Since I started having Stranger Dinners, they have turned into one of the most fun and easy activities to plan. They are always different, but I’ve never had one I didn’t enjoy. With a little forethought, having a stranger dinner can be a great way to meet some new people, gain some different perspectives, and get people to bring delicious food to your house for free.
Think about why you want to have a Stranger Dinner.
Imagine what you'd like to get out of this experience. What is your motivation for the dinner? What makes a night with strangers so appealing to you? Write down your intention for the dinner, and what you hope to experience. Include this in your invitation, and you will attract people who want the same thing, and who are open to letting this experience happen.
Depending on your comfort level, there are different ways to do this. For the first stranger dinners, I found strangers by giving invitations to friends and asking them to invite people they knew. If you go this route, make sure you leave plenty of time for invitation delivery and for people to RSVP. This is probably the safest way to organize a stranger dinner, since your friends will have vouched for each guest that attends. If you want to start a dinner series, you can ask the guests to invite the next round of strangers. In this way, the dinner becomes a kind of chain letter.
Another way to invite people is through the internet. Though I wouldn’t necessarily post Stranger Dinner invitations on Craigslist, I do send the invitation to a mailing list or two that I trust, as well as to my own personal contacts. It’s easy to find a niche mailing list that speaks to a community you may be comfortable inviting without getting that icky stranger-danger feeling in your stomach. Having said that, posting it on a site like Craigslist might turn up great people, and you may have no problem at all. Follow your gut. Diverse sources of strangers help the dinners stay strange.
Stranger Dinners are best planned on a Sunday or a weeknight. Fridays and Saturdays, people have lots of options and plans that come up last minute. Planning on the right day minimizes being stood up by flaky strangers.
Send a Reminder.
People have a lot of stuff going on. It's easy to forget something you signed up for, especially if it was more than a week ago. A couple days before the dinner, send your guests a reminder email. Restate the time, day, intentions, and location of the dinner, as well as any special instructions. I ask my guests for a question they would like to ask a stranger. These questions serve as confirmation that they have read the email and are still planning to come to the dinner, and work as great conversation starters to get people talking at the actual dinner.
The Day of the Dinner.
It's fun to get excited about the Stranger Dinner. Get your space ready for guests. Make it cozy. Make it easy for people to come in, put down their stuff, and relax. Candles, flowers, tablecloth, music–whatever mood you want to set, ambiance is the key!
Make something yummy.
I don't like to tell people what to bring for the potluck. I like to be surprised, and I've never been disappointed with the meal. However, I do make sure I have some wine or beer on hand. Alcohol, though not necessary, definitely works as a social lubricant and gets people relaxed and talking. There is no need to spend all day slaving over a hot stove. Depending on my mood, my budget, and my schedule, I make sure my potluck item is stress free and delicious. Stranger Dinners, unlike other dinner parties, are great places to try out new recipes. If it turns out bad, there will be plenty of other things to eat, and you never have to see these people again!
Now all that's left is to sit back, relax, and let a bunch of people bring you food and entertain you for the evening. You’re in for a treat! Don’t forget to be a courteous host. Make sure everyone feels safe, comfortable, and is never without something to drink. Help people do their final preparations for their dish if they need it, help them serve it up, and don’t be afraid to use some ice-breakers if things aren’t flowing naturally. People are there to hang out, and after a while you’ll be talking like old friends.
When it's time to leave, thank everyone for coming. Make sure they get any dishes or leftovers they brought to take home, and if they would like to exchange contact information, send a group email to everyone so they can stay in touch!
(all photos courtesy of the author)
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Arianna is an artist who uses social forms to explore themes in contemporary sociality. She approaches social occasions as a designer with an interest how design decisions shape collective experience. This is the third piece in Arianna's series, you can read the first ("An Open Letter to A Stranger") and the second ("Why Talk to Strangers") by clicking on those links. You can see more of Arianna's work and art at her blog.
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