Fads come and go, fashion is always changing, but dinner parties are forever. I mean, seriously, haven’t dinner parties been en vogue since the beginning? I bet ancient man had a potluck in order to get to know the new couple who moved into the cave next door. It is just what people do—have their friends and ‘not-yet friends’ over to break bread and break open new, vibrant relationships. Poor people do it; rich people do it. Even kings and presidents have dinner parties.
Dinner parties fascinate me, and it is my hope, as it has always been, to someday be invited to one. I can’t imagine the decadent evening when I don my finest tux—the one I rented for just such an occasion—and gallivant over to the neighbor’s house for taco night.
“Oh, you’d be overdressed!” you exclaim naively.
“You, dear reader, are an idiot,” I answer stoically back.
You see, that is just the problem with the modern dinner party, as I imagine it. People undervalue it. Oh sure, they think they are undervaluing merely the cuisine or the occasion or the commute or whatever other triviality, but what they are really undervaluing is not simply the occasion, but the potential for friendship! Actual friendship! In one quaint evening, a person can win to himself friends for a lifetime! Friends who care for him! Friends who call him and send him funny text messages with emoticons! Friends who place him within the heavenly boundaries of one of their hilarious inside friend-only jokes! Friends who are willing to pick you up when you are on your cold, tile bathroom floor, cringing at the pain of multiple kidney stones mercilessly ripping up your innards, and take you to your local physician! Friends! Friendship! Can you imagine it!
I certainly can—in fact that is nearly all I do: imagine making such friends. And I know much of this hinges on my performance at a dinner party—whenever that fateful evening comes. So here are some ways of mastering the dinner party and winning friends:
1. Dress to impress.
Oh, you want to wear some short-pants to dinner . . . “It is just a barbecue,” you say stupidly. What your bare knees betray is your utter disregard for respecting the process. Not me, sir. You will not catch me out of “uniform” when the “boss comes” so to speak.
I, in fact, keep a freshly pressed tuxedo tucked away should occasion ever arise. It is a supple blue hue—the weekly rental for a black suit is ludicrous and I don’t want to have to ask my new friends for a loan right away!—the very color of the most delicate robin’s egg.
You don’t have to wear a full-on suit, of course, but a wise man once said, “Anything less than your best is a felony.” I think Mr. Ice was right, and I have a hunch he might have had this very situation in mind as he continues, “Love it or leave it you better gain weight. You better hit bull’s eye or the kid don’t play.” So gain weight? Sounds like a dinner party to me! And “the kid don’t play”? Obviously, Ice is hitting on what happens when a dinner party goes wrong—when the proper respect isn’t shown, a friendship cannot be forged. Wise words, indeed.
2. Don’t be late.
How important is friendship to you? That is what your arrival time says about you. Show up late and you might as well be a murderer. Arrive on time, you are saying, “Friends I’ve got, I’m here for the food!” And frankly, if that is your attitude, I hope you choke on said food.
In the old days, fifteen minutes early = on time. Well, this ain’t your grandparents’ crazy vaudeville show, folks. Nowadays I consider anything under an hour early to be outright rude, but personally I think two hours early a more suitable target.
Just imagine your confused host, opening his door, “Hey, Matt, I thought we said dinner at 7 pm?”
After a warm embrace, you jump right in. Helping his wife in the kitchen, vacuuming his dining area, watching his television, using his master bathroom (and assuaging his wife’s fears that SOMEONE WOULD USE THE MASTER BATHROOM! . . . just get that out of the way right away, you know!).
So by the time dinner hits, you’ve already walked a mile in his shoes. You understand your host’s life through living in his home. You’ve connected in a real, personal way and before the first dish was even served! I can think of few more endearing practices than this.
3. Bring your own main dish.
You don’t want to offend your host’s culinary abilities, which are likely worse than yours, and certainly worse than your local Steak ‘n Shake’s, which is what I plan on picking up on the way to my first dinner party. I don’t want to make something at home and risk besmirching my suit, and I also don’t want to risk my potential friendship by gagging on my host’s version of “meatloaf.” So the safe course is to politely excuse myself, when the main course is served, and slip over to the microwave to heat up my Frisco Melt and fries. I would bring enough for everyone, but that would be rude to whoever prepared all that slop beforehand. Believe me, this is the kindest course of action.
4. Dig deep.
Chatting on news, sports, and weather is great . . . if you plan on asking these kind people to vote for you in an upcoming election. But if you are in it for true, genuine, authentic friendship, you have to dig deeper in conversation—so deep it hurts.
I have a complete list of questions/prompts prepared that you may use in any upcoming social events, I only ask that you not distribute them or publish them in any textbooks or journals. Here are a few examples of that esteemed list:
-Chronicle the worst thing you’ve ever done, why you did it, and repercussions that continue to reverberate for you today.
-Detail the worst parts of your childhood.
-What’s your secret sin? How often do you engage in it? (Have everyone take turns answering, and make sure no one passes or lies. Call out anyone you think might be lying . . . honesty is, after all, the bedrock of friendship).
-Sex life: elaborate.
-Who have you voted for in each presidential election and why?
-What’s your take-home pay, and do you find that is sufficient for your mortgage, car payment, and household budget. Also, what are your figures for those budgetary items?
-What flaws do you see in the opposite gender?
-Which stereotypes do you think are nearest the mark of truth?
There are many others worth listing, but I’ll leave you to ponder and copy these for now. And feel free to come up with some of your own. Just remember, a friend can ask another friend ANYTHING . . . it is wrong not to.
5. Stay awhile.
Nothing says, “I don’t care if we become best friends” more than leaving right after dinner. You need to stick around awhile. Play some board games or organize a group sing of your favorite musical. Watch a movie, have a tickle-off, dance. There are so many things to do in this budding relationship, and you should do as many as you can after dinner.
6. Stay the night.
In fact, if your stay goes really well (and I think it will), I think it would be wise to stay all night. Most people these days have guest rooms they’ve scarcely ever explored. Why not give them the opportunity to make use of these rooms? And if they don’t want to, that is fine, you can let them keep the master bedroom, but just remember that when it is your turn to host and don’t let them sweet talk themselves into your king bed!
The message you send by staying the night is this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” That’s like biblical right there! I mean, to start a relationship between two families with this kind of statement . . . wow! Someone get Hollywood on the phone, right!?
7. Thank you.
When your dinner party is over and a new friendship has fully begun, be sure not to sully it with ingratitude—make sure to say “Thanks.” But don’t say it like a dolt who sends a stupid, store-bought thank you card.
No, say it loud and proud and creatively. I plan on using fuel to write THANK YOU, BEST FRIENDS in their lawn. In a few days, they’ll get the message loud and clear, and it is one they can cherish for a season or more.
But you can do it however you wish—a singing-gram, a fake break-in, a visit to your host’s workplace, a surprise trip to Vegas you booked on their credit card (numbers you were able to procure because you got there a full two hours early!). Confucius probably said, “The only wrong way is the ungrateful way.” The guy said a lot of stuff.
So there is my plan, and one I feel like will net a tremendous result—one that lasts forever. At least, I hope it lasts forever because these bracelets I ordered that say “Friends Forever” are non-refundable.
I hope this Fall finds you thriving at many a dinner party, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll see you there!