way), can be a great opportunity to share food. Not to mention an opportunity to learn something about another religion and/or culture.
3. Impromptu dinner parties
You've got some stuff in the fridge that's about to go bad, a friend visiting from out of town, a buddy whose dinner plans just fell through, and you've been meaning to have the so-and-so's over for ages — friend, the stars are aligning. Text who you need to text, turn the houseguest into a sous-chef, and crack open that bottle of wine.
4. Pot luck dinner parties
All the fun of getting together for a dinner party minus (most of) the cooking. Bonus related idea: make the pot-luck a fundraiser for a local food bank, Catholic Worker house, or another food-related charity of your choice. Tell guests you'll be collecting cash donations and non-perishables. I have some friends who do this every fall and not only are their pot-lucks incredibly fun, they raise hundreds of dollars for City Harvest.
5. Holiday orphans dinner parties
It's the holidays: why not host a dinner party for your friends who can't afford to be with their families because of distance, the cost of travel, or work schedules? Or better yet, hold a "Thanksgiving" dinner or a "Christmas" or "Hannukah" dinner the week before the actual holiday — that way everyone can come. You may even find you have a more fun and less stressful "holiday" meal at a table with with your closest friends than you will with your drunk Libertarian uncle and your perpetually texting teenaged cousins, anyway.
There are so many good reasons to break bread together at home. The dinner party can't really be falling out of favor — after all, as Miss Manners says, "The idea of cooking for others is not something that is going to die."
Guess Who Isn't Coming To Dinner [NYTimes]
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