I Started a Dinner Club and It Changed My Life - Skillful Cook
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I Started a Dinner Club and It Changed My Life

A table filled with several dishes.

Three years ago, I read a book, got inspired, and started a dinner club. End of story. Kinda.

It wasn't a book about dinner clubs necessarily, but the author wrote bits and pieces about her dinner club, and the value of those lifelong relationships, and the really good food they bonded over, and I was like: hold on. just wait a second. I NEED ONE OF THOSE AND HOW DO I GET THAT IN MY LIFE.

Our first dinner club was in December of 2014. Since then, we have tried to get together monthly - or close to it - for a really good meal, cooked by all of us, and lots of conversation ranging from the more serious and vulnerable hardships in our lives to hilarious and self-deprecating stories that make us laugh until we cry.

I have these beautiful, funny, food-loving people in my life that I get to call my really good friends all because of dinner club.

How Starting a Dinner Club Changed My Life | skillfulcook.us

So this is the “changed my life” part.

If you've been reading the blog for the last year or so, you know that on January 1st, 2017, my husband Bjork and I lost our infant son Afton after a premature delivery and an otherwise healthy pregnancy. We spent a week in the hospital and about 15 hours with our baby in the NICU before he passed away in my arms.

That time - well, this entire year, actually - has been a complete blur. It is really, really, really hard to bounce back from something like that, and I don't know, even as I write that it feels too trite. Heal? Yes. “Bounce back?” I don't think that's a thing.

This is really why I'm writing this post. It's because the friendships developed over shared meals are the very same ones that have lifted me up in this really dark season of my life. And the magic?

We became friends because of dinner club.

That first night in December of 2014 when we all sat down around my table, looking awkwardly at each other in that WHAT IS THIS kind of way? That was the first night we met each other. It was the start of our collective food-based friendship, which then went on to support me through the loss of my son and, I hope, will go on to support each of us as life shapes our stories.

As a result of spending the last two years sharing meals and stories and laughter together, this group acted as our first responders when things fell apart. They cried with me in my lowest of lows - in the hospital just hours after we lost Afton. They brought meals. They sent flowers. They gave me support on hard days when I needed it (Afton's due date, Mother's Day, my birthday) and they gave me space when it was too emotional for me to be around their new babies. They didn't judge me for avoiding certain situations and showed me grace when I needed to bow out of hosting at the last minute.

This hodge-podge group of girls (women? ladies? I am always conflicted with these terms) with different families, different personalities, different jobs, different politics and views on the world... the ones who didn't know each other three years ago?

They are now some of my very best friends.

On a very serious note, THANK YOU, GNOCCHI.

How Starting a Dinner Club Changed My Life | skillfulcook.us

I firmly believe that we all want in on this. We all want connection. But most of us are just waiting to be invited.

Idea: what if you were the one to send the invite? I don't know, crazy, maybe, but why not?

I know some of you are thinking: I wish I had a close group of friends like that / I wish people were there to support me on my hard days / I wish I could stuff my face with tacos and drink a grapefruit margarita and then laugh at funny stories until I cry.

And I am here to say: You can have that. There's nothing special about us - we just committed sharing good food once a month and developed these deep and supportive relationships as a result. Send the invite.

Most people want in. They are just waiting to be invited.

Also most people love saucy homemade chicken marsala and freshly tossed Italian summer salad and tangy artichoke dip and earthy red wine and buttery raspberry crisp. Even if the table talk gets awkward for two seconds, THINK OF THE FOOD.

How Starting a Dinner Club Changed My Life | skillfulcook.us

When I mentioned my dinner club on my stories last week, so many of you (like, hundreds 😳) reached out and asked for more information on dinner club - how it started, what we do, and how you can start one, too. This is my return message back to all of you! My thoughts on starting a dinner club.

