I’ve been busily writing Stress Free Dinner Parties, my book explaining in an agreeably witty fashion (if I do say so myself) how to plan and host a dinner party. But I thought today I would share some of my learnings. (I’ve been quite focused on it for a while now so I haven’t thought about much else).
The survey result that I found the most interesting, was that people want to know how to make guests turn up. They are a great deal more interested in this than making them leave at the end of the party. I have been speculating about this, and I thought that before I could offer suggestions about how to manage the situation I had to understand how it came about.
My earliest dinner party days were in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was an exciting time. Mobile phones were still new enough to cost the life of your first-born child, and if you were seen in public using one, people generally thought you were a show-off. They were about the size of a house brick, and the pick up was generally so bad you had to shout at them (which is probably why we thought mobile phone users were up themselves).
Another new thing on the market was electronic diaries. By comparison to phones, they were tiny – about the size of a stack of twenty or so business cards. They were diabolically complicated to use, and their odd little push button qwerty keyboards often got stuck and became inoperable almost as soon as you took them out of the packet. Toseland bought one and it cost him about a week’s wages, and it was only about a month before he gave up on it.
I had a lovely simple job at the time – I didn’t need any complicated meeting management or the like. I just sat at my desk, worked through the day and left ON TIME to go home. Ah, bliss! I carried a little pocket paper diary which I rarely opened and relied on a big monthly calendar that hung in the kitchen next to the phone (which was fixed to the wall with a cord). All my birthdays and other significant events (like dog worming tablet due dates) were marked on it, and when people rang me I would stand there looking at it, while they looked at theirs and we would agree days and mark them down immediately. And every time you walked in and out of the kitchen there it was, right in your face, reminding you what was coming up (in different coloured pens, with stickers and highlighters and so on).
And then I finished that job and started temping and that’s when things started getting complicated. I got a mobile phone and started using my little pocket diary more often to manage my workflow. And when I was in the coffee shop organising things, I didn’t always remember to translate them to the family calendar.
Fast forward a decade and you have your work diary, and your personal diary and your family calendar and who knows what you are doing at any given time. Or whether you can get away from work in time to get to your aerobics class, let alone whether you will feel like going.
And nowadays you might think it’s simple, it’s all right there in your smart phone – work life, personal life, family life. All up to date and synchronised. But somehow it’s not simpler. We don’t sit down to review what we are doing for the next week or month, we just rely on the phone to tell us – “Dinner Party at Katy’s in 15 minutes!” By which time it’s too late – I’m 100km away and there is no way I’m going to get there. And I am so embarrassed that I can’t even bear to ring and say I COMPLETELY forgot about YOU and YOUR party, and so I don’t do anything. And neither does she. How utterly despicable it all is.
So what is the solution?
I think we need to unlink working and not working time. Let work take care of itself during work hours and focus on what we are doing when we are not working.
Turn the phone off periodically and relearn how to remember things instead of plugging them into the phone and forgetting them.
Put the big family calendar back up in the kitchen, with stickers and highlighters and coloured pens. Plan and take day trips or short breaks to the country or the seaside, instead of sitting bleary eyed across the kitchen table asking “What shall we do today?”
Start thinking forwards with anticipation instead of backwards with regret.
So that helps me, but if you don’t do it too, how do I incentivise you to turn up at my dinner party?
Let’s say, we’ve chatted and I’ve made it to your phone diary. Here are some ways I can help you keep it front of mind:
- send you a pretty invitation card for your fridge to remind you every time you make a cuppa
- invite someone you want to spend time with let you know they are coming
- cook something you love to eat
- ring you the week before with some inane question about the night, and tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing you
- post pictures of my preparations on your Facebook timeline so show you (and everyone you know) the effort I have already made for you
And I think that going forward there need to be penalties applied for no-shows, so I might:
- talk about the once in a lifetime, never to be repeated perfection of the meal
- refer to things that happened and then say “Oh that’s right, you weren’t there…”
- take you off my list of future invitees
- when someone tells me they are thinking of inviting you to one of their functions, suggest that they don’t because you are unreliable
- make sure you know about every subsequent event you are not invited to
What are your thoughts on this – would these things make you more likely to attend my parties? Would you do something different? Do you think my penalties might be more effective than my incentives?