According to my guest today, the past decade has seen the rise of a truly soul-sucking food trend. In fact, he argues it’s creating a hell on earth.
What is this mealtime monster?
My guest’s name is Brendan Newnam and he, along with his co-author Rico Gagliano, is on a mission to destroy brunch and bring back the dinner party with their new book, Brunch Is Hell.
Brendan and I begin our conversation discussing why brunch has become big business in America, but why he thinks it’s terrible for us individually and also as a society. We then dig into why we should bring back the dinner party as the preferred mealtime social event. Brendan explains why hosting a dinner party is pretty dang manly and why dinner parties are so much better than brunch. He then gets into the nitty gritty of hosting a dinner party, including the optimal day to schedule one, the best way to invite people, and who to invite. Brendan shares why the food isn’t the most important thing at a dinner party, while also providing some easy entree options that people will love. We end our conversation discussing how to handle small talk and controversial discussion topics, why the party is just getting started after the food has been eaten, and how to give people the hint they need to leave if they’re staying too long.
After listening to this show, you’ll be jonesing to host a dinner party of your own.
- Why is brunch hell?
- What happened to the dinner party? Why did brunch take its place?
- Why brunch is for adolescents, and dinner parties are for adults
- Some informal “rules” for who to invite to a dinner party
- The false assumptions that often come with thoughts of throwing a dinner party
- Why barbecues aren’t dinner parties (nor are holiday parties)
- Why a dinner party should be an expression of who you are and your personality
- The perfect time of day, and day of the week, for your dinner party
- How dinner parties inject some much needed spice (and old fashioned fun) into life
- The beauty of conversation at a dinner party
- Are any conversation topics off limits?
- The optimum number of guests for a dinner party
- Why food is actually the least important part of the dinner party
- Should the house be spotlessly perfect?
- What the flow of a dinner party should look like
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- How to Be the Perfect Party Guest
- How to Give a Toast
- The History of Toasting, and Why We Should Bring It Back
- The Lost Art of Cheap Recreation
- A Gentleman Never Arrives Empty-Handed
- A Man’s Guide to Table Manners and Dining Etiquette
- How to Throw an Awesome Party
- How and Why to Throw a Gentleman’s Dinner
- Life Is Hard; Get Drunk On This
- AoM articles on the Art of Conversation
- The Power of Conversation
- Reclaiming Conversation
- AoM’s series of Social Briefings
Connect With Brendan and Rico
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Recorded with ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. According to my guest today, the past decade has seen the rise of a truly soul sucking food trend. In fact, he argues, it’s creating a hell on earth. What is this meal time monster? It’s brunch. My guest’s name is Brendan Newnam, and he, along with his coauthor Rico Gagliano, are on a mission to destroy brunch and bring back the dinner party. Brendan and I begin our conversation discussing why brunch has become big business in America, but why he thinks it’s terrible for us individually and also as a society. We then dig into why we should bring back the dinner party as the preferred meal time social event.
Brendan explains why hosting a dinner party is a manly affair, and why dinner parties are so much better than brunch. He then gets into the nitty gritty of hosting a dinner party, including the optimal day to schedule one, the best way to invite people, and who to invite. Brendan shares why the food isn’t the most important thing at a dinner party, while also providing some easy entrée options that people will love. We end our conversation discussing how to handle small talk, and controversial discussion topics, why the party is just getting started after the food has been eaten, and how to give people the hint they need to leave because they’re staying too long. After listening to this show, you’ll be jonesing to host a dinner party of your own.
Brendan Francis Newnam, welcome to the show.
Brendan Newnam: Thanks, thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: You and your coauthor, Rico, wrote a book. You have a podcast, first off. You guys have a podcast called The Dinner Party Download. You guys came up with a book called Brunch Is Hell; How to Save the World By Throwing A Dinner Party. Let’s start off with the title, that’s pretty provocative. My seven year old son sees that, Brunch is Hell, and he’s like, “That is … Dad, brunch is not hell. That’s terrible.” Why is brunch hell? Why do you have this vendetta against brunch?
Brendan Newnam: First of all, I thought you were going to say that your son wouldn’t be able to look at it because it’s a bad word, but apparently, your household, those rules don’t apply.
Brett McKay: We’re loosey goosey around here.
