How to become a better dinner party host

“The Dinner Party is Dead”.  That’s the gut-wrenching headline that was once splashed across The New York Times.  But here’s what it should have said:  “The Dinner Party has Chilled Out”.

While very few people list sterling silver and fine china on their wedding registries anymore and young people cook less often than their parents’ generations, GfK reports that half of Americans entertain guests in their homes at least once a month with 21% hosting daily or weekly.  That’s a whole lot of entertaining!

With formalities on the decline it’s no surprise that our evening wear has become less formal along with our work wear.  Red sneakers, jeans and a jacket are equally acceptable attire to your day job or a dinner with friends. 

While the formal dinner party has disappeared from ordinary life, we still love entertaining our friends, family and colleagues so here are 4 meaningful tips on how you can still host a memorable meal-sharing event.

1.        Fine-tune your dinner party host EQ

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” 

– Leo Buscaglia

Your EQ (emotional quotient) is your level of ability to accurately read social situations and to know the best thing to do in response.

In a dinner party context, minimising your practical responsibilities so you can focus your energy on its social aspects will go a long way to having fun.  Do everything that can be done ahead of time and focus on what’s really important – connecting with your guests.  Food preparation, dish washing, house-tidying and putting out the trash can all happen hours before or sometimes even the day before you host a dinner.

If the worst thing is being half-present in conversation because you have too many dinner logistics on your mind, the best thing you could offer your guests is being fully present.  Remember, picking up on and responding to others’ subtle social cues can only be done if you aren’t stressed out and distracted!

2.       Understand true hospitality

“True hospitality is when someone leaves your home feeling better about themselves, not about you.” 

– Anonymous

Enough said.  So often we can be tempted to host a dinner to show off our new house, interior decor, our cooking expertise or even our social connections, but think about the most impactful conversations you’ve experienced.  They probably involved the other person taking a genuine interest in you and your life, instead of them broadcasting information about themselves.

In short, Carl W. Beuhner hits the nail on the head: 

“People may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

3. Think about your guests’ comfort

Part of being a successful host is pre-empting and preventing social awkwardness.

Finicky Food

We assume it’s the duty of the people with unusual eating habits to inform their hosts of their dietary requirements, but guests forget or assume you already know.  Rather issue a dietary requirements clause with your invitation.

The Guest Trap

Chat through your guest list with your spouse, partner or other guests to double check you aren’t creating a social disaster.  A good rule of thumb – avoid inviting ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-spouses, ex-business partners or feuding family members.  You may also want to check that you haven’t invited a lone single amongst a table of married couples, or someone who only knows you as the host.

Conversation

Tricky to control, you may need to brush up your diversion tactics if conversations get heated.  Don’t forget that everybody has a different discomfort level in conversation.  For some people loud voices make the conversation more interesting, for others it just sounds like one big confrontation.  As the dinner party host, you will be the tie-breaker so step in to dispel any tension.

Get your guests to give a little

We think if we give to others they will like us more, but science says the opposite!  Getting your guests to do you a favour will make them value you more.  A few hours before your dinner party you could ask one or two guests to bring wine to the event to help you out.  Consider purposefully not being ready with the starter upon the first guest’s arrival:  ask them to help while you finish getting ready, or persuade them to serve drinks to the other guests.  This alleviates the pressure on you and it forces your guests to break the ice with one another.  Sneaky, but smart!

4.       Play!

According to Dr Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play, the opposite of playing is not working – it’s actually depression.  

He says, “Try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise, without play: no humour, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy, [because] the thing that’s so unique to our species is that we’re really designed to play throughout our whole lifetime”.

So how can this make you a better dinner party host? Playing with someone causes your brains to become attuned and could help your guests to relax, enjoy themselves more and create powerful connections.  Storytelling, teasing, flirting and role-playing help your brain enter a state of play and play-signal to others, inviting them to join in the game.

Remember, hosting a successful dinner party is like most things in life – you get better at it with practice.

Our favourite way to enter the magical state of play? Writing and hosting your own murder mystery dinner for your friends, of course! They are also amazing as fun team building activities for colleagues – a great alternative to the usual year-end function.

Try one of our Murder Mystery Guide Experiences to brush up on your dinner party hosting skills.

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