I was mixing up some French 75s, setting up the stereo, zhuzhing my hair and whacking a camembert into the oven when I heard the news the dinner party was dead. Perhaps there and then I should have taken the prosecco off ice and told my friends not to bother coming over but instead I decided to crack on with it — because, despite a new survey claiming 80 per cent of Brits now consider the “dinner party” old hat, I don’t believe a word of it. Instead, rather than kill it off, I think we’ve reinvented it.
Some of the findings in the survey, commissioned by kitchen appliance company Stoves did ring true. Of 2,000 respondents, 90 per cent said they didn’t expect to have their host to “slave away” in the kitchen and would be happy to go to dinner at a friend’s house and find a ready meal dished up, while 70 per cent admitted they wouldn’t bother dressing for dinner, preferring to wear their “comfiest” clothes. Still, if dinner parties have become less stuffy that’s a good thing, it’s because now we care more about having fun and less about whether our host’s soufflé has risen properly.
You don’t have to be a great cook to throw a great dinner party, just a great host. I take my dinner-party inspiration from Abigail’s Party. Who cares about the food, it’s all about the atmosphere and wine — as Come Dine With Me has taught us. If my friends are coming over for “dinner” they certainly don’t expect me to cook — I wouldn’t inflict that on them. If I must provide something to soak up the cocktails and wine, it’s a vat of cheap pasta and pesto — and if I’m feeling flash, cherry tomatoes on top.
Still, compared to other friends’ idea of cooking for a dinner party this is a heroic effort. One of them is notorious for throwing parties where he orders Deliveroo for everyone. Although it’s still a shock to arrive at his house and find a beautiful table set without a scrap of food, then wait while he orders on his phone.
Another friend, a brilliant dinner party host, has cooked the same inedible dish every time I’ve been over to her house. But she knows the best gossip and keeps the glasses topped up, so I didn’t even notice until the third time. Meanwhile, we’ve all heard of horny hosts sprinkling Viagra on the dessert.
There are so many things I love about dinner parties. If, like me, you’re a workaholic who finds it impossible to see your friends, then a dinner party is the perfect way to kill 20 birds with one stone. It’s cheaper than going out to eat and has the advantage over a club that — and this is important to me now I am 40 — you can actually hear what each other is saying.
It’s a dream to throw dinner parties and get to show off all the chintz in my house — serving cheap Prosecco in cut-glass goblets found in charity shops, setting the table with mismatched china plates and every candle I can find in the house.
I started throwing dinner parties the moment I could, when I moved into my first flat, and have done in every place since. My first were so ill-prepared that people had to bring cutlery and chairs. I can’t say they’ve improved much.
Dinner parties are a fun space to meet new people. In one place I lived with eight other people and when we threw dinner parties we’d each invite a random person along, sometimes someone we’d just met down the pub.
In London I threw so many that I turned it into a side hustle, launching a dinner party club for professional women. At first, I invited a random bunch of female journalists then widened the pool and threw dinner parties for female architects, lawyers and PRs. It was networking but better because we didn’t talk about work.
Dinner parties were one of the great joys we were robbed of during lockdown, which is why we met our friends for dinner on Zoom.
When I left London and moved to Somerset, one of the first piece of furnitures I bought for my country cottage was a huge kitchen table so I could throw dinner parties for my friends. In the countryside they are even more essential than in the city, because here nothing else is happening, and better because once everyone has had a drink no-one can drive, so everyone stays. Currently, my flatmates and I are throwing a series of dinner parties themed around the different countries they’re from.
The camembert I had in the oven this week was for our French Night. I’m digging out the piñata for Mexican Night next week.
Is the dinner party old hat? No! We’ve just rebranded it. We’ve realised it isn’t about food or having the right napkin rings, it’s about good company and being with friends. As long as people are fun, we don’t care about etiquette. I’ve had dinner parties that have culminated with everyone dancing on the table.
I don’t care if my friends come over for a microwave meal in their tracksuits as long as we’re together. Although one aspect of Stoves’s survey concerned me — the 80 per cent of people who thought it was fine to turn up without a bottle of wine.
They won’t find themselves invited to one of my dinner parties anytime soon.