Brendan Newnam: Don’t you feel it in your heart, that brunch is hell? If you don’t, I would just say that we all work hard every week. We do our best as parents, as employees, as teammates, as human beings, and then we get a couple days a week to relax or collect our thoughts or think about our future, or repair, in some sense. What do we do with one of those days? We stab it in the heart by waiting in line for breakfast at around … Not even breakfast, this hybrid meal around noon, one o’clock, and then maybe we go inside. It’s this really loud place playing tinny music, and then you sit down, and then you wait. You have a surly servant who comes by and offers you something, and then it takes forever to get it and then you consume all this food, and you drink a couple bottomless mimosas, and then you pay way too much money for eggs.
You leave, and now it’s like 3:30, and you’re drooling on yourself a little bit because you were day drinking, and now all that ambition has gone away and you still have a bunch of day left, and you’ve just ruined one of your opportunities to grow and be fully human. Brunch, I feel like, is just jamming people’s radar. It’s false calories, it feels satisfying, but it’s a poor form of leisure. Look, we don’t think that you shouldn’t entertain or you shouldn’t have fun and you shouldn’t get mischievous, but we just don’t think brunch is the place to do it. There’s a great time to feel that way, and that’s at the end of the day after you’ve done your stuff, and that is what a dinner party is for.
Brett McKay: The dinner party. What’s interesting is, there was a time in American culture, people, that’s what you did, you threw dinner parties, right?
Brendan Newnam: Yes.
Brett McKay: What happened? Why did the dinner party decline, and then brunch, this Frankenstein meal, take its place? What happened? What cultural changes do you think facilitated that?
Brendan Newnam: That’s the spirit. There are a lot of things. First of all, brunch rose, started to come about, when restaurateurs had this leftover food that they needed to move, or it would go bad. They decided, they buy a bunch of steaks expecting to sell them Saturday night dinner. They don’t sell them, so they turn it into a beef hash the next day and they charge you for it. That’s one reason there started to be a surge in restaurants serving brunch.
Parallel to that, and the New York Times, other Wall Street Journal people have written about this, people feel like a dinner party is too much heavy lifting. It’s overwhelming. They’re too busy, they think, to go home and prepare a meal. I think that when people think of a dinner party, often, they think of a tablecloth, they think of perfect china, they think of three course meals, and I think that’s really anxiety producing, when the truth is, the dinner party we advocate for, they don’t have to be such a huge undertaking. I think it’s a little bit, people got busy, people got intimidated, restaurants started to seduce people with their clapboards in the front of their restaurants, seducing people to come in with bottomless mimosas.
I do think, overall, too, people stopped relying on themselves a little bit. Restaurant life is easy. You snap in there and you just park, and it’s like being like an adolescent forever. You just … “I want this, I want this,” you order people around, they give you food, you hand a piece of plastic, and you leave. I feel like I don’t think I have to give too many examples that are society’s, in many ways, deteriorating around us. I’m not going to say brunch is the culprit, but I’m saying brunch is the culprit.
Brett McKay: Brunch keeps you a perpetual adolescent. Dinner parties are for grown ups, because you do it yourself.
Brendan Newnam: Agreed. Among many reasons, dinner parties, here’s the thing. There’s the host of the dinner party, and that person has to be on point. You’re an uber adult, in some sense, and yet, the guests … I’m not saying, the world doesn’t have to be some militaristic operation. The guests there get to fully, completely relax. In fact, if you’re a guest, your job is to relax, is to enjoy yourself. Why we also advocate for dinner parties is they happen in your private home. In a private home, then, things can actually … You can be fully human. Can you pick up a guitar at a restaurant and start strumming some silly song because you light up a cigarette? Could you dance on the tables? Those things cannot happen at a brunch spot, but they can happen at a dinner party.
I don’t want people to think that a dinner party has to be this formal affair, but it’s more like yes, it’s more of an adult setting because you’re in someone’s home, there’s someone hosting it, and it’s at the end of the day, after you’ve done your adult things. We have some rules of the road about dinner parties that we’re very flexible about ultimately, but things like at a dinner party, we think that you shouldn’t have your employer there. You shouldn’t have more than 25% immediate family. You shouldn’t have things that make you feel obligated and that may impinge upon you feeling completely free, in a sense.
Brett McKay: I really think that idea of why people don’t throw dinner parties, particularly, I think, millennials, in the age of Instagram where everything has to look perfect, they don’t want to do it themselves because they don’t feel like they can meet the expectations that the internet will have for them on what a party or a get together should look like, so they’re just like, “I’ll just outsource that and go somewhere else,” where a restaurant takes care of it, and it looks really cool. It makes for great Instagram photos at a swanky … Not a swanky restaurant, a hip restaurant that’s serving brunch.
