There’s a lot to be said for dining out — a lot — but sometimes, occasionally, once in a blue moon, it’s nice to dine in. That’s where Dinner Party Download, a long-running radio show/podcast described as “public radio’s arts and leisure section,” came in: Before announcing earlier this year that they would part with public radio broadcasters American Public Media, hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam filled each week’s show with recipes, tidbits, conversation starters, news analyses, and jokes. The premise: The hodgepodge of facts and magazine-style topics would sufficiently arm listeners with enough information to compete with the most interesting man in the world and win over guests at a dinner party.
In their new book, Brunch Is Hell: How to Save the World By Throwing a Dinner Party, out today, Gagliano and Newnam offer a two-point argument: going out to brunch is the worst idea in the world, and that anyone can throw a dinner party. And they’re so passionate about the dinner party as a worthwhile endeavor that they lead the book with a manifesto, excerpted here, below.
A specter is haunting America: the specter of brunch.
Brunch, the dissolute Minotaur: half breakfast, half lunch.
Brunch, singing siren songs of bacon, alcohol, and attractive-yet-aloof waitstaff.
“BRUNCH!!!” scream chalkboards propped up outside every restaurant and café, in every city in the Western world, every weekend morning.
What? You don’t plan to brunch this Sunday morn-fternoon? Not to worry: your social media feeds will be rich with evidence of the rest of the world brunch-brunch-brunching away in your absence.
Behold! Photo after photo on social media of your smiling friends, lounging on sun dappled restaurant patios, holding aloft plates heaped with smoked salmon tartines, savory waffles, and scrambles — always the scrambles.
How charming brunch seems! What hell it actually is!
But you already know that. You are at this very moment holding a book called Brunch Is Hell. You’ve spent a full minute of your all-too-brief life reading these words. On some deep, instinctive level, you sense the malignancy of brunch. Perhaps you just came from brunch. Or perhaps you’re in a bookstore, scanning these words through a post-brunch mimosa fog, your wallet lightened by eighteen bucks wasted on two eggs and a piece of toast.
Your belly is full, yet you feel empty. Spiritually empty. Like, Dad’s-promise-to-play-catch-with-you empty.
You know something is deeply wrong with brunch. Something you can’t quite put your syrup-encrusted finger on.
Take heart. You’re not crazy. We’re about to explain the sick truth at the heart of this hybrid-meal menace. And we’re going to prescribe the perfect antidote. It’s called a dinner party.
Ten years ago, we launched a podcast called The Dinner Party Download, which only tangentially had anything to do with dinner parties. At first, all we wanted to create was an excuse to talk to the coolest artists in the world about anything we wanted, and to get booze and food for free. The Brendan and Rico Talk to Awesome People and Drink and Eat for Free Show seemed like a cumbersome title, though.
Then we realized that everything we wanted to cover in our little arts-and-leisure podcast was the sort of thing one might discuss at a dinner party: the latest and most interesting movies, TV, books, comedy, news, cocktails, and food. Plus, the concept of a dinner party provided us with a handy structure: each segment in the show would correspond to a phase of a dinner party! Great idea! The Dinner Party Download was born.
We didn’t expect this organizing concept to define our careers. But over time, listeners (and publications from the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune to Marie Claire) came to us for the secrets to throwing great dinner parties. How to coax, from their own guests, the kind of thoughtful and/or witty conversations they heard on the show. What food to serve. How to mix drinks. How to tell a lame joke and not have people punch you in the mouth.
We started taking notes at parties: what made them interesting, or fun, or, at times, unmitigated dumpster fires. We developed strong opinions about dinner parties. Very strong opinions. Very very strong opinions. And we began to respect dinner parties. Far from their frivolous reputation, we realized, dinner parties, properly thrown, can serve as the very CORNERSTONE OF A HEALTHY MODERN SOCIETY, because they create happy and empathetic humans. And leftovers. Which, yum.
Alas, there’s something rotten in the state of dinner parties. And it’s not lutefisk.
It’s that people aren’t having enough of them anymore.
