Unsolicited Advice: Make Your Friends Dinner
The feel-good trend to get into now.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:16 AM
It happened inadvertently. After posting a photo of my grocery list on Instagram, I received a message: “Are you making The Stew?” It wasn’t my intention, but I was inspired. A few hours later on an early Sunday evening, I found myself dutifully watching a simmering pot of Alison Roman’s viral chickpea stew, which I would eventually serve to my two roommates. Since then, there has been more than one conversation in my friend group about throwing our own dinner parties in spite of our limited dinnerware options, admittedly mismatched flatware collections, and collectively moderate cooking skills.
“The dinner party as an institution has always been marketed to a pretty specific demographic: upper-middle class, college-educated women, and couples ages 30 to 50,” East Fork cofounder Connie Matisse told me in December. “As conversations around food and food culture become more intersectional, I think we’ll see new approaches to entertaining in one’s home.”
Her statement stuck with me, and as my own interest in home cooking has grown, I’ve found myself more compelled to make food for others. Via Instagram, I’ve noticed that plenty of my peers are also hosting their own dinner parties. These kinds of get-togethers don’t quite resemble a Mad Men–era soiree. Millennials are changing the appeal of the dinner part, and it’s becoming more accessible, innovative, and exciting than ever.
“I love cooking because it brings people together. That’s why I pursued a career in food,” says celebrity chef Dan Churchill, noting the rising occurrence of young people dining in on homemade meals. “It’s been absolutely exciting to see this larger conversation about cooking grow. Food is such a great way to de-stress and enjoy your time with friends and family, and I’ve definitely seen a trend in the way food has been an integral part of socializing.” Home cooking, as opposed to grabbing a bite in a restaurant or even ordering in, he says, adds an element of relatability and intimacy to a meal, creating a relaxing environment for everyone involved.
For NYC chef Camille Becerra, a dinner party isn’t a one-person job, and because of that, it’s a perfect social occasion. By getting guests involved with prep work, table layout, and more, she finds that all parties benefit. “I think when people participate in prep, it relaxes them and it becomes more of a group thing, rather than just one person hosting,” she says. “Because people are helping, it becomes this group effort, and that’s nice because then you’re sharing a deeper level of connection.”
After all, that’s really what dinner parties are all about: enjoying the company that you’ve invited over. While there’s certainly an interest in having fun with food—according to a recent study conducted by Nielsen on behalf of Plated, over a fourth of millennials have tried a new recipe in the past week and more than half have experimented in the past two weeks—as a whole, the rise in at-home hosting has come from a desire to create a welcoming environment for friends to gather.
“I think the point of having people over is to spend time with [who] you really like and not in an annoying, crowded restaurant or bar,” says Roman, whose debut cookbook is aptly called Dining In. “You can control the narrative a little bit more. You can choose to have a mellow night or a crazy night.”
With that added level of control and comfort, there’s room to make your own dinner party feel a little more special—no fancy china needed. Of course, this time-honored practice has enjoyed a rise in popularity as people seek more intimate forms of connection in an increasingly chaotic world. Making your friends a pot of stew may not be revolutionary, but it’s certainly a welcomed, relaxing activity.
Whether you want to start your own supper club or simply gather some friends for a cozy night in, these tips will help you to be the host with the most, no sweat involved.
Skip the Set Courses
“There can be a nice fluid, un-timed sort of way of presenting food and eating—sort of grazing,” says Becerra. “When people arrive, I’ll have one small plate for them to nibble, and as more people come, they help with certain prep.” By not necessarily limiting your meal to strict time constraints, you can create a more casual atmosphere.
Plus, if you don’t have a ton of room in your home for entertaining, you can prevent lines for food from forming as different dishes are brought out. As courses are staggered, there’s no rush to fill plates and everyone can enjoy what they have.
Assemble the Antipasti Board
Becerra and Churchill swear by the antipasti board as a dinner party staple that guests can nibble on through the night. “There should always be a snack,” Becerra says, “and it should be thoughtfully put together—like a beautiful board of different olives and fruits and cheeses.” Presentation goes a long way when it comes to leaving a lasting impression, but the most important thing here is that everyone finds something they can munch on.
Don’t Overthink Things
When you’re hosting a crowd—unless you want to really challenge yourself—Becerra, Roman, and Churchill agree: Large-format dishes are king. This can mean making a pot of chili, Roman’s stew, or even a soup. Churchill recommends a roast that takes just 20 minutes of prep. When you have a substantial number of friends over, it’s not the time to experiment with a complicated fish dish or to concoct a pasta that doesn’t taste its best at room temperature (even if your party does have a craving for cacio e pepe).
Sort Dessert Out First
Whether you prefer a cookie or a cake, a pie or a crumble, don’t save your dessert for the day-of—it will just make your prep work feel even more pressured. Churchill recommends making something ahead of time, and Becerra presents an even more low-maintenance alternative: “Dessert is something that can be brought in,” she says. “Sometimes it’s nice to have a really beautiful dessert that you know is going to ease your prep load and ease your mind. You know it’s done and you know it’s going to be delicious.”
Give Your Potluck Some Guidelines
When you ask guests to all bring a dish for a potluck, you can end up with some slightly out-there food combinations. If you want to host a potluck that results in a cohesive meal, Becerra recommends having a taco night with loose dish assignments; if someone brings their famous guacamole, another person picks up salsa, and you whip up some beans or beef, you’ll end up with something tasty.
At the end of the day, the point of a dinner party is to gather your friends for an evening of socializing—not to stress yourself out with prep work or the threat of a recipe that can easily go awry. “It’s important to have the mindset that not everything is going to be perfect, you don’t have to have matching linens, and you don’t need to serve 18 courses,” says Roman. “You can literally just make a pot of soup. It can be whatever you want it to be, and that’s the beauty of it.”
When all is said and done, you might just find yourself inspired to start planning your next dining-in adventure. “In this fast-paced world, taking a step back and enjoying a nice dinner with your friends and family that you’ve all put together is such a humbling thing,” Churchill says. “By doing it once, hopefully, that shows you how simple and fun it can be.”
More dining-in ideas: 4 Ingredients a Food Network Star Always Has on Hand (and How to Maximize Them) Found: The Best Kitchen Accessories for the Aspiring Cook Follow These 10 Chefs on Instagram and You’ll Never Run Out of Recipe Ideas