Brendan Newnam: Exactly right. I feel like that’s short circuited us, and made us feel bad about ourselves in many ways, but look, has anyone invited you … Have you ever been invited to dine at someone’s house and gone there and been like, “This food is awful?” No, you’re excited that someone invited you over. You’re excited that you’re able to talk with your friends and listen to some music, and what a treat for you, as the guest, to just not even have to pay, frankly, even on that basic a level. The idea that the food has to be perfect, or that the timing has to be … Perfect, is a bit naïve because what makes a dinner party, part of the beauty of it, is that it is artisanal.
It is a reflection of the host, and it isn’t some business plan that’s been dialed in like a restaurant, so it is going to have some rough edges. I think if anything, what makes a dinner party better than an ideal brunch or Instagram is that it’s human, and that’s what makes people feel comfortable. If you go to a dinner party and it is stuffy and everything is perfect, you’re not going to feel comfortable, in a sense. It sets unrealistic expectations.
Brett McKay: Hosting dinner parties is often seen as something that ladies do. I think dinner party, I think 1950’s etiquette manuals, like you said, the tablecloth, the silverware, whatever. Make the case that dudes should be throwing dinner parties, too.
Brendan Newnam: I try to live in an enlightened universe in which the distinction between what dudes and ladies do is no longer there, in a sense, so I feel like we can expand upon the idea of who we are. I feel like I’ve always been the cook in my relationships and stuff like that. My uncle, the people in my life that I admire who are men, often, are the cooks and stuff. I feel like any gender could do this, but I get what you’re saying, the frame in which you’re approaching this question, is that what can make someone who is a bit alpha and maybe testosterone, feel like it’s okay to host this? Often, barbecues, like I said, are the domain for men. We don’t think barbecues are dinner parties, we endorse barbecues, but they’re a very different thing. They can happen any hour of the day, you can bring friends along, people can wear flip flops. There’s a lot of stuff about a barbecue that makes it not a dinner party.
Let’s just go back to that. A dinner party, we also advocate, is the root of civilization and we think here’s how dinner parties happened. Years ago, there was a caveman named Thorog, and he clubbed a pterodactyl and he brought it home and he cooked it over a fire, and then he and his wife, Karen, had some leftover pterodactyl, and they were like, “Let’s invite Urg and his wife over.” They invited that other couple into their home. These people weren’t related. Biologically, there was no necessity to protect these people or feed these people, they just did it because they had some extra meat and wanted to hang out. Thorog wanted to hang out with Urg. Karen wanted to hang out with Urg’s wife.
Brett McKay: I like how her name is Karen.
Brendan Newnam: The point being, that was the beginning of civilization, when we finally had enough abundance that we can invite people over and just focus on being friends. It wasn’t just we were out on the field being predators. It was eat or be eaten. Look, we are in a civilized society, fortunately. We’re very fortunate here in this country, and if we’re listening to podcasts, you’re probably doing okay to some extent. That’s the world we live in, and so to invite other people over to your home is actually a very powerful act. It’s a magnanimous act. It’s like, “I have abundance, come share it, and let’s forge friendship.” I feel like that’s part of being a man. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything that would make some alpha guy feel uncomfortable about that. In fact, he would feel kingly in a sense. What did kings do? They had feasts at their homes.
Brett McKay: That’s right. It’s interesting, that whole idea of hospitality. If you go back in different ancient cultures, men, that was a competition. Who could be the most hospitable to guests? Sometimes, they would go bankrupt trying to be the most generous host.
Brendan Newnam: Sure, sure, completely. I just think that that frame is of … The genderness of the dinner party, I hadn’t thought about it a bunch, but I think that if part of the idea of The Art of Manliness is how to be competent on some level, knowing how to do this stuff is part of the toolkit of being a fully realized human, I think, and I think it’s something we take for granted. I think we spend a lot of our times being good, as I said, being good employees, being good teammates, being good this, and this is a space, this is part of what it means to be a human being, and why go through life not experiencing this sliver of it?
You’re right, it is about hospitality, but remember, a dinner party has two things. They have hosts and there’s guests. It’s also, learn how to be taken care of. Learn how to show up at a place, hold a conversation, and let go for a moment of your life in a very safe space, because you’re in a friend’s home.
Brett McKay: You’ve been mentioning rules of what makes a dinner party a dinner party. Barbecue is not a dinner party, but if you invite someone over for pizza and soda? Dinner party? No?
