A mentor of mine recently attended a dinner party where one guest said one thing that changed the atmosphere of the entire evening. He said, "Rather than talk about the same things we always talk about at every event, what if we were to make a commitment to only talk about things that are extraordinary?" From that point on, the evening turned from banal to remarkable.
People often tell me stories like this because I'm a human-behavior scientist and, for the better part of a decade, I have been running the Influencers Dinner, a secret dining experience designed to bring together some of the most exceptional people in our culture. I spent close to a year designing this experience, to make this one meal one of the most remarkable experience of my guests' adult lives. But what is it that makes some dinner parties extraordinary while others are easily forgotten?
After hosting more than 900 people ranging from Nobel Laureates, Academy Award-winning directors, and famed artists to celebrities, musicians, and members of royalty, I have learned a few things about making these communal experiences fun, exciting, and remarkable. Here are five ways to host a dinner party that breaks the mold.
1. It's not about dinner.
People confuse the meal for the experience. There is no doubt that you can experience a great meal, a culinary delight that leaves you in awe. But dinner is much more than that. It is a social tradition and custom that brings people together and creates a community.
Every community event is built around content. It is content that gives communities something to engage around. A community of mothers connects around life. Programmers connect around technology, techniques, and strategies, and communities of friends congregate around shared values and ideas.
The question is: what types of connections will your guests make and what will they talk about as they leave? Do you want them to:
- laugh and play?
- make new friends?
- see a different perspective on the world?
- be aware of a social issue?
- unwind and relax after a long week?
2. It's all about the dinner.
Once you're clear on what you want to accomplish, you can turn your attention to the meal. If you want to prevent side conversations, do a Jeffersonian-style dinner. In this format, you cannot talk to the person next to you or right across from you. This means that conversation must take place around the table. Another option is to make it so that no one can serve themselves or so that couples don't sit near each other. At the Influencers Dinner, the guests are required to cook the meal that we serve, and they aren't allowed to talk about what they do for a living or give their last name, so they cook in total anonymity and have to find something to talk about besides their jobs. This is the trademark of all of our events.
3. There are no rules.
Don't be fooled by silly inherited beliefs. No one says there need to be plates or that you have to eat at a dining table or even in your home. Host a dinner somewhere extraordinary. What if you're dinner required you to you to hike? Or you had dinner at a farm?
4. Don't stress about the small stuff.
Hosts are too worried that their guests will notice the littlest details and be unhappy if everything isn't perfect. This concerns stems from what is known as the spotlight effect: when we believe something is important, we assume everyone else notices, but that's just not the case. Usually people are far too oblivious and self-conscious to notice what you are concerned about.
It's OK if the early moments are a little awkward. According research from Daniel Kahneman, people will really only remember the peaks of an experience and how they end. So if the early moments are awkward, just make sure it ends well. Focus on the elements that will have a positive effect.
5. What are you doing that's new and novel?
Our brains respond differently to novelty and familiarity. When exposed to something new, our brain response is heightened and excited. If you want to create a memorable evening, find something novel. This may mean a very rare dessert, a very different game, a phenomenal drink or cocktail, or an exquisite chef hired just for the occasion.
Your dinner parties don't have to perfect to keep guests entertained. It's often more important to be different and focus on the connections between the people. After all, we are social beings.
For more science-backed tips to live an exciting and fulfilling life and outrageous stories, pick up a copy of The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure, on sale now.