Dinner party is a superb invention, and a device without which much of civilisation might grind to a halt. Investigate any important social group; a dinner party will usually be at the heart of it.
Here’s the 10-point guide to happy dinner partying.
1. Spirits are out. I can’t remember the time when I was last offered a G&T on arrival. Sherry is alive in my parents’ house only. You must kick off with bubble: bargain-basement prosecco is fine; Bolly is fine, too.
2. The number of guests bears a direct correlation to the type of food you serve. If you are envisaging a dinner party for eight (the perfect size, IMHO), you have to come up with something pretty decent. If you are dealing with more than 15, give them anything. Nobody will notice, as long as the conversation is good.
3. Conversation, rule one: Top of banned conversational topics is the “route conversation” – detailed discussions of how you arrived, what the traffic was like and, worst of all, how you are going to get home. Also off the agenda are mortgages, house prices or private schools and their attendant entrance exams. You must energise the table around all things sparky and provocative. I went to a brilliant dinner party the other day where the two simple words “Jeremy” and “Corbyn” had people yelling at each other and beating their breasts.
4. Conversation, rule two: Do not speak over your partner when they are holding court. It is rude, and it will always lead to BIC. (See point 9.)
5. Children. I love children but a great dinner party is a child-free zone. Not at the table, not playing instruments beforehand, and certainly not present in the form of photographs, inquiries about work experience or (horror) glowing school reports.
6. Sex. Inter-course intercourse can happen during a dinner party. It’s quite risky, and probably not advisable.
7. Effort, rule one: If you are dragging your mates out for the night, you need to show a bit of effort has been expended. There was a brief vogue for cushion-based dinner parties at one point, but I think sitting everyone around a table is a good idea. Those quirky nights with courses in different houses? Fine, for a different century (the 20th).
8. Effort, rule two: It’s best to have a go at cooking the three courses yourself, but if you are a terrible cook, soup is a great saviour for starters and you can cop out with some decent cheese at the end (which has the additional advantage of appearing sophisticated, ie French). Ready-made meals are probably not a good idea – although you could get the entire menu in from Cook, which has had the genius idea of organising home-cooked food and marketing it as, yes, “home-cooked food”.
There’s more to the British Museum than the Elgin Marbles in digital
Caterers are an option, although this can prove disastrous. My parents – both doctors – once got the caterers in from St George’s Hospital, Tooting. It arrived in large tins and it tasted like hospital food. And because we were given regulation hospital crockery, the salad cream got muddled up with the double cream, which made the fruit salad very punchy. However, this was the Seventies.
9. BIC, or Bollocking in the Car. Delivered to your partner when he or she has offended you during the evening, by talking over you, getting totally hammered or indulging in inter-course activities with someone else.
10. The joy. The dinner party is a simple and ancient idea. An occasion in which you eat and drink with people you care for. It makes them feel loved, and it makes you feel loved. Don’t forget it.