Brendan Newnam: Not really a dinner party. If you made the pizza at home, possibly a dinner party. We think that if you’re going to have a dinner party, you have to cook at least 51% of the food in your home, and that’s partially because a dinner party is a reflection of you, so you need to get in the game a little bit. You need to cook it yourself, get involved, and actually, the process of making this food will make you and your guests more appreciative. Again, what you decide to cook is a reflection of you. If you order in pizza, that’s a great thing to do. Not for a dinner party. That’s just what you do after your friends help you move in, or what you do on Friday night when you get home from work, and it’s like the kids and you, you’re too tired to cook, and it’s like let’s just watch some movies and have some pizza. That doesn’t have a sense of occasion to it.
Furthermore, we have other sub-rules like if you’re having a dinner party, it’s a break from the insane, 24 hour assault of advertising in our modern society. You can’t even go to a bar without a neon sign flashing some brand in your face. We think if we’re going to have a dinner party, the table itself should be unadorned. It should just be the food and the drinks and maybe a wine bottle or a beer bottle, but you’re not going to bring out Dominoes Sugar in a Dominoes Sugar box. To that extent, if you order pizza, it comes in a box and you’re going to serve it in a box. Why else wouldn’t you? That’s another reason it doesn’t make the perfect dinner party food. Soda? Totally acceptable, but again, you can’t have a two liter bottle hanging out on your table. That’s just not dinner party. If you cooked the pizzas at your home, that might get you within bounds there.
Brett McKay: No advertisements, we’re ad busters here. We’re getting rid of them.
Brendan Newnam: There’s a place for them, and it’s not in your home, man. It’s not in your home. This is a place, again, the focus is the conversation. It’s the person’s face right in front of you. It’s what someone’s saying to the left of you. You don’t want your table to just look like Times Square.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about when. Dinner party, let’s talk about the timing. Dinner party has to be around dinner time, that’s why a barbecue’s not a dinner party, because you can do that at four o’clock-
Brendan Newnam: Do that all day.
Brett McKay: Do it all day.
Brendan Newnam: Sure.
Brett McKay: What time? Time of day, should you shoot for, having a dinner party?
Brendan Newnam: I’m trying to remember back in the book, the time in my head, it’s between 5:00 and 8:00 are your key times, but we think we should push it up closer to 7:00 because if you’re on the west coast, you got LA, there’s a lot of traffic. Everywhere, Atlanta, all these places, there’s lots of traffic, so you need people to give a break to come into your home, and it gives you a little bit of a runway as a cook, to get things started. We think that’s your sweet spot. A dinner party can’t have an end time. We think that’s a whole different thing. A baby shower can have an end time. A brunch can have an end time, but a dinner party, the idea is no, relax from the rules and regulations, come to my home, and we’re going to let it run its course.
Look, we also have methods for getting people out of your home if they stick around too long. The ideal time would probably be between 6:30, 7:00, to get started. It’s a few hours, but you’re not really going to bracket it with another end time, and then it’s also days of the week. Sundays are a bad day for dinner parties because everyone’s anxious about Monday and getting back to work. Monday is a bad day for a dinner party, because Monday night, you’re doing all the stuff you should have done Sunday while you were anxious about being back at work. Tuesdays we think are just dumb. What’s a Tuesday?
We’re talking Wednesday through Saturday is your prime rib. That’s your beautiful piece of dinner party time. We’re pro Thursdays. It’s a great spot, because it adds a sense of occasion to a mundane week. People can maybe even get a little loose and be foggy on work on Friday, that’s not unheard of, and there’s less competition because Fridays and Saturdays, there’s concerts and other events. Wednesday through Saturday are your ideal dinner party evenings.
Brett McKay: I like Thursday, Thursdays are a good day for dinner parties, I think.
Brendan Newnam: Definitely, definitely. You can recover. You work, and then you recover, you stay in Friday and then you have your whole weekend to take over the world.
Brett McKay: It gives people something to look forward, mundane.
Brendan Newnam: That’s a key point. One of our other rules, a holiday party, not a dinner party. Our year is sprinkled with senses of occasion that are wonderful. Your friends have birthdays, someone has an anniversary, Christmas comes up or Halloween. That already makes your life feel like it adds a little frisson, adds a little fun. A dinner party is for the end of January, or a space in the month where there’s nothing special going on. The only thing special is you’re like, “Hey guys. Come over here, there’s going to be a burst of sunshine at my house. I’m putting in a roast. Bring over a bottle of wine, we’re going to listen to records and we’re going to hang out.” Exactly as you said, people are like, “Whoa, all right.” It gets people a little excited. We think having a dinner party over Christmas, that’s giving a kid … Taking a kid out for ice cream on Halloween. It’s like they’ve already got the joy and the sense of occasion taken care of. It’s gilding the lily if you’re to do that.
