When you picture dinner parties, I imagine you think up those images of elaborate place settings, fancy catered meals, and boisterous guests, likely thanks to characters like Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby. But there is a different type of dinner party that I urge you to think about. Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, writes about how he hosted dinner parties to help grow his network, and how through them he forged new relationships with potential business partners, colleagues, and friends.
This book made an impact on my formative years at the end of college, helping me to realize that being nice to people, meeting new friends, and being helpful to them isn’t only worthwhile to you as a human being, but is also beneficial to your career. This book has only one chapter on dinner parties, but includes a whole host of other secrets to help you build relationships with others.
Ferrazzi started hosting dinner parties in his small apartment where people had to eat on their laps—so no excuses, ladies, even in those tiny little studios.
The Invite List
While people may have just shown up to Gatsby’s mansion for his parties, you likely can’t fit that many people in your apartment. Instead, invite a mix of professional and personal contacts amounting to anywhere from six to ten guests.
The most important part of a successful networking dinner party is finding a good mix of people that expand your social horizons and keep people coming back. (I know, you haven’t even thrown your first dinner party and I’m already encouraging you to have a second!). Ferrazzi says, “If you only have dinner parties with the same people, your circle of relationships will never grow.” But, of course, inviting random people you don’t know doesn’t work so well either, especially if they’re busy and successful.
Find an Influencer
In order to expand your social horizons, Ferrazzi recommends finding an “anchor tenant,” someone who is outside of your friend circle but who has an influence in one of your friends’ lives, who can likely influence your life, too. Since they are a friend of a friend, you can easily gain an introduction and they are likely to attend. Other great anchor guests include journalists, artists, actors, or someone who works somewhere cool. These figures help to add a little spark to your dinner party, providing a bonus reason for why someone ought to attend.
After you find an anchor, you have to find the right mix between professionals you know or want to know better, and friends that will keep you at ease and keep the conversation fun and light. In a dinner party of six, I’d recommend having three chatty friends, two people you know but would like to know better, and one person you don’t know well at all. The goal is to create an atmosphere where everyone leaves your home feeling as though they’ve expanded their social circles.
- Thursdays are the best days to host dinner parties, much like they are the best days for happy hours and dates. Why? Because people have only one work day left in the week, so they’re typically a little more relaxed.
- Use invitations. You don’t have to get fancy here; a simple email or Paperless Post works great. Send it well enough in advance to give people time to plan for the party (about a month).
- Don’t spend all your time in the kitchen. Networking dinner parties are meant to have you at them, not in the kitchen making food. Take-out is always an option, as long as the food is good and the presentation is great, but also consider making food ahead of time. For parties like these, stews or soups with bread and a salad work great, as do crock pot meals, which you can easily heat up and serve.
- Create an atmosphere in your place with some simple additions. Flowers, candles, and a little background music set the tone for a relaxing and enjoyable night.
- The biggest rule: relax and have fun so that your guests can, too!
Do you have any other tips for hosting a great networking dinner party? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Ido Leffler, Co-founder and Chief Carrot Lover at Yes To, Inc. (Yes To Carrots), for his networking tips!