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The Host is the Most: the art of throwing dinner parties

by Ronnie Nurss on February 17, 2012

There’s something very natural and almost primal about breaking bread and sharing drinks with people you like.  It’s perhaps the most organic and real way to create memories and strengthen relationships with important people.

I feel like the art of the dinner party is dying….atleast in my generation.  In his book Never Eat Alone, author Keith Ferrazzi voices his opnion on this… “it seems our fast food culture has diminished our centuries-old belief in the power of a shared meal in your own home to comfort, nurture, and connect people.”

It’s time to invest in meals with the company of people we enjoy.  Ferrazzi has perfect the art of dinner parties for our 21st century world.

Expand Your Social Circles
We all have a our social circles, or our peer set as Ferrazzi calls it.  But, he argues, it will never grow if we never expand past our safe, comfortable social circles.

It’s scary and hard work to meet new people and build new relationships.

We have to find ways to grow them, or build more circles with interesting and like-minded people, and dinner parties can be an excellent way to do just that.

I’m not talking about throwing a weekly dinner party with the same 2 couples on the street. I’m talking about throwing a dinner party that expands not only yours, but also your guests’ social circles. Make a it priority to introduce interesting and similar people to each other.

Ferrazzi has developed a strategy for attracting a good mix of people that would expand his social circles and earn a reputation for people to keep coming back.

Find an Anchor Tenant
To encourage people to expand past their comfortable social circles and to pull interesting people together, Ferrazzi created a concept called the “Anchor Tenant.”

Anchor Tenant’s value comes from the simple fact that they are, in relation to one’s core group of friends, different. They are the social influencers in your social circle or community. They have already developed many different, yet valuable social circles. These are people you would like to target.

Anchor Tenants allow you to reach out beyond your circle and pull in people who wouldn’t otherwise attend. An example he uses is the CEO that decides to eat lunch at the managers table. Suddenly, that table has an anchor tenant, and other executives will jump at the opportunity to eat the table too.

Once you have found an anchor tenant for your party, finding the right mix of people is huge.

Focus on a mix of professional folks you’d like to do business with presently with some you’d like to work with in the future. These are “light attractors,” guests who are energetic, interesting, and willing to speak their mind. Sprinkle in a few great friends and possibly other professionals or interesting people you have just met.

It helps to invite people are very social, friendly, and really are not afraid to voice their own opinions or thoughts; perfect for lively conversations. A good standard to have for each guest to make sure that person has at least one job or project that they are passionate about and is equally interesting to others. Make sure each guest can bring, engage, and contribute great conversation to the table.

Two Parts Social, One Part Business

I love to incorporate Alejandro Reyes’ advice for his popular Sac Tweet Ups:  two parts social, one part business. Follow this religiously. These are all about building relationships and just having a good time. Don’t be there armed with a proposal or business cards.

The perfect number of guests is 6-10 per dinner party. Ferrazzi also recommends inviting a few close friends to pop in for dessert or during the dinner as well to reinvent the party and introduce a new energy level.

Thursdays are usually the best and most convenient night as well.

A few more key tips that Ferrazzi touches on:

1.  Create a Theme
You can build a party around anything but make fun with a designated theme. People enjoy getting creative. Themes can focus on the food, the attire, holidays, etc.

2.  Early Invitations
Get out invites at least a month in advance. Do this by phone, email, or even a handwritten note. Sure impromptu parties are fun, but the most successful dinner parties will require time and energy…and plenty of planning.

3.  Don’t be a Kitchen Slave
Don’t spend any more time than you have to as host in the kitchen. Ferrazzi even recommends investing in help like having the dinner catered.

On a tight budget? No problem. Ferrazzi advises that the key to low-budget dinner parties is to keep it simple. Make one main dish that can be made or prepared ahead of time (he mentions chili) and serve it with bread and salad.

Besure to stock up on beverages. Alcohol or water and soda.

4.  Create the atmosphere
Really invest some time in creating a great ambiance for the party. Ferrazzi suggest small things like dimming the lighting, lighting candles, flowers, or carefully crafting the perfect play-list.

This also involves arrange seating for all guests, making sure all food and beverages are prepared to so you won’t have to a kitchen slave, etc.

5.  Forget being formal
Don’t be fancy, Ferrazzi suggests. Good food, good people, and great conversation is all that’s needed for a successful party. Ferrazzi even admits he always under dresses just so no else feels they did.

6. Don’t seat couples together
Seating arrangement can be key to a dinner party, according to Ferrazzi. He says that when couples are sat together, things tend to get boring.

Mix and match your guests to sit next to people they don’t know but maybe share a similar interest of some kind. He even suggests having placeholders where you want people to sit, and if you have time, put an interesting question or joke on the back of the card for an icebreaker.

7. Relax
Guests takes their cues from the host–if you’re having a blast, chances are your guests will do the same.

• • •

Don’t forget to come out to our Book Club Pub Crawl next Thursday, February 23 at Thinkhouse at 7pm! We’ll be discussion more gems from the book, Never Eat Alone.

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