Brett McKay: That’s an interesting point. Dinner parties are a way to make a boring, mundane, flat life a little more interesting, give it a little pizazz.
Brendan Newnam: Absolutely. I’ll add, particularly, adulthood is, a lot of adulthood, is taking care of others, and it’s being a good human, which are all important things. You don’t abandon those principles within the dinner party. We like to think of the dinner party as it’s recess for adults. It’s the time where you get to then ask a silly question. It’s where you get to maybe even have a little dancing after dinner. It’s where you get to early on in the evening, have one more drink than you would. You need a release valve in life, and this is a place where, a forum, where you can just relax. That’s why we also advocate … One of our rules is as I mentioned earlier, less than 25% immediate family. Any more than that, you’re going to be in some Freudian morass, which is just going to … That’s what Thanksgiving is for, to have all those old battles.
You don’t want your boss over because all of a sudden, people are acting a certain way. The idea is just to have friends. The heart of our book is about conversation, and how the world can be better. The truth of it is, if you have an uncomfortable question or a thought about politics, is work the place to say it? No. On the sidelines of your son’s soccer game to your son’s friend’s mother? No. Where can you do that anymore? A dinner party is a place for that. That’s a place where you can say, “Hey, I don’t understand this.” You get to be a little childlike in a genuine way, because you’re in a very safe space, surrounded by friends who can throw mashed potatoes at your face, or educate you about something. It’s a sense of occasion, and it is a special moment that can enrich your life.
Brett McKay: What I love, the conversation for me is what makes a dinner party fantastic? I feel like again, people are less guarded and they’re willing to say things that they otherwise probably wouldn’t say on Twitter or Facebook or in private because they’re not going to get their head bit off. They’re playing with ideas, and you can’t do that in a lot of other places.
Brendan Newnam: Absolutely right, absolutely right. I think there are … The public square is, in our country, for good reason, is certain discussions are just uncomfortable to have with strangers. I would like that to open up. I wish we could just really just be maybe a little bit looser and feeling more closer to our fellow citizens and people that we live life with, especially this moment. There’s a certain polarization, people are feeling chilled in their speech and from both sides of the political spectrum and other places, but that is not healthy at all. That’s not how new things happen.
New things happen over debate. New things happen when people don’t pretend they know something. That’s exactly right, a dinner party, that’s your spot. That’s where your friend is sitting across from you, or your friend invited her friend who actually … It does this job. You’re like, “Oh, I’ve always wondered about this.” You’re not going to be judged or condemned, because everyone feels … This glow is being created between the cocktails and the music and just the vibe and the host themselves, that that’s the forum to do it. They can tell you, “You’re an absolute idiot.” They’re not going to start a fight. That’s okay, too. It is this space of … It’s definitely a free speech zone, that’s for sure.
Brett McKay: Speaking of conversation, do you think there’s topics that are off limits at a dinner party, or should you be able to wade into that?
Brendan Newnam: The old rules, we’re like don’t talk about politics and religion and we think, look where that’s brought us. We think everything is open, free to discussion, as long as it’s done tactfully and we use strategies for having certain discussions. You don’t just want to jump right into it. Our book, after we give you our anti-brunch manifesto, we then take you through a dinner party from beginning to end. There’s a time for small talk. Small talk is often disparaged for being like, “That’s empty calories, what’s the point of that?” The point of that is, is early on, people are meeting each other. Not everyone already knows each other, so you got to ease into things, you got to test the waters, you got to see who has a sense of humor or maybe who is more of an intellectual. It’s not for you to self censor later, but it is just everyone to feel comfortable around each other, have a drink.
I wouldn’t come right in and start talking about abortion, but once you get to know each other and the food’s happening, and if someone has a serious question, absolutely. You should be able to bring up whatever you want as long as you follow the basic rules of the road, which are you be respectful. We have a subsection about talking about politics. One of the rules there is relevant to everything, which is you’re not going to change someone’s mind over the course of two hours. All of the sudden, you’re not going to convince a liberal that everyone should be carrying an assault rifle to preschool, but on the other hand, you’re not going to convince someone on the other end of the political spectrum, you’re not going to have them join this transgender gathering held on Sundays at the local corner.
As long as you go in there knowing look, we’re not going to change everyone’s mind, but I’m going to share an idea or share a thought or I want some more information about your side of the story. Once you get to a point where you find yourselves repeating each other, you feel the heat rising, you just shift out of it. That’s faulty reasoning to think, “Oh, well I’m going to convince them.” It’s like no, it should be like, “Hey, I have a question about this.” You can share your thought on it, but then once it starts to get repetitive, you just tastefully turn your head to the guest to the right of you, fill your mouth with a piece of roast beef, and agree to disagree.
