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The dinner party is dead. Here’s what to do instead

Writer Polly Vernon has declared the dinner party’s demise. Here, she explains what to do – and wear – instead

2 February 2023

Image: Alamy

Might this year see the demise of the dinner party? I have good reason to think so.

The spiralling cost of energy means increasing numbers of people have started angling for invites to each other’s homes for a night, not because they crave their company (their wit, their insight, their intellect), nor even because they especially admire the host’s cooking and long for an evening without chicken goujons and microwave mash, but rather because they want to take advantage of someone else’s heating and ‘leccy’ for a few hours, thereby sparing their own. 

“A free night,” one of my friends calls it (on the proviso you turn up without a bottle of wine, because you’re “doing sober spring” and had totally assumed everyone else was too, how funny! This is a resolution you naturally fake break, long before the starters are cleared). Obviously, this level of conniving cannot continue unchecked, not least because loads of people are at it simultaneously, which means inadequate numbers of dinner parties will be thrown to facilitate the plan in the first place. And those that are will inevitably descend into raging rows and bitter acrimony once the true agenda of 65% of the attendees (grifters) is exposed.

So, yup. So long, the dinner party circuit, I reckon. And I, for one, will not mourn it. Not one bit. 

It struck me as a terrible business even before people started exploiting it for financial gain: a gruesome, nightmarish carousel of this person’s new kitchen island, and that person’s ‘famous’ sea bass. I find them socially awkward (the pressure of raving on and on about someone else’s most-likely mediocre cooking) and also jeopardous (likelihood of being seated next to someone’s ghastly fiancé = high). How I shuddered, therefore, every time someone added me to a new WhatsApp entitled: ‘Din-Dins Round Ours?’ or similar. How I reached for excuses not to go, lied about previous engagements, faked migraines, prayed that my tactic of literally never inviting anyone back to ours for reciprocal ‘Din-Dins’ would eventually pay off with my being unceremoniously booted off this culinary not-at-all-merry-go-round!

My main argument with dinner parties is this: why go to someone else’s house to eat, when you could go to a restaurant? A lovely, lovely restaurant: where you know the food will be fabulous, not least because you can choose what you have, as opposed to having someone’s poor attempt at Ottolenghi foisted upon you. Where you can revel in the theatre of the place, from the concept of the interior (which will definitely have the edge on your work-colleague’s kitchen, even if they did just re-do it), to the hotness of the waiting staff, to the opportunity for rabid speculation over the dynamic and situation of all the other diners – which will all definitely take the sting out of your being seated next to someone else’s ghastly fiancé. Where you do not have to pretend you don’t mind clearing, or – worse yet – washing up, or – worse even again – drying up.

Restaurants are also opportunities to dress up – in a way that dinner parties are not (unless you want to garner a reputation for being a bit flashy). Matching my outfit to the vibe of a restaurant is one of my core skills. A casual night out at a neighbourhood Italian (Harry’s Dolce Vita), recently revamped? Louis Vuitton patch jeans, Christopher Esber ruched ‘naked’ top, Khaite Arizona patent ankle boots (both at Harvey Nichols). A giddy foray into the newly launched outpost of the fancy Parisian sensation everyone’s been talking about, where it’s crucial you don’t look like you tried too hard, even though you actually have tried very hard indeed? (Hotel Costes, we’re ready and waiting.) Go full new-season Chanel Cruise, and finish it off with Rag & Bone’s trainers, pre-dirtied in the interest of maximum insouciance. A fancy dinner at the dark-panelled grande dame of a classic London dining experience (Al Mare)? Head-to-toe flamingo pink crèpe Valentino couture, with pink tights and pink platform shoes (obviously).

And sure, restaurants are expensive, but my rationale is definitely: in a cost-of-living crisis, spend any and all excess cash on something rare and fabulous. Make it joyful, and make it count.

Christopher Esber at Harvey Nichols top, £560
Louis Vuitton jeans, £1,190
Khaite at Harvey Nichols boots, £770
Chanel Cruise 22/23 outfit, POA
Rag & Bone Legacy trainers, £290
Valentino dress, £2,900
Valentino Garavani Discobox platforms, £870

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