How to Start a Dinner Club
Whether you're sharing a home-cooked spread, meeting up at your favorite brunch spot, or having a potluck al fresco, there are few things in life better than a feast with your friends. Especially in a world where everyone seems on-the-go and constantly plugged in, taking a few hours to disconnect and share a delicious meal can be more than just fun; it can also be a much-needed and well-deserved break. For Megan Gilger, the lifestyle blogger and mom behind The Fresh Exchange, hosting a dinner club with her husband seemed like the perfect solution to bring everyone together despite the chaos of everyday schedules.
"We had a group of friends who we enjoyed getting together with, but we all get super busy, running in different directions with kids," says Gilger. "A monthly dinner club seemed like a great way to make sure we got together on a regular basis." After several years of contemplating the idea, Gilger and her friends finally kicked things off last fall and have been going strong since.
Of course, the concept of the dinner club isn't particularly new. In fact, people have been gathering at dinner clubs since as early as the 18th century! Specifically in the United States and the United Kingdom, they've long existed as social gatherings (often exclusive) centered around regular meetings over shared meals. Similarly, and sometimes used interchangeably, is the supper club. Originating as a term used to describe an actual brick-and-mortar restaurant that also functioned a club, supper clubs were especially popular during the prohibition era as places where everyone could enjoy eat, drink, and be merry until the wee hours of the morning. Over time, supper clubs have also come to describe "underground" restaurants, or social dining events hosted out of an individual's own home. But today, for many people like Gilger, the idea of hosting monthly dinners is simply a chance to bring together loved ones, bond over cooking, and catch up. "It's a casual event that everyone can look forward to," she says. Here, she shares a few simple tips on starting your own dinner club.
Keep Things Small
While it may be tempting to go with a "more the merrier" flow, Gilger recommends keeping your parties rather intimate (theirs often include six adults and three kids). "We've found that keeping things small is good because it is easy to feed everyone," she says. Doing so also allows room for any occasional "special guests" (say, a visiting friend from out of town or a new companion) without overcrowding. "Sometimes [new] friends join in which is fun, but it's easier to accommodate when your regular group isn't too big."
Set a Rotation
To balance out the weight of who plays host-supplying the main courses and listing what others should bring-Gilger suggests rotating responsibilities. This way everyone gets a turn to take the lead and no one feels burdened. She also recommends planning your dates in advance, around three to four months, to give everyone ample time to prepare and ensure the date gets saved before everyone's calendars fill up.
Stick to a Routine
While hosting the dinner itself may not be the obstacle, keeping it consistent can be. That's why Gilger says choosing a set day and time, like Fridays, can help keep the monthly event alive and going. As you're plan the frequency of your dinners, be sure to also keep things realistic for everyone involved. In other words, while meeting weekly may sound more exciting up front, it may also result in more dinners falling through at the last minute.
Simplify Table Settings
Though we're big fans of setting a pretty table, Gilger suggests worrying less about arranging an Instagram-worthy tablescape and focusing more on how you can make things most enjoyable (read: less stressful!) for yourself and your loved ones. That said, when you're preparing your table, stick to the essentials: plates, silverware, glasses, and servers. And remember that basics don't have to be boring. For instance, opt for cloth napkins instead of paper ones or embrace your mismatched dinnerware set by blending in a few unique pieces like a patterned platter or these DIY doily napkin rings. Want to dress up your table a little? Spring for a simple bouquet of fresh market flowers and light a candle to set the mood.
Have Fun with the Menu
When it comes planning the spread, Gilger recommends letting the hostess be in charge of deciding and making the main course while everyone else helps round out the meal by contributing sides, appetizers, or drinks and a dessert. Whether you're hosting or attending, be sure everyone also gets a chance to communicate any dietary restrictions in advance so all guests can enjoy the gathering. Need more menu inspiration? Gilger suggests trying a themed potluck, like pizza nights (which are also a great customizable option), or working through a cookbook as a group.
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Maybe your casserole didn't turn out as you had planned, or someone gets stuck a little late at work. Whatever hiccups happen along the way, Gilger reminds us: it'll be okay. Remember the reason your friends agreed to start the dinner club: to spend more time together. "Sometimes, someone will walk in frantic from a busy day and we'll instantly ask to hear about it, offer a drink, and cheers to the end of the week before letting it go," she says. "A dinner club should a space to come, let go, and create connections before anything else."