Brett McKay: In order to have those type of conversations, you’ve got to invite the right kind of people. One of the things you talked about why brunch is terrible is that when you go to brunch, you look around, everyone is just like you. If you’re going to brunch, you’re probably relatively affluent, got a lot of time, you listen to the same music. You don’t want that at dinner parties. How do you capture that diversity of opinions and people and backgrounds at a dinner party?
Brendan Newnam: This is a trick, because you do want to feel comfortable, you do want to create the space we talked about, where everyone feels loose. This really is up to the host. Everyone needs to respect that host. The host needs to create a space of trust, and so that needs to be your guide about who you’re ultimately bringing to the mix. We have those basic rules of the road I laid out to you, which is you don’t want your mother there and your aunt, because that’s going to turn into another thing. You don’t want your bosses there. You’re going to invite top 12, minimum four people, although we think five is a little bit better, for various reasons. Within that spectrum of people, you invite the people you wanted to catch up with. There’s going to be a little . . . of those folks, we’re just needing to catch up.
Maybe there’s that other layer of people you met at an event, or just people that caught your eye whether it was … I don’t know, a book opening, or whether it was at church or something, whatever. People that you see that you’re like, “Those are kind of cool.” This is the space to invite them over, and bring them in a little bit, as long as, again, they’re not going to overlap with you professionally. We also encourage you, I was at a dinner party at my friend’s house a couple months ago and he invited, he teaches at a college, and he invited a security guard there, this woman that he talks to every morning. Catches up with her, learns about her family, and she asks after his. He just invited her over. That was a totally interesting, added a different dynamic to a dinner party, and opened it up.
It’s people that you’ve encountered over life that you have a good feeling about that you want to learn more about, bring them in. If someone says, “Hey, I can’t make it that Tuesday, my college roommate’s in town, and man, you wouldn’t like him. He’s an uptight investment banker, libertarian.” It’s like, “Well, if he can hang out with himself, if you think he’s cool, invite him along. Let’s have that discussion.” You look for opportunities to bring in one or two people that might be wild cards, as long as they’re vetted in the sense that someone vouches for them or you have a good feeling about them, and then that’s the mix. That’s the only way we’re going to learn is if we hear some different opinions.
Brett McKay: So far, we’ve been talking a lot about when to do a dinner party, the type of people to invite. We haven’t talked about the food. You guys say in the book, the food is the least important thing at a dinner party. Why is that? It’s a dinner. Dinner is food. Why is it the least important part of it?
Brendan Newnam: I think it’s something you got to earlier in our conversation, which is people have anxiety about food. That’s, I think, one of the reasons they don’t throw dinner parties is they look on Instagram, and they see all these beautiful meals, or they watch the Food Network. It’s like, guess what? This is basically social bribery. You’re inviting people over for a free meal and you’re plying them with booze. Don’t worry about it, they’re going to be happy to be there. We think that this is a point of anxiety, so we just take it on it’s face, which is this is the least important part. The important part of a dinner party is the atmosphere, is conversation, is the mix of people that are there, and yes, there are some things, some rules of the road for food, which we unpack in this chapter.
Don’t psyche yourself out if you’re not a cook. We give you some very basic recipes, and give you some strategies for how to find other things that you might want to cook. If you’re at someone’s house and you get … Let’s put it this way, if you’re at brunch and someone brought you your eggs, and you ordered them fried and they came scrambled, you would complain. If it was over salted, you would complain. If you’re at someone’s house and they serve you, say, pasta, and it’s a little bit overcooked, are you going to complain?
No, you’re not going to complain. You’re just going to maybe eat a couple bites and move to the vegetables or something like that, because you’re just overjoyed to be in someone’s house. You didn’t go there for the ideal meal, you went there for the event. We say it’s the least important part of the party, because getting people into your home, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie, having some good music, some lighting, some other things we talk about. The food itself isn’t the main reason that people are there.
Brett McKay: Keep it super simple, like a pasta dish, roast, meat is super simple to cook.
Brendan Newnam: We advocate for that. I call it stunt meant, and this is something I do all the time, which is I’m having a bunch of people over, I get a big roast, or you could get a chicken, or you could get a ham. I’ve done this every way. If you’re a cook, you know that this is a trick because ultimately, a ham is you put a glaze on it, you score it, you throw that thing in the oven and you forget about it for hours. That leaves you time to quickly clean your house and get ready for arrivals, but when you bring it out, it’s very dramatic looking to have a roast. Non-cooks are like, “Oh my God, this person’s a genius,” but even real cooks are like, “Whoa, that guy went all out.” It just has a sense of occasion about it. You carve it and there’s just tons of it.
