Having people over for dinner

One potentially enjoyable form of interaction is to have people over for dinner.

Some ways this can be good:

  • Eating together can make conversation easier
  • Since it creates an activity and a focus
  • But it doesn’t take up all the attention; you can still talk
  • Eating at home can be cheaper than going out
  • It can also be less overloading, since your place is probably less noisy than a restaurant 
  • It can also be more private, because you’re less likely to run into unwelcome people, and because there aren’t as many people around who could overhear

Some things about guests:

  • Invite people who you like
  • Invite people who like each other
  • It’s not very much fun to hang out with a group of folks who dislike one another, even if you like all of them separately
  • Don’t invite too many people. It’s much more fun to have dinner with a group of people that’s a comfortable size for you
  • It’s often considered rude to invite someone but not their partner, with two major exceptions:
  • If you’re hosting a single-gender event and their partner isn’t the relevant gender, or:
  • If you’re hosting an esoteric interest gathering and it’s something only one of them likes. (Eg: If you’re having a party for people who like to talk about spiders, it’s probably ok to not invite a partner who hate spiders)

Some points about food etiquette: 

If you are in your 20s and living in the US, it’s likely that you’re in a culture in which it’s normal for guests to bring some of the food. (This is different from a potluck, which is a communally-hosted kind of meal at which no one person has primary responsibility for making the food. I’m planning to write a different post about that later.)

If you are invited over for a meal:

  • It’s considered polite to offer to bring something
  • The most polite way to ask is to say something along the lines of “What can I bring?” because it suggests that you’re expecting to bring something rather than hoping they’ll tell you not to bring anything
  • If they say not to bring anything, don’t
  • Some people prefer that you don’t, or might have cultural or medical reasons to want control over the food that’s in their space
  • Also, in some cultures it’s considered rude, so if someone doesn’t want you to bring something, it’s important to respect that

If you are doing the inviting:

  • It’s usually considered rude to ask people to bring things if they haven’t explicitly offered to
  • If people offer, it’s ok to assume that they mean it, and to ask them to bring something
  • But be reasonable about it. Don’t ask people to bring something expensive or complicated unless you are planning the meal together and hosting jointly
  • It’s usually considered reasonable to ask someone to bring one of these things: bread, wine, salad, soda/juice, or a dessert

Some specific things about food:

  • You should make/buy a main dish that is filling and has protein of some sort
  • And also probably a side dish or two
  • And drinks of some sort - but it’s ok if it’s mostly water
  • Make sure you have enough plates/cups/knives/forks/spoons/etc for everyone
  • Find out if people you’re inviting are allergic to anything
  • If you are serving meat, find out if there are any vegetarians
  • If some people are vegetarian, it’s nice to make a vegetarian protein in addition to the main meat dish
  • But in any case, at least make sure that some things don’t contain meat (eg: don’t put bacon bits on the salad or use lard to make a pie)

This is a good kind of gathering. Are there other things people should know about how to do it?