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12 Dinner Parties Focused on Connecting Not Impressing

I think it’s safe to say, no matter your personal politics and views, this week has been an emotional rollercoaster. Families, friendships and communities have been damaged by intense rhetoric and feelings from every angle. There’s no such thing as meaningful, respectful discourse anymore because we don’t create the space to really talk to each other…or to listen.

At times like these, we should be looking for places we can come together. And you’d think the dinner table would be an obvious choice. But Pinterest, Instagram and the deluge of gourmet cuisine everywhere have ruined that for us too. We now set an insanely high bar for ourselves when it comes to something as simple as hosting dinner for friends.

Case in point. Last week a friend found herself unexpectedly hosting a dinner party Halloween night. When some friends invited themselves over to hang last minute, she naturally agreed, because who doesn’t love to spend time with friends? Of course, a moment later, the panic ensued. “What am I going to serve?! Is the bathroom clean?! Hurry, hide the giant pile of crap that’s taken up permanent residence on the kitchen counter! Oh, and is the couch free of dog hair?! Ugh, is that the doorbell…I’m not ready yet!”

With the holidays coming up, everyone’s all aflutter with finding the perfect decor, place cards, and an impressive menu that will undoubtedly take much longer than promised to prepare. But if you don’t have a gorgeous pad, mad cooking skills, and Martha’s talent, it’s easy to feel like it’s not worth the effort – or the judgment we fear from others.

But, I predict there’s a backlash coming. I’m seeing an undercurrent of activity rejecting the idea of entertaining simply for show. A new collective of people, organizations and brands are using dinner as a medium for what the majority of us really care about more than everything else…connecting.

It’s not a novel idea. For centuries the dinner table has been a central place for sharing ideas and engaging in thoughtful debate. But in today’s keeping up with the Jones’ culture, we’ve forgotten that the ritual of breaking bread is one of the most natural spaces to connect – and we’re not capitalizing on it because we’re too worried about how it will look, and how we’ll look to our friends. The reasons we crave connection can be wildly different depending on where we’re at in our lives. Sometimes it looks like meeting new people in the community. Sometimes it’s about sparking interesting conversations. Sometimes about teaching a lesson.

So, if you’re sick of the pomp and circumstance but love the idea of bonding with your pals over a meal, here’s a roundup of 12 dinner parties getting it right, by focusing on connecting, not just impressing.

Know Each Other Better Dinners

  • The Dinner Party Project – Guests meet 7 strangers in their community when they attend this lottery-style, invite-only experience. With an emphasis on great conversation, these dinners are all about getting to know people on a deeper level – their stories, where they come from and what made them who they are. (Orlando, South Florida and New York)
  • The Hivery’s Community Table Dinner Series – Co-working spaces, such as The Hivery in Mill Valley, California, are hosting all kinds of dinner and lunch events designed to build community by introducing interesting topics, meeting fellow co-workers, chatting about what they are working on and finding ways to support each other.
  • Crappy Dinner Parties – If you haven’t yet seen this one making the rounds in your social feeds, you surely will soon. This trending DIY dinner party concept is all about coming as you are, leaving the fancy food at the door and embracing the messiness of day to day lives so friends get together more.
  • Bold Dish Dinners – Especially great for a night in with the girls, our own DIY dinners are all about sharing ideas and sparking conversations about how to create the life you crave. The themes are topics like Balance & Passions and menus are designed for everyone to bring a dish.

Matchmaking Dinners

  • The Dinner Party – Find Love the Old Fashioned Way – For 30 – 60-year-olds looking for love without using Tinder, these invitation-only events in British Columbia offer all inclusive pricing with well-matched guest lists so you’re sure to be rubbing elbows with highly compatible people that share your interests. Cost of admission is not cheap, but you’ll get a high level of service and a much more intimate way to meet your match.

Dinners About Death

  • Death Over Dinner – Think death is too taboo for the dinner table? Hundreds of people, including celebs like Arianna Huffington, Tim Ferriss, Vice Gill don’t think so. Touted by creator Michael Hebb as one of the most important and costly conversations America isn’t having, this DIY dinner party concept is grass-roots effort to help address the costly healthcare issues around end of life by having intimate conversations about death and life with the people that matter most. These conversation guides include questions about how you want to die, who you want near you, how can others support your wishes.
  • TheDinnerParty – Life After Loss – Experiencing loss as a 20/30 something can be a very lonely experience when so few in your social circle get what you’re going through. These dinner parties bring together people who have lost loved ones so they have an outlet for honest conversations with people that truly get it about how their lives have been affected and how to keep moving forward.

Civic Minded Dinners

  • The UnSchool Secret Dinner Parties – For those passionate about taking an active role in transforming their community, these pop-up style dinners provide thoughtful exercises and discussions about new and different approaches to creating change, all while dining on vegetarian, sustainably sourced food in secret locations throughout NYC.
  • Hunger Banquets – Imagine attending a dinner party where your table assignment meant the difference between fine linens, wine glasses, and a rich pasta dinner or  eating a bowl of rice on the floor. St. Mary Catholic Church in Monroe, Michigan uses dinner parties to help middle school student gain first-hand experience and a greater appreciation of the poverty and food distribution concerns around the world.
  • The Longest Table – Cities such as Tallahassee, Florida, and Dayton, Ohio have gotten a lot of attention recently for their unique approaches to connecting strangers from different walks of life at multi-block dinner tables to discuss ways to improve their communities.
  • Climate for Change – Activists in Melbourne, Australia are using the dinner table to save the planet by hosting climate-themed dinner parties every week. Dinner facilitators encourage more meaningful conversations about the changes happening, how they can get involved in the conversation and what it means to them in their daily lives.

Celebrity Dinners

  • Chelsea on Netflix – If attending or hosting dinner just isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy great conversations from the comfort of your couch as Chelsea Handler redefines the traditional talk show format. Periodic dinner party episodes cover everything from women’s pay and spirituality to parenting and serve up plenty of juicy banter with this famous provocateur at the head of the table.

With the all the contentiousness of the election and the craziness of the holiday season cranking up, we’d all be well-served to pause a moment and think — not about how you’re going to decorate your table or the food you’re going to serve, but what you want to connect over the next time you sit down with friends and family. There’s ever-growing inspiration to draw on and our dinner tables are still one of our easiest and best opportunities we have to slow down and start talking to each other about the things that matter. Because, frankly, we haven’t been doing enough of it.


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