Dorothy Parker has a quote about ham, “Eternity is a ham between two people,” because you would just eat it forever, leftovers on and on, “but a ham with 12 people, that’s an occasion.” That’s a party. We have stunt meats. We do advocate for keeping it simple. If you’re going to mix it up with a new appetizer or some 11 ingredient thingamabob, we would say do that for a first course or a nibble or a nosh when people arrive, but I wouldn’t bet the house and all your time and all your ingredients on an alpha entrée. If you’ve never made paella now is not the time to make paella. If you’ve never made this 11 ingredient vegan casserole, now is not the time to do that either. Stick to some basic things; veggie, starch, protein, and you’ll be fine.
Brett McKay: Awesome. Besides the food giving you anxiety, giving people anxiety and why they don’t do it, the other part that gives people anxiety is even just inviting people over. You’re going back to middle school when you ask someone to a party or you ask a girl out, and you’re afraid they’re going to say no. Why should people not worry about that?
Brendan Newnam: The truth is, forget about it. It’s the idea of remember, you’re basically giving people a gift. In really even course terms, you could just say you’re inviting somebody to a dinner party. You’re giving them hundreds of dollars of value for free, would be a real market way to look at it. In a general way, it’s like who cares? People are busy. You got to let the water flow off your back. If people can’t make it, they’re adults and they’ll tell you they can’t make it. People are going to come. Part of the rule, we have an invitation section, and one of the things is there are various things. We are pro spontaneous dinner party. If you’re talking to people at an event, at a concert, and you’re like, “Hey, what are you doing this Saturday?” You should go for it if the impulse moves you and then figure it out later. Invite first, and figure out the rest of the guest list later.
Also, you can invite people. The difference between a dinner party and other parties, like a barbecue or a pool party, is you do tell people they have to tell you they’re coming. Only the people you invite can arrive, they can’t bring a gang of four people. You tell people when it begins, there’s a relatively, it starts at 7:00, we let you come as late as 7:30, but there’s some formal structure that once people agree, they’re going to commit to it. They’re going to get a babysitter or they’re going to actually mark it on their calendar.
That means the likelihood of them arriving is much, much higher, than if you’re like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to open up our house and have a barbecue on Saturday.” That’s cool. People might show up, 100 people might show up, five people might show up. A dinner party, you have maybe 10 people are coming, and then if two of them back out, you can fill up that slot. There’s a frame and it’s such a fun treat for people that you’re going to get people to agree, and they’re going to commit. Once they commit, they’re going to follow through.
Brett McKay: Right. That’s the thing, when we’ve had dinner parties, people are waiting to be asked. I think often times, people are afraid to ask. “No one wants to get invited, they’re too busy.” It’s like no, no one’s busy. Everyone’s at home watching Netflix, not doing anything. They’re waiting for somebody to give them a plan, so be that guy. Be the guy that makes that person’s day.
Brendan Newnam: Exactly, people love it. Look, if it’s a couple, even if one of them is like, “I don’t want to,” by the time they arrive, they’re going to enjoy themselves. It’s like go ahead, if you’re being grumpy, you go sit in a chair, have a drink, and I bet you you’ll open up if the dinner party is being hosted correctly. For a lot of people, you’re right. It’s like a gift, it’s like, “Whoa, I had no plans and now all I have to do is drive over to Brendan’s house at around 7:00, and sit back and enjoy myself, sure. Let’s do it.”
Brett McKay: Another thing people don’t do dinner parties, is they don’t want to have to clean their house, or they’re afraid people are going to make fun of their house because it’s not properly decorated. What’s your take on that?
Brendan Newnam: Again, keep in mind, you’re giving people something free. They’ve already agreed to come join you. They’re not looking to punish you. Why a dinner party is better than brunch, they’re not expecting perfection. What makes true friendship? It’s your buddy who is honest with you about their lives, they’re vulnerable, to an extent. That’s really what creates the real glue of friendships and bonds. Your home, don’t sweat it. The only thing that you really need to do is if you have no time to do anything else, it’s like you have to clean your bathroom. Don’t be an animal. In fact, that’s the one place people are going to be alone under bright lighting at some point in the evening, so make sure that’s dialed in. They also might want to peek in your medicine cabinet, because one of your guests might. Make sure everything in there, you’re fine with other people seeing.
