Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saving hospitality

I keep seeing an article title popping up -- "Guess who isn't coming to dinner" -- from the New York Times. While on their site today, I noticed what the story is really about, the death of the dinner party, and it intrigued me enough to click.

In part, it's a different experience than most of us will have. The article discusses dinner parties with philanthropists and socialites who invite a diverse crowd for drinks, appetizers, dinner and dessert, lots of conversation, networking and an overall enjoyable evening.

That's New York. The rest of us in Ohio, Texas, Maryland, Minnesota and Canada probably don't receive such invitations. But it made me think about invitations to even a "simple dinner" -- a dinner with a few friends around an "average" kitchen table. Does that happen much anymore?

It seems to me it doesn't. And one reason is cited by "Miss Manners" in the New York Times article:
The influence of hand-held devices, Ms. Martin said, has been disastrous for the social contract. “People don’t even respond to dinner invitations anymore,” she said. “They consider it too difficult a commitment to say, ‘I’ll come to dinner a week from Saturday.’ ” Not only do they cancel at the last minute, they do it by text message.
Surely, this impacts even the most casual dinner arrangements with a friend or too. 

Other issues cited in the article include the prevalence of food allergies and hosts' subsequent skittishness to cook lest it be inedible for the guests. There's also the easier option of going to a restaurant with a group of friends, but as one interviewee says in the article, it's not possible to gather around a big table and talk in a restaurant like one can at home. 

Is the dinner party of New York alone in being banished to near extinction, or is hosting people in general becoming rare? I think it's both, but I also think it can be changed. My husband and I have enjoyed inviting people over for dinner, normally just one or two people at a time (though a rather substantial crowd for a small apartment on Thanksgiving). We've enjoyed the conversation, the opportunity to get to know others much better in a small setting. We've enjoyed planning a meal, learning to be host and hostess. 

What's an easy way to increase the chances of survival of hosting friends for dinner (or brunch or lunch or any meal, for that matter)? Sunday. What if we saw a revival of Sunday brunches and dinners with friends, little celebrations of the Sabbath? It's a day of rest and a day to share conversation and food. If we attempted to invite guests on one Sunday a month, or every two months, then perhaps the art of hospitality would be kindled into remaining.

The Christmas party season will be here in no time, but where will the entertainment and hospitality be in January?  

On Sundays.  

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