We hear this all the time from older listeners who say they’re too busy or tired to throw dinner parties. Or from millennial listeners who confess that the closest they’ve ever come to throwing a dinner party is sharing Altoids with their roommates whilst making student loan payments over pirated Wi-Fi. A few years back, no less a journal than the New York Times documented the death of the dinner party, noting, “Informal gatherings occurring outside the home have largely replaced the dinner parties popular not long ago.”
You know what “informal gatherings occurring outside the home” is a euphemism for, don’t you? Fucking brunch, that’s what.
“Okay,” you are wondering impatiently, having now spent five minutes of your day on this weird book, “so what exactly makes brunch anathema to a happy life and society? And why specifically should I care that it has displaced the dinner party from its once-exalted spot at the center of our civilization?”
You wonder this because you have not yet meditated upon our DINNER PARTY MANIFESTO. In it, we lay out the foundational principles that, when recognized and acted upon by all humankind, will create a joyful social existence, a fully functioning society... and just, like, nicer times, man.
A perfect dinner party is the purest expression and embodiment of these principles. Brunch is their fiendishly sinister antithesis, plus a small cup of fruit salad*.
Know these principles. Internalize them. Then we’ll show you how to build upon them and take action, by planning your own dinner party. What’s that you say? You feel weightless? That’s because you just launched yourself over the barricades . . . into a revolution.
*With, maybe, one raspberry in it.
1. Don’t waste the time you have to waste!
Leisure time must not be squandered: All week, we toil at work... Finally comes some time off: A few precious hours to explore the world, or each other, or the wonders inside our own minds! And what do we blow it on? Brunch. Luckily there’s an alternative... It comes after getting in the hike, painting your masterpiece, or having a giggly thumb war with your significant other. Unlike brunch, it can even come at the end of an office workday: THE DINNER PARTY.
2. Give and let give!
Humans must give and receive stuff for no reason at all: The greatest powers known to man are the power of pure generosity... and the power of gratitude.
3. Stop making sense!
Humanity needs unstructured time to do ridiculous things: Dinner parties are recess for adults.
4. Perfect imperfection!
Humans must embrace what flawed, weird screwups we are: At brunch, if the food arrives burned or bland, you complain and threaten to never return unless you’re given a better quiche, or a refund. At a dinner party, if the food arrives burned or bland, you express sympathy and share a good laugh. Because, hey, we’ve all been there, and nobody’s perfect.
5. Tend to friends!
Humans must hang with groups of other humans with whom they neither work nor share genes: The dinner party is the sanctuary of friendship. It is your secular church... according to Brigham Young psych professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, “Not having a social support network can be a higher death risk than obesity or leading a sedentary life without exercise.” So we can say without equivocation that not having dinner parties will kill you.
6. Welcome strangers!
We must spend time around people who are not exactly like us and who may even piss us off.
7. Get off-brand!
Humans need a safe space away from advertising’s 24-7 soul assault: The best we can do is create for ourselves a respite from the consumer blitz... in the form of, yes, dinner parties.
Humans must avoid hate and experience love — duh: Guess where heaven, and love, reside? Hint: It rhymes with “Krinner Krarty.”
“You’re right!” you’re thinking. “Now I understand that this burning angst in my chest isn’t the jalapeño waffles I just consumed at brunch; it’s the concept of brunch itself!” Your newly opened, non-daydrunk eyes blink in the hot white glare of Truth.
“And wait,” you might now also rightly ask, “why isn’t everyone throwing obviously glorious dinner parties?”
The short answer: Fear. A misguided dread of the perceived time-swallowing difficulty of throwing a party. Or an ill-informed fear that throwing a party requires some sort of training, or innate hosting “gift.” Or just plain social anxiety, which keeps perfectly awesome people from hosting the dinner parties they were born to host, and which humankind desperately needs.
Hence the remainder of this book: a detailed guide to hosting a dinner party, from guest list to subpoena. Keep reading, and you’ll see there’s no need to fear the dinner party. We’re anti perfectly executed meals, anti planning, anti project management, and anti spending tons of money. This is not rocket science for millionaires. It is, in fact, fun.
This excerpt from Brunch Is Hell: How to Save the World By Throwing a Dinner Party has been edited and condensed with permission from Little, Brown and Company.