After that, look, the kitchen can stay a mess. We actually think coming into seeing that kitchen that people are cooking in has a sense of industry. It has this sense of fun. That’s often where a lot of the early party is happening, someone’s spinning around, they’re frying this, they’re doing that, bottles are open, boxes are open. That’s actually kind of cool and fun, and then your living room, all you need, and this is one of the dinner party rules, is a table.
This is why buffets and potlucks aren’t really dinner parties, because you need a table that everyone can sit around. That’s where conversation can happen. You have one clean table. Do a quick scan of the room, make sure you don’t have a bicycle part on your credenza or last year’s backpacker’s guide to Vietnam or something laying around. The lighting, the less the better. This is basically an Instagram filter on your life. Everyone prefers dim lighting. It makes them all look younger. It adds a sense of romance. Pile the coats on a bed, and that’s all you got to do.
Brett McKay: All you got to do. What do you do after you eat? Foods been eaten, conversations happened, what do you do? Do you play charades, do you dance, you just keep talking? What’s your take?
Brendan Newnam: D, all of the above. We have a couple paths to what you can do at the end of a dinner party. Sometimes, the table is cleared, some desserts come out, and that can be as simple as just three chocolate bars broken open and shared with people, but it can be more complex. We allow you to outsource a cake if you need to. Once that’s done and I think that this is an underrated part of the dinner party. In fact, the reason I have dinner parties is for the moment you are talking about right now, which is everyone now is maybe a little bit loose, they’ve had some good conversation, they’ve taken everyone’s measure. There’s been some music playing in the background. This is the delicious part of being an adult. You have a babysitter at home, you don’t have to go to work the next day, or if you do, you’ve already adjusted for it in your mind. We say savor these moments. You can go a couple different ways.
One is, everyone just, if you have enough space, they pile into the living room and they’re just laying on the couch and you’re playing music. If people want to have a cigarette, they can do that. If people want something more than a cigarette, if the host is willing, they can do that too, now would be the time. Sit back, finish the wine. This is where really deep conversation can go on. You can follow through on things, or as you mentioned, there are a bunch of games that can be played. We are a little less pro parlor game, I am, because I feel like they’re a little bit pushy because if you don’t play them, you feel ostracized. We can see the value in them if everyone’s game, and we have a list of games people can play.
I’m a big advocate for I call it the PDPDP, which is the post dinner party dance party. I think that this is again, for adults, why should we live a life where we only dance when we go to someone’s wedding anymore? I’m not going to go to the club anymore. I don’t go out dancing, unfortunately, so this is a space to do it. If you have the right crowd, you’ve been playing music, and we have a whole chapter about playlists and music, et cetera. This would be the time maybe, phase in some upbeat music and you can do a little dancing. This is the beauty of not being in a brunch spot where people are ushering you out the door because they need to flip the table to make more money, and you see 35 people giving you the death glare from behind the host stand. This is the time where you can just lounge, you can dance, you can pick up a guitar, you can do whatever you want. It’s a golden moment.
Brett McKay: You said dinner parties are open ended, no end time. What if you got an early day the next day? How do you give people the hint that it’s time to head out?
Brendan Newnam: You should have thought about that before you had your dinner party, but things do come up. You’re having this on a Thursday, and all of a sudden, a project’s due. We actually, in the book, we have a flow chart called Should I Kick These Guys Out? It’s very elaborate, and I would refer you directly to that, I can’t completely do it justice here. The rules of the flow chart are what we’ve talked about. Is it a week day? It’s like, no. Is it after midnight? No. What? It gives you paths to maybe you should keep this party going. Again, that’s the host, they can close it. You don’t have to be a victim to someone else who doesn’t want to go face their home life again.
Brett McKay: Got you. Brendan, this has been a great conversation. Is there anywhere people can go to learn more about the book and your work?
Brendan Newnam: Yeah, they can go to brunchishell.com, it’s our website that talks about the book and it also talks about some of the other projects Rico and I are working on. I’m also executive producer of the . . . podcast right now. It also sends you to The Dinner Party Download, our podcast that gives background to prepare you for your dinner party. Brunchishell.com, that’s where they can learn more.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Brendan Newnam, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Brendan Newnam: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Brendan Newnam, he is the coauthor of the book Brunch Is Hell, it’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Also, check out his podcast The Dinner Party Download, where you get more insights and advice on how to host a killer dinner party. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/brunchishell, where you can find links to resources where you delve deeper into this topic.
That wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website, it’s theartofmanliness.com. If you enjoy the podcast, I’d appreciate it if you’d take a minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. If you’ve already done that, thank you, please share the show with your friends and family members. Word of mouth is how this thing grows. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.