4 Basic Steps For Starting a Dinner Club:

  1. Choose the invitees. At this point you are the organizer, so you are the one to pick the invite list. Ideally these are people who love food. Anywhere from 6-10 people is a good number, but an odd number works too - we have 7 people in our dinner club. Ours is a girls-only club (my “girls” dilemma resurfaces once again but I really despise the term “ladies-only” so just let me have this one), but mixed company would be awesome, too.
  2. Choose who will host. This can be a set location or it can rotate. As the event organizer, I've found it easiest to host at my own house. I have probably the smallest house of all of us, but I'm the only one of us who doesn't have kids, which makes the logistics of a late dinner party a little more manageable. So in our dinner club, I host almost every time.
  3. Choose your menu. In our dinner club, the host (me!) makes the main dish, so I often determine the direction of the menu. Once I send out the “it's Taco Night!” text, everyone else chimes in saying what they're bringing. Our main categories are: Appetizer, Drinks, Main Dish, Salad, Bread/Carbs, and Dessert. It really depends on the night, but usually most people show up with their recipes already made. We eat apps and have drinks while putting finishing touches on recipes, and then dinner is served!
  4. Repeat. Send out the email inviting everyone back! Repeat indefinitely.

A Few Dinner Club Rules:

Every person should know one other person. It's easier to be fun and social if you know you will know at least one other person - this avoids anyone becoming the weirdo who spends 15 minutes talking about x-y-z only to find that everyone thinks they are totally bonkers. Not a good moment. For our dinner club, everyone knew me and one other person. I chose two friends from college, two friends from my blogging network, and two friends from church. I wanted people to be able to be semi-comfortable right off the bat, and I feel like the know-one-other-person rule helps to make people feel less intimidated.

Choose a consistency and stick to it. If you're just starting, you don't have to ask people to commit. I think I might have asked people to commit, but I'm awkward. That was probably annoying of me to do. I think you could just say, hey! I read this amazing blog post (why, thank u ❤️) about starting a dinner club and it's something I'd like to try to do in 2018. Do you guys want to come over and give it a try with me? That implies that this could be more than a one-time dinner party but doesn't make anyone feel obligated to continue coming in the unlikely event that they come and cannot handle the social-ness. Once you find your core group, I do think it's helpful to have a consistency. Ours is once a month, although on busy months it gets to be more like once every two months. I set a recurring reminder in my calendar to remind myself to schedule it.

Use a scheduling tool. Please, for the love of overflowing inboxes everywhere, avoid hundreds of texts and email back and forth to set a date and just send everyone a Doodle link. I learned this way too late.

Make the recipe at least once. I broke my own rule for dinner club last week with that chicken parm and it turned out great, but it was chaotic and I found myself trying to drink wine and eat artichoke dip while simultaneously pounding, breading, and frying seven giant chicken breasts. This rule is not so much for the quality of the recipe as it is for your overall peace of mind. If you've made this recipe before and you know what you're doing, you won't have to be glued to your phone the entire evening as you measure and chop and fry while trying to have meaningful conversation with friends.

Make a recipe that can be done in advance. Especially for your first time, and/or if you have a small kitchen, it might be in your best interest to have something that can be baking up in the oven or simmering on the stove when everyone arrives. AKA LOW MAINTENANCE. Breading, deep frying in batches, and baking all while trying to entertain is like Level 100 Dinner Club. Don't start there. Just keep it simple and try to plan as much as you can in advance so when people come you can just eat chips and hang out like the chill person that you are.

Jump out of work a few hours early. I used to be a teacher so I realize this is not doable for everyone. But. If it IS doable for you, block out half of your afternoon schedule so you can get everything ready. I do this EVERY TIME I host dinner club.

Let people help you. Last week my friends just started cleaning up while I was still sitting at the table. I tried to protest for like 1/100th of a second and then I was like, YOU ARE AMAZING AND THANK YOU SO MUCH. They loaded the dishwasher and got a start on the dishes before dessert. Amazing. So helpful. Don't be too cool to accept help with prep or cleanup, otherwise you will be so tired that you won't ever want to host dinner club again.

Embrace imperfection. The second dinner club I ever hosted was curry night - I made this amazing beef and potato yellow curry from scratch, and as we passed the rice around I noticed my friend kind of brushing something to the side of her plate. A weird piece of rice? I thought. Maybe a speck of parsley? OH NO. Not even close. You guys, it was a hair. One of my super long, straight, brown, renegade ponytail hairs in. her. rice. I have no words even to this day. All manner of cool and experienced and trustworthy cleanliness was gone. Guess what? She has still come back every month for dinner club for the last three years. You'll overcook the chicken, you'll run out of clean dishes, your beautiful long hair will end up in the rice... these things are all going to happen. You'll all be fine.

