Dinner Parties for Dummies

Image: Henri Matisse, The Dinner Table (1897). Oil on canvas

In my junior year high school English class, our assigned summer reading was How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. Despite my teacher’s painstaking efforts to ingrain the lessons of every chapter into our minds, the second chapter, “Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion” is the one that has stuck with me through the years. Foster dedicates this chapter to the outsized symbolic power that dinner scenes hold in literature, especially since they can be particularly drab to read and write about (unless we’re talking about the Thanksgiving dinner scene from Gossip Girl, which is easily one of the most masterfully done scenes in television). That’s why when a dinner scene is featured in literature, it’s more often than not a signal from the author to pay attention– how are relationships between characters built, and/or how do they become strained? Who at the dinner table is internally plotting another’s demise? It’s not always that deep, but even the most ordinary acts can be rife with symbolism.

“Whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion.”

Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Sorry for the random literature lesson intro– that was a very lengthy and off-topic segue into the fact that since coming to Copenhagen, I have absolutely loved dinner parties (and all of the symbolism that may or may not come with them). I’ve also learned that dinner parties in the Danish tradition are quite the affair– they are painstakingly planned by the host or hostess, can last for several hours, and even have meticulously thought-out seating charts which pair attendees off to mingle. I’ve come to really appreciate the act of eating since coming here. Transforming the typically mundane into an intentional, conscientious act really impacts the way you see and approach your day-to-day. With that being said, here are my top 3 tips to have your very own dinner party be ~ the talk of the town ~:

1. sharing is caring 🙂

This is a big (and pretty obvious) one: make your dinner party a potluck! Not only is it fun to combine everyone’s dishes (and see varying conceptions of what other people consider a yummy dessert– I’m a chocolate gal myself), but it significantly cuts down on costs. In terms of the dinner parties I’ve hosted/attended these past few weeks, here’s how it’s usually gone: the hosting group will make the main course/entree and maybe even a small appetizer, whereas other groups/attendees will bring side dishes, wine, dessert, etc. Feel free to play around with different combinations, but always make sure that transporting these items to the dinner location is feasible (spilling pastina soup all over Nørreport Station is probably not the best way to make friends, but who knows?).

2. don’t be that guy on the aux

I totally get that your idea of sick tunes is Russian house music and maybe even some Yung Gravy, but make sure to always keep the overall vibe of a relaxing, chill dinner (or regal affair, if you’re going for that) in mind. Putting on a smooth jazz, Club-Penguin-pizza-parlor-style music vibe, no matter how cheap or last-minute your dinner was put together, elevates the ambience to an entirely different level. Here’s my friend Natalie’s– one of the incredibly gracious hostesses of the last dinner party I attended– fire playlist, for reference:

3. never underestimate the power of decor

I’m not saying that you have to drop some serious cash to dress your table to the nines, but throwing some random decor pieces on there doesn’t hurt to show attendees that you put some thought into the experience. Candles? Always a yes (fire regulations permitting). Random knickknack that you thrifted the other day as a joke? Centerpiece and conversation-starter. It’s that easy! Of course, don’t feel like you have to decorate, especially since you’re already going to lengths to invite people into your home and make dinner for them. If you want to distract your guests from the fact that you left your garlic crostini in the oven for way too long, though, maybe throw an extra centerpiece in there. But seriously, what really matters is eating some good food with good company– don’t stress and let the good times roll. Vi ses!

xoxo- olivia! 🙂


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