The Crappy Dinner Party Is My New Entertaining Ideal

CC BY 2.0. Connie Ma

Why spend so much time stressing about menu planning and cleaning when none of it really matters? The focus should be on having a good time with friends.

This past weekend, my husband and I had some friends over to play a board game. At the last minute, we decided to make it dinner, too, which meant we had only a couple hours to pull it together (and a bunch of kids to feed and put to bed). Usually I plan my dinner parties days in advance, so this was definitely outside my comfort zone.

I did not have a menu. I resisted washing the floor. I didn’t fret over stray toys. Instead, we cooked larger amounts of the same simple meal we were planning to eat ourselves. Our guests brought several bottles of red wine. I ignored the fine china, handed out rumpled cloth napkins, and we ate, drank, and played Settlers of Catan until 1 a.m. It was so easy and fun that my husband and I both looked at each other after the guests left and said, “We have to do that more often!”

The experience has reminded me of the importance of relaxing when it comes to entertaining. This is something that other cultures, particularly Europeans, understand well. I have wonderful memories of lazy, languorous meals spent in the company of wine, food, and good friends in Sardinia, Croatia, France, Israel, and Brazil; and yet, I struggle to replicate it here in Canada. I worry that my guests expect something formal, elaborate, and impeccably executed, even though I know that’s silly.

I love the idea of the ‘Crappy Dinner Party,’ as described by Kelley Powell in an article for The Kitchn. Powell is an exhausted working parent who used to feel tremendous stress prior to a guest’s arrival, until she decided to let it all go. Now she hosts friends without stressing about cleaning, cooking, and organizing. Her ‘crappy’ dinner parties follow these rules, which her guests also understand:

  • No housework is to be done prior to a guest's arrival.
  • The menu must be simple and not involve a special grocery shop.
  • You must wear whatever you happen to have on.
  • No hostess gifts allowed.
  • You see, as soon as you remove the fluff – all those extra stressors that make entertaining so intimidating – you get a completely different view of it. The experience becomes focused on being with people you like. Yes, the food needs to be good, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. There’s got to be enough wine, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Music should be playing, but no one’s really listening.

    outdoor dinner party

    © K Martinko -- A casual outdoor gathering makes everyone happy

    I won’t practice all of Powell’s rules on a regular basis, since I do like putting on a clean shirt, but I’ll embrace her philosophy of relaxed entertaining with open arms. I hope it leads to many more laid-back nights with good friends this summer.