A dinner party is the perfect way to get a group of people together for some great catch-ups, interesting debates and, of course, delicious food.
If you're towards the higher end of your twenties and thirties, a casual dinner is also much more enjoyable (goodbye aching feet, late-night Ubers and ear-piercingly loud music). It's the chic alternative to a night at the pub and the more collaborative one, too, as everyone gets involved in planning and gathers around for a good time.
But how do you avoid that ever-dreaded lull in conversation? What do you do if you're new to a group who have all known each other for years? And should you avoid talking about politics altogether (clue: probably, unless you all know each other very well).
So you’re attempting something delish (pancetta and broccoli orecchiette, chocolate pud). You’ve got all your favourite people around one table… only, you’ve just started wondering if Mary will get on with Jono and what Edwina could possibly say to Lucy. The pre-dinner party fear begins to kick in, and you wonder what you were ever thinking organising such a disaster. Except, it won't be a disaster.
Not to worry; here are some conversation starters for your next dinner party to ensure that, whatever the connections, the conversations flow as smoothly as a glass of vintage merlot.
1. “We actually made this orecchiette from scratch, using our new pasta machine…”
Lead with the most important thing: dinner. Tell everyone what’s on the menu – and feel free to embellish with any details you like. Is it your mama’s famous recipe? Did you grow the courgette yourself? Is there a vegan option for Bridie?
Take your guests through what they’re about to eat, check everyone’s happy and give them some tantalising details about how you cooked it.
Sit back and watch them salivate, celebrate and remember the best meal of their life.
2. “This is Jemma. She just moved here from Melbourne, she works in marketing and Karamo is her favourite on Queer Eye…”
Do not skimp on introductions. Don’t just exchange names and basics – add details that’ll start a conversation.
Make sure everyone is introduced properly at the beginning of the evening. This is one of your most important and, if done right, most delightful tasks as host.
Don’t be boring about it; you know these people so choose something cool to share about them. Think Bridget Jones and offer a titbit about each person. For example: "This is Harriet, she loves feminist literature and wearing lots of leopard print. Harriet, meet Rachel. Rachel loves food and fitness and I think you'd get along as you're both teachers."
3. “Ellie is thinking of adopting a dog. Charlie, what’s your advice?”
Candour is the best shortcut to intimacy, so getting people to talk about their lives (and pets) will help them feel closer. Match-make people you think would have something to chat about, too.
A simple starter here is to ask people good, thoughtful questions about themselves.
Plus,doing so means less time spent dwelling on you and the dreaded “are you seeing anyone?” question, which can only end awkwardly in some manner.
4. “I’ve just finished reading The Water Cure. What are you reading at the moment?”
Books are a lovely, compelling thing to talk about and set an intellectual tone for the evening. It can also be a relatively safe option, so long as you steer clear of political, controversial or overly emotive subjects – at least to start.
Maybe save the Brexit memoir for another time.
5. “Have you ever been to Dubrovnik? We stayed at the cutest AirBnB…”
Holidays are such a gorgeous conversation topic – they can lead to funny stories and recommendations, which is a nice bit of escapism for people who’ve probably just come from their hectic jobs.
It's also friendly territory.
Bon appetit and happy chatting…
Make conversation over a bottle of Campo Viejo, the wine made for sharing. To find out more – and for tips on throwing your own dinner party – see campoviejo.com and follow on Facebook and Instagram @campoviejouk
Kate Leaver is the author of The Friendship Cure: A Manifesto On Connecting In The Modern World