How Starting a Dinner Club Changed My Life | skillfulcook.us

Menus To Get You Started!

Chicken Parm Menu

Shrimp Tacos Menu:

Arepas Menu:

Gnocchi Menu:

How Starting a Dinner Club Changed My Life | skillfulcook.us

Do you have a dinner club? For how long? With who? What do you love about it? Tell me everything. ❤️

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    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I love the idea of a dinner club. Just curious of how do all participants fund the dinners monthly? Is it everyone’s responsibility to fund the dinner when itz their turn or is there a account set up for the dinner expenses and a budget?

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        I love the idea of a dinner club. Just curious of how do all participants fund the dinners monthly? Is it everyone’s responsibility to fund the dinner when itz their turn or is there a account set up for the dinner expenses and a budget?

      2. Skillful Cook Logo

        I have been hosting a monthly supper club for about a year and a half and it is so much fun. Our club consists of 12 people but we have had as many as 20 plus attend. My house is tiny but I have an amazing courtyard and I built a large farmhouse table. Luckily the weather cooperates so we are usually able to dine outside, even during the winter. We pick a geographical region and make something we have never made before. I always make the main and everyone else brings sides and dessert. We have a Facebook group were I post the theme and we all post what we are cooking. The only real rule is that it is adults only. It is lovely to put down our phones, share a meal, talk, and laugh. I hope do keep hosting these for a long time.

      3. Skillful Cook Logo

        We did this for years. The host was in charge of a main course at their expense. Each member signed up for a month to host and did not get that month the following year. A suggested complimentary dish was included in the invitation(Creating the invitation was one fun aspect).. Each member had a month or two to bring libations, dessert, appetizer, etc. Those with swimming pools often took a summer month, and sharing a birthday month with a theme dinner was a great gift to self. Do it with neighbors if you want. It is always fun to be creative.

  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    Love this! I think we are all starved for community and building those relationships and creating trust between individuals allows us to respond in times of crisis. My biggest fear? Sending an invite and having zero people want to participate. Eek! And not thinking my house is “good enough”. My goal for fall is to get over this!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      That’s my fear too! I know some people I invite won’t be able to make it, so I’m afraid it would end up being too small. What about asking each person you invite to invite another person?

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    What a lovely idea! I have been thinking of doing something similar here in Germany, except for the fact that it would probably be on weekends with the German “Kaffee und Kuchen”, which is usually in the afternoon and you serve coffee and cake.
    I have hosted French macaron baking parties, see for example here https://jennyisbaking.com/2017/08/25/how-to-host-a-macaron-baking-party-with-lots-of-printables/ and have to agree, it is so much fun and it is the best to socialize with food! Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank You, Thank You Lindsay for this inspiration of sharing a meal with friends! You are amazing! I too am from Minnesota and have been following your blog for a few years now. I check your instagram/blog every day as you are helping me heal also with some difficulties going on in my life, so thank you for being the person you are, I appreciate you & all you do! Now, if you can start a post on starting a book club (which I’m guessing is similar to starting a dinner club, minus the food)

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Not Lindsay 😉 but I started my own book club a few months ago and it was the best thing ever!! Our 4th meeting is this week 🙂 I emailed a few friends/coworkers who I knew liked to read, and encouraged them to invite other friends that 1) LIKED TO READ and 2) were awesome people. I’ve been a slightly uptight host (my friends make fun of me for this) because I so desperately wanted to actually talk about books rather than just sit and drink wine, but it’s turned into a nice blend of both.

      For the first meeting, I just picked a book and a date (about 6 weeks out) and said I’m starting a book club, I hope you can join! We’ve got about 8 of us now and it’s been really great. I say go for it and good luck!!

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        The best “book club” I’ve heard about is one a co-worker used to belong to. Instead of all the stress of having all members reading a particular book, they all just met for a social time and talked about books they were reading and their thoughts about their book. If they happened to have read the same book, they joined in that conversation, if not, they learned about books they might want to read. Took a lot of pressure off.

