Gone are the dusty days of the dinner party, where everyone was there to out-do each other and the tables were decorated like a spoilt child’s doll’s house. But the modern dinner party has reinvented itself, and its comeback is presenting something quite different.
From Ancient Greece and the Romans to Henry VIII to VIP politicians, raconteurs and bon vivants dining together in the modern era, dinner parties were the height of fashion and sophistication.
But these formal affairs, with their multiple courses of overzealous catering, pomp and live entertainment, have died a death—not least because of the GFC in 2008.
Now though, a dinner party phoenix is emerging from ashes of the stodgy, old-fashioned sit-down soiree with its themed evenings, printed invitations and week-long cooking prep.
The gesture of having friends over for dinner is back in fashion.
And the simple pleasure of the cooking your besties a meal is once again seen as the expression of affection that it should be.
What does a modern dinner party look like? And how do you do it?
One of the biggest issues people had with the traditional dinner party was how complicated, time-consuming and costly they could be.
It was ultimately too stressful to host. Or to attend for that matter.
Often, dinner parties were a way for the host to show off their wealth and to let everyone know how influential they were; who could have the most impressive guest list.
These days it’s much more about sharing food with the people you care about.
Invitations and RSVPs are no longer a thing. Seating plans are moot. And full-on table settings with multiple plates, crystalware, and more cutlery than a homewares shop would just look silly.
Instead it’s all about paring it back.
Needless to say, paper-based invitations are a thing of the past for everything but wedding-level occasions.
For dinner parties, the furthest you need to go is setting up a WhatsApp group.
However, sometimes it can be fun to do things like write up invites and post them… just beware the arbitrary injustices of an unreliable postal system.
Dinner Party Food
The traditional dinner party was as lavish as humanly possible, but this was driven more by the host’s ego than the promise of a tasty dinner.
There are so many ways you can approach the menu these days.
A slow-cook like my favourite lamb shoulder recipe works well, as do most set-and-forget dishes. It leaves you time get the house ready… or to just relax! I also like to cook up a curry feast for friends for the same reason. Here some of my favourite dishes.
Check out some of our other recipes here.
If you don’t feel like cooking though, there’s a trend towards having people bring a dish. This can be a really fun way to cater the party and everyone will feel like they’ve put something into it.
Dinner Party Drinks
Traditionally, dinner parties would start with a cocktail, which I still think is a nice touch. Even if it’s a glass of bubbles or a beer, everyone enjoys something to drink when they first arrive.
After that, it’s entirely up to you. Match wine, don’t match wine. Mix your own cocktails or buy RTDs. Run your own bar or have guests bring a bottle. It’s up to you—more importantly, it’s up to what you think your friends will prefer.
If you are providing drinks for everyone, it’s a lovely touch to have high-quality non-alcoholic options too.
There are some excellent 0% beers, bubbles, wines and spirits out there these days. Here’s our post on a company that’ll help with craft non-alcoholic drinks.
Lay your table
At its height, the dinner party was all about showing off your sophistication. Fine silverware and plenty of it.
Fruit forks, caviar spoons, mustard ladles, asparagus tongs—the more obscure, the better.
These days, the idea is to keep it simple.
If you have separate entree and main knives and forks and you want to use them, by all means. Just remember, you’re the one doing the washing up!
Plates and crockery, however, I think are more important, but it’s still up to personal preference.
We really love our Gio dinner set from Wedgwood. It’s modern yet timeless and is so lovely to eat from.
The pattern is subtle and even gives you a guide on how much food to put on your plate! Of course, it’s not essential, but having beautiful flatware for your friends to enjoy dinner on makes a surprising difference.
The Wedgwood Gio set is a 16-piece set in fine white bone china and the best part of this set is it’s great for everyday use but still looks good enough for a dinner party where you want to pull out more stops.
And because it’s bone china, which is the strongest material of the porcelain and china ceramics, this set is ideal for regular use and even when your dinner party gets a bit rowdy!
For well over 260 years, Wedgwood has been a symbol of the highest quality ceramics pottery—from dinner sets like these to ornaments—in the world.
Favoured by royals since the 1700s, Wedgwood also sits on the tables of the Whitehouse and the homes of many other heads of state. Queen Elizabeth II granted Wedgwood the Royal Warrant in 1997.
But there are so many things about Wedgwood that many people don’t know.
For example, the founder of Wedgwood and arguably the world’s most famous potter—Josiah Wedgwood—couldn’t use a potter’s wheel.
And did you know Josiah’s grandson was none other than Charles Darwin? Or that he was an active figure in the Abolition of Slavery movement?
We can also thank Josiah for things like the money-back guarantee, free delivery and buy one get one free—all his ideas.
It’s no wonder that Wedgwood continues to be a household name, especially as the craft behind the products is so remarkable. When an apprentice has to train for 10 years to become a master craftsperson, you understand how much work goes into every item.
But ultimately, while all these facts make for conversation points during your dinner party, having Wedgwood plates beneath the food your friends are enjoying is the real pleasure.
The Modern Dinner Party
Set your own rules! Cook something easy or ask friends to bring a plate. Make it a regular date with your best friends or use it as an occasion to grow your friend group by inviting new acquaintances.
Gathering around a table with friends is where the best conversations happen and memories are made.