how to set up a dinner club

April 13, 2022





I'm writing this post the night after our monthly party group, and I thought you might like to know how to set up a party group of your own. Whether you call it dinner club or gourmet group or the party gang, it's really nothing more than an elevated pot luck and a very fun way to gather together  on a regular basis with food loving friends. Here's how to begin:

1. Choose the people in your group. Think old friends, new friends, or neighbors you'd like to know better. Maybe your pals from book club, mahjong, or your tennis buddies. Decide on the size. Our group is 14 but most groups like to keep it under 12 for logistics sake. Six or eight is the most common.

2. Members will take turns with the hosting duties, rotating through the list. Decide on the time. We always meet in the evening but have agreed brunch or lunch would also be fun. Also decide if you will meet monthly, bi-monthly or once a season. Generally, the larger the group, the more often you can meet. If you had four couples, perhaps you would want to meet once a season or bimonthly.

3.  Choose who will be the first host and decide if you will have a regular firm date such as the second Friday of each month as we do, or, if you do not choose a regular date, then one month prior to the event the designated host will send out email queries as to the best date for all. It is our experience that finding the perfect date is like herding cats and for that reason we meet on a fixed date. Often we are missing a few people because of travel and other conflicts, but knowing the date months in advance has worked out best for us.

4. The host will choose a theme and will also decide on the attire, casual or dressy. Usually our outdoor parties are casual and our winter indoor parties tend to be a teensy bit dressy. 

The host will make the main course and ask the guests to bring the side dishes, including dessert and appetizer. The host can send suggestions, actual recipes or even links to recipes. For last night's party I sent out three emails. The first email was sent two weeks prior to ask of everyone's availability. The second email was a week prior announcing the theme, mine was A Grand Easter Buffet, a nod to the expensive Easter Sunday Buffets at swank restaurants. Since I would make a honey baked ham for the main course and cookies for dessert I asked for savory sides and salads. Here’s what my lovely friends offered:

Tomato and Leek Galette
Shrimp Pasta
Jello Salad with Apples
Deviled Eggs
German Potato Salad
Potatoes Au Gratin
and I rounded it out with a Broccoli Salad.

The third and last email was sent the day before to remind guests of the time and their food assignments.  

5. Have fun picking a theme. Over the 45 years we've had this group (YES, this dinner group has been going on in some form or another for 45 years!) we have "visited" possibly every country including Jamaica, Korea, India and the Basque Region of Spain. We've celebrated every holiday including Valentines Day, St. Patricks Day, Bastille Day and Cinco de Mayo. We've had themes such as April in Paris, Last Dinner on the Titanic, A Night in New Orleans, Arabian Nights and Dinner With The Queen. We've had soup parties, cocktail parties, 50's dress up parties, and BLT parties. And in all those years, we've had pretty good luck and experienced only a few hiccups. I remember one hostess, that would be me, who at the last minute had to beg out and make reservations at a local restaurant. And then I arrived late and everyone understood. I think only twice have we had to order last minute pizza or Chinese take out. We've had a few more memorable goof ups, but stuff happens and we always remember that our friendship and camaraderie is first and foremost; the food is secondary. Just an FYI, our group always serves buffet style, but that is just our preference.

6. We tend to keep the drinks simple. The cost of alcohol is covered by the host, but each guest brings a bottle of wine along with our side dish. Drinks cost should be decided upon at the initial set up of the group. Our group serves beer, wine and water and most hosts add a simple bar comprising of scotch, gin and vodka with a few mixers. My husband and I serve the first drinks, but the bar is open and accessible and usually the second drink is self serve. Some hosts like to mix a fun cocktail such as a margarita to go with a Mexican dinner,  but that is always optional. For my Easter party I made sure I had several bottles of bubbly.

7. It helps if you have an admin, you know, that person in your group who will get the ball rolling if something slides or someone snoozes. In our group we have one lovely lady who has taken it upon herself to send out group emails every 6 months or so to get sign ups for the next 6 months. Since it will be at my house once every 7 months, I try to have a spring, summer, fall and winter over the course of two years. I have my eyes on December for my next turn and am going to jump on it once I see that email.

8. Let's talk about clean up. In our group we bus the tables before we leave and take our serving dish and utensils home unwashed. Clean up is generally left to the host, and if they are like me, the bulk of the clean up is done after our guests leave, with the remainder left until morning. If the host hires help to serve and/or clean up, the cost is covered by the host. This sort of thing needs to be discussed at the groups initial set up. You may decide it's worth it to share the cost of a clean up helper.

9. Decades ago, at the end of the night, the hostess would present a packet with the printed recipes inside. None of us want to deal with paper shuffle anymore, so nowadays if anyone wants a recipe, the next morning emails fly with recipe links, etc.

10. I'd like to leave you with two things that our group follows to avoid stress. The first is, don't overdo! Our entire group loves putting on a good party, but we have learned not to overwork. Personally I feel if I have time, I don't mind adding some extra touches, but if I don't have time for the extras, I know we'll all still have a great time. The second thing is, do as much prep before hand as possible. Look for recipes that can be made in advance with the least amount of last minute work. You'll want to have fun at your own party. 

For our party, pictures above and below, I used garden flowers and my everyday plates and glassware for water glasses. The weather was pretty so we set up the drinks table outside and after cocktail hour I had guests bring their wine glasses to the table when dinner was served. This little trick saves on clean up. At the last minute we filled the water glasses and put wine bottles on each table. Because we were 14 I set two separate tables, seating six in the kitchen and eight in the dining room. I had no seating arrangement but did ask them to sit boy/girl! 

If you've had an idea to set up a dinner group, I hope this post gives you the encouragement to do it! Forward this post to your friends, and ask, "what do you think?" There's no better time than right now--the last few years have taught us how important it is to gather together with friends. If you have any questions, please ask away!

Hugs, Kristen






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1 Comments

  1. Thank you Kristen. You've given me some good theme ideas for my dinner group. We have gone on many Caribbean cruises and you've give me an idea to have a Pirates of the Caribbean party this summer! Ours has been going on for almost ten years which I thought was a long time, but 45 years! Wow!

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