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      When my son was in 2nd grade, the mom of a child in his class invited some/all? of the other moms to join a book club she was starting. I think there were about 6 of us at first and several others have joined and/or left over the years. The way we manage it has morphed over time as well and truthfully there are times that each of us are there more for the opportunity to discuss our kids than to discuss the book but we always make time for both. Our kids are now sophomores in high school and the book club, our friendships, and our kids friendships are all still going strong. I love the idea of a dinner club to foster some other important friendships!

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love this idea! We do a rotating salad club lunch but this post makes me think I can up my game and try a dinner sometime. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for the wonderful idea! I just recently moved to Colorado and having a hard time meeting people and not feeling that sense of community here and it is my goal to start something like this in the future. I have also been having a rough season of life this year and want to sincerely thank you for sharing your story. It makes us all feel like we are not in our grief alone. I think of you and Afton so often. Sending lots of love and comfort.

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    We started a “Supper Club” last year and it has been so great! We actually started with a Friendsgiving, the weekend before Thanksgiving and that really helped to have an automatic theme/menu to go off of. We skipped December due to busy schedules, but have made it work every month since! There’s 11 of us total, couples and singles. We try to do general themes for each meal. We’ve done soups and grilled cheeses, Mediterranean, breakfast for dinner, pizza night, Cinco de Mayo night, summer grilling, Caribbean night, Italian, etc. Next month is “family traditions”, everyone will make something they grew up eating. We all trade off hosting and usually whoever hosts makes the main dish and everyone else fills in with sides, apps and desserts. And there’s always plenty of wine 🙂 We always have a ton of food and everyone brings tuperware for leftovers the next day 🙂 It’s definitely something I look forward to every month and I so recommend it to everyone!

    I’m so glad your group has turned into a wonderful community of friends, and I totally agree that we all want it, we all just want to be invited. Sometimes you just have to be brave and do the inviting yourself! I found myself saying the same thing when I moved to a new city, “oh I wish I had a close group of friends”, but I realized you have to start hanging out with not-so-close friends in order to get to the ‘close friends’ part, and watch the relationships grow stronger and stronger and all the sudden you’ll find yourself with this group of wonderful, supportive, loving people.

    Sorry for the long winded comment, I love this post and think it will be inspiring to a lot of people!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      We used to be in a dinner group of 12 couples, so each hosted once a year. Having dinner for 24 is a huge undertaking, especially if your place is small, but we had fun. We did themed dinners, usually by country. We had October and I didn’t want to do a Halloween theme, so we went with Greek food and asked everyone to wear toga, but just whatever they could do with a sheet. Lots of calls informed me that almost no one had plain white sheets. I stuck with the whatever-you-have plan and people showed up in Little Mermaid sheets, striped or flowered sheets. It got more interesting after that when we exhausted countries. We had a spa-food night, and a “Foods of our Youth; Foods of the 50’s and 60’s” night (Boomers). We had meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, green salad with thousand island or green goddess dressing, Jello salad with fruit cocktail and German Chocolate Cake and apple pie. It was a fun group. We had a bring your own bottle policy.

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    We have something similar! Every other Sunday, we have “Sunday Suppers”.
    It’s kind of a huge group of people. We do it all potluck style. One family has a big house and lots of folding chairs and they don’t have to cook anything since we always meet at their house. The kids get one room where they eat and do whatever they’re going to do and all us adults are in the dining room with candles and pass around bottles of wine and babies and breadsticks.
    Sometimes someone brings a ukulele and sometimes someone brings a poem and sometimes no one brings anything at all and it’s just the greatest joy of my whole life.

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    Oh my gosh the timing of this could not be more perfect!! I’m already in the process of starting my own supper club (kick off is next week) and I’ve been looking everywhere for already-put-together menus for inspiration/exact copying, so this is perfect! I would love if you did a dinner party menu post like once a month.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I really should, actually. People make such amazing stuff – it would be fun to put together our recipe links. 🙂

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        Yes, please! I Second that! I would love dinner menu inspiration with recipes! I am starting my club next month and am already thinking about what the theme should be in October, November, December! I would LOVE to see a monthly post!

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’ve been part of a dinner club for a few months now! instead of hosting at someone’s house, we commit to trying new restaurants every month. its a great chance for me to meet new people (why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?!), despite any initial awkwardness

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I love this! I have so many friends that don’t cook, and would hate supper club but this could work and I agree making new friends as an adult is challenging.

