How to Be Interesting at a Dinner Party
To be interesting at a dinner party you need to prepare by learning something about your guests and by picking a good venue. From there, ultimate success will depend on your ability to engage in interesting conversation and leaving at the appropriate time.
In my professional life I have a few work dinners a week. Sometimes I am with people I know, sometimes I am not. I often joke that my job is to drive then I eat.
I have experienced all types of dinner parties. There have been instances when it has been absolutely brutal. There were others that were a fantastic time. As most of my dinner parties are for work, ultimately what really matters is how my guests feel about spending time with me.
The key to making your guests feel like they had a good time is by making it about them. If you are sincere about trying to learn more about them and enjoying their company, your likelihood for success is much greater. The added bonus is you will end up having a good time yourself.
Below are the tried and true steps I follow to make sure my dinner parties are a success.
Step 1 – Know Your Guests
It doesn’t happen often in my personal life, but every now-and-then my wife will have me go to dinner with people I don’t know. I’m normally not too difficult, so after minimal complaining I will agree to the dinner (like I had a choice). Since I didn’t want to be there in the first place, I don’t ask any questions or give it a second thought until five minutes before I am supposed to meet the strangers.
I always do myself a huge disservice by having this approach. I should ask my wife to tell me everything she knows about these people. At least that way I will have a little information to work with when trying to engage in a conversation.
During one of these types of dinners, I spent an entire evening talking to a guy about his boat. I don’t really care about boats, but he seemed intent to discuss so I let him go. I find out later that he is a die-hard NC State fan like me. Knowing that little nugget of information would have made my evening a whole lot better.
Work dinners are similar. You need to do your homework before the dinner. The first place to go is their Linkedin profile. See what they list as their hobbies or other interests. See where they are from and where they went to school. Get their work experience. Maybe you have mutual friends or mutual interests.
Also, ask around to see if anyone knows anything about your dinner guest. Surely you know someone that does. That person can give valuable insight into what your dinner guest is into. There is no easier conversation starter than saying, “I spoke to my friend Pat who speaks very highly of you. He said you just took a trip to Alaska. How did that go?”
Arm yourself with nuggets of information. That will make the rest of the evening much easier and enjoyable.
Stage 2 – Pick a Good Venue
If you are hosting the dinner at your home, you need to get to work. Here are the following things you need to do to prepare your home for a dinner party:
- Make sure your house looks presentable from the outside. That will be the first impression your guests have of your home. If your yard is unkept and your kids have toys all over the place, your guests will notice and judge you (either consciously or subconsciously). A key tip is to edge your yard. This instantly makes your entire yard look so much better.
- Declutter the areas your guests will see. Stacks of junk on any surface screams that you are a slob. If you have to hide that junk for a few hours, then hide it. Less is more.
- Pay particular attention to preparing the entry way. This will be the first impression your guest has inside your home. Make sure it is clean. Make sure it is well lit. It probably isn’t a bad idea to put some type of air freshener near the front door as most people will instantly notice if your house has an odor. You want your home to be inviting.
- Pay even more attention to the bathrooms. Make sure it is clean. Make sure there is enough soap. Make sure the trash is taken out and there is a clean hand towel. Make sure there is some way to mask the scent of a #2.
- Clean out your fridge. Chances are, your guests will enter it sometime throughout the night. You don’t want them to see your three week-old Chinese take-out science experiment in there.
- Eliminate smells. If you have a dog, your house has a smell. You don’t notice it because you are used to it. Vacuum your carpets and use some odor eating treatment. Fabreeze your furniture. Light a candle. There is nothing worse than a house with funk.
- Put fresh flowers out. Flowers are always a nice touch.
- Have a place for people to put their coats and purses. If your closet is jammed with your coats, move them to a bedroom for the night.
- Make sure your plates, cups and flatware are clean. Make sure there aren’t smudges, or dust from not being used for a long time.
- Have a wide variety of beverages for your guests. You don’t have to break the bank on this one, but have a few selections that everyone will enjoy.
- Don’t get too exotic with the meal. You don’t want your guests to feel uncomfortable because you have an eclectic pallet.
If you are going out, and you want someone to be excited about spending time with you, be sure to select a place they would want to go. Figure out what the most popular restaurants are in your area. What are the spots where it is difficult to get a table? What are the local foodie reviews saying?
As importantly, make sure it is a place you want to go. Your mood plays such a big part in the success of a dinner party. If you choose a great location, then chances are you are going to bring a positive energy to the party and it will be more enjoyable for everyone.
Stage 3 – How to Have an Interesting Dinner Conversation
You have to accomplish two things to be a good conversationalist. First, you have to genuinely and sincerely be interested in what the other person has to say. This is almost impossible to fake. I can’t give you tips on how to be sincere. Either you care or you don’t. This one is on you.
Second, you have to figure out and get the other person to talk about what interests them.
Think about your guest. They are possibly dreading having dinner with you. No one is really eager to participate in forced fun. However, if you spend the evening talking about what they want to talk about, they are more likely to enjoy themselves and thus think more highly of you.
One of the first questions I will ask in the evening is ‘what do you do outside of work?’ This will form the basis of the evening. Should the conversation hit a rut, I will always come back to discussing what they do for fun.
If the person is a business owner, I ask how they started their company. I am sincerely interested in hearing this story.
It is also important to phrase your questions properly.
I sometimes say that my wife and I are planning a vacation, and I ask if they have any advice. This leads to stories about interesting trips they have taken. I ask about their thoughts on current events and the sports issues of the day. I sometimes bring up things that are going on at work, and get their advice on what they think of the situation.
With enough probing, you will find something they really want to talk about. In the perfect case, this is something that you know a little about and can have a decent conversation. If not though, ask a bunch of questions and try to learn something about your company’s interests.
Finally, have a few stories in your hip pocket to tell about yourself. I will normally tell a few bourbon stories or military stories. For guys who like the outdoors, I’ll talk about my Appalachian Trail hike with my son. For guys who like sports, I’ll talk about the time I talked my way in the Super Bowl as a 13 year-old kid.
You don’t want to over-due it with your personal stories, but you want to liked and interesting. Be prepared to share your best material. This will make you better liked and more memorable.
Stage 4 – Leave on a High Note
There was a Seinfeld episode where George learns this trick, and always leaves on a high note. It didn’t matter how awkward the timing, he immediately punches out after a witty comment.
This is brilliant and should be copied.
Don’t let your dinner drag on forever. You don’t want your guests leaving with the ‘thank God I got out of there’ feeling. You want them to leave thinking about how great your company was, and how they wished they had more time.
This is especially true when the people you are with like you. When you leave, you will be fresh on their mind and you want them to say nice thing about you. If everyone is rushing to get out of there, there will not be that opportunity.
It is also important to leave at the right time to avoid being overserved. You don’t want to leave a dinner party sloshed. This can and probably will leave the wrong impression with your guests.
Don’t make it awkward, but also be well aware when it is time to go.
I hope this helps you at you be more interesting at your next dinner party.