When I grow up, I will have friends and strangers over for dinner

Every week for the past 30 years, I’ve hosted a Sunday dinner in my home in Paris. People, including total strangers, call or e-mail to book a spot. I hold the salon in my atelier, which used to be a sculpture studio. The first 50 or 60 people who call may come, and twice that many when the weather is nice and we can overflow into the garden.

People from all corners of the world come to break bread together, to meet, to talk, connect and often become friends. All ages, nationalities, races, professions gather here, and since there is no organized seating, the opportunity for mingling couldn’t be better. I love the randomness.

Jim Haynes, NPR

Someday, when I am my bestest self, I will host regular lunches or dinners, and I will bring interesting people together for conversation. In preparation for this, I’m learning how to organize events around themes, and I occasionally practice with dinner parties. I’d like to learn how to scale beyond the eight people who can comfortably fit around the dinner table. I’d also like to learn how to host these events without disrupting home too much, respecting the need for privacy and time. I’m still not comfortable holding regular restaurant-based events because restaurants are too noisy and not set up for good conversation, but I haven’t been to enough of these events to figure out how to set up a home for conversation salons. (We don’t have cocktail tables or endless stacks of saucers. ;) )


Has anyone figured this out? Can anyone help me learn?

Hat tip to Keith Ferrazzi for the link.

  • Before we had kids, we used to host more parties in our home. Now that we have four sons, if we just invite another family, it’s already a big event.

    Even though we have a table that expands to seat 10 people, we typically have at least one side table, or people surround the coffee table with sofa and chairs. You definitely want to serve food that can be eaten off a plate … or if you’re really good, with fingers. Just make sure that people have a place to put down their drinks.

    In general, Chinese food is difficult to serve with a large group. It’s best when served fresh, so serious Chinese dinners usually have me sequencing the first few dishes so that I don’t sit at the table, and then my wife and kids end up serving the later dishes while I converse with guests at the table.

    If it’s a real dinner party, then people won’t move around so much, and will be seated at nearly the same place for the whole evening. You may want to actually assign seating positions with name tags, so that you get people seated next to others that they’ll find interesting.

    Next Saturday, we’re hosting some friends over. The count is our family (2+4), retired couple (2), couple my age (2+3) and younger couple (2+2). I’ve decided to make it simpler, so it’s a potluck where people will bring dishes. I’m thinking of serving the less mobile items: soup, poached fish, hot vegetables, rice. This is a lot simpler than the 10-course Chinese dinners that I used to schedule. (10 courses means 10 regular sized dishes, not 10 huge dishes!)

    But then, I come from a family that owned a restaurant until I was 10 years old.