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for this post. I have been harboring an idea to start a dinner club, but didn’t really know where to start. I will be sending out the email to solicit interest shortly.

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    Just curious, what was the name of the book that you referenced getting your inspiration from?

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m a very introverted person, but those rare times when I do want to be around my people, I *really* want to be around my people. And everybody is always busy so we often never do get together when I’d like. I realize this is just what happens when I’m a solitary homebody and other people have actual busy lives, but it still makes me sad. I would LOVE to have something like this with my friends. I’ll have to throw it out to them that maybe after the new year we should start this up!

    I also laughed so hard about the hair/rice situation. I have hair to my waist and it’s a constant fear of mine whenever I make anything for anybody. Not to mention my cat’s hairs, which have the magical ability to appear where I’d always least like them. And I make a lot of food for people, lol. I’m a feeder, always have been. So it’s relaxing and fun *and* stressful. Silly hair, why do I keep you? (Because I love you, duh.)

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I guess the solution for peeps like us is to find friends who don’t mind an occasional stray hair in their food 😂

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, I’ve been in a sorority dinner club that lasted for years. More recently, I’ve been doing lunches every few months for girlfriends at my house. I try to pick random friends from different areas, as you did. I don’t necessarily pick others who know each other, but I try to gear the guest list to people who I think will connect and enjoy each other’s company. The meal is my treat because well, I love to cook and I love to decorate the table. I’ve used the events as the basis for blog posts (my friends know that) so that’s just a little bonus. I love your specific suggestions.

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love this! I often think the best friendships are made over food, so I can’t wait to give this a try!

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love this! I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but always let the process scare me out of acting. My in-laws have had a dinner club group they meet with monthly for over 20 years and I would love to have the same experience. Here’s to getting over the fear and doing what I love anyways – cooking for others!

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    I don’t have a dinner club, but I have a book club that heavily features food and it’s one of the greatest joys of my life. We meet every sixth Friday and take turns hosting—we have 12-13 people but we don’t move the date so usually 8-10 are in attendance. I *hate* to miss book club and it’s so lovely to see and connect with people I’d otherwise have lost touch with (or never have met).

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    This is a wonderful post, and I love the idea of a dinner club. But I have two problems with starting one: 1) I don’t know anybody here – I’ve been here 9 years and haven’t gotten to know anyone other than my husband; 2) we travel a lot, so we are not home on a regular basis. I am glad that your dinner club has been there for you during your difficult times. That is a priceless thing to have.

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love this! This weekend I just joined a cookbook club. Similar idea, but we are all using the same cookbook with the intention of cooking through it (Or until we all get bored and want to try a new cuisine!)

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    Just curious – was the original inspiration a book by Jen Hatmaker??? Great post – i have a similar group of women but we are little less organized. Still, lovely though. I call them #mytribe.

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    I never thought about cooking for Dinner Club. In 2009, a bunch of friends and I did this, but we included our spouses/significant others. We would get together, dress up, and go to “fancy” restaurants. The dress was always business casual or dressier. And we chose back and forth between two cities since we were located between these two cities. It was a lot of fun. Then life happened and people had some hurt feelings so it fizzled out. We managed for 12 months, 12 restaurants.

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    What a wonderful idea! I have wanted to do this for a while, but you make it seem so easy with these helpful tips and tricks. Thanks for writing!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I read your blog months ago about starting a dinner group. My husband and I really love the idea of having a group of friends that we can share life with. When I found your blog, it came at the perfect time. Our first Dinner is Dec 7, 2019. We chose 4 couples from different aspects of our lives. None of the couples knows each other but all of them know at least two people. We have sent the invitation to have dinner at our home with us. We thought that if we’d said it is a dinner party introduction to a dinner group that people might find an excuse not to come. We just recieved confirmation that all 4 couples are coming. This first one, we decided to have it catered so that we can mingle… We will then invite every one back or rotate once a month with the host couple making the meal. I am super excited! Thank you so much for the guidelines and inspiration. I love how your group of “girls” helped during the pain of sweet baby Afton’s birth and death. ❤️