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For Vigorous Dinner-Party Discussion, Add Required Reading

Why I send an article to my guests before we sit down to eat

Man reading an article on his phone while sitting at the dinner table. Nok Lek / Shutterstock

This post originally appeared in the October 21, 2019 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.

You know that old icebreaker question about who you’d invite to a dinner party, alive or dead? It suggests such a seductive fantasy of what a dinner party can be — a place where lively conversation happens, one where there’s intellectual banter alongside emotional intimacy, one where epic stories are told that you can repeat at future dinner parties when you’ll similarly impress and be impressed. It’s also often just that: a fantasy. The reality is that cooking a feast at home for a very well-curated guest list of people, with a selection of thoughtful discussion questions about current events, is much harder; spaces are small, time is limited, etc.

But it’s not impossible to curate the conversation during a dinner party. The move: Before the meal, send your guests a single article or story that you want to talk about at dinner.

People are sharing stories via group text and Twitter and Slack as it is, talking about them online. Why not move that to the dinner table? Think of it as a mini version of a book club. That New Yorker article you’ve been meaning to read may feel obscenely long, but it’s still far more possible to finish than that hot novel or movie or TV show everyone’s talking about that you haven’t gotten around to yet. Nobody has to invest that much time in prep; your friends can read it before leaving work or on a lunch break the day of the meal.

This could work particularly well if you’re grouping together friends from different parts of your life at one dinner. It evens the playing field of the conversation, in the case that your work friends can’t pipe in when your college buddies gossip about old classmates or vice versa. That will still probably happen and is fine and sometimes even nice, but for anyone with social anxiety about situations where crowds mix, reading the same article is one way make sure there’s at least one piece of common ground.

For me, sending an article is a way to get my friends’ opinion on a topic or story that I’ve been thinking about a lot. In May, it was this Scientific American post explaining how the difference between sociological and psychological storytelling illustrates why people hated the last season of Game of Thrones (a must read even for the casual GOT fan!), and in July, it was this novella depicting how two people come to terms with a sexual harassment accusation (an interesting premise with some troubling frameworks!). I wanted to talk about them immediately after reading and found that the discourse can be far richer if I give my dinner guests some background, rather than promising to send the link on later.

Admittedly, you will probably feel kind of corny the first time that you send reading material to the group thread. But you can always just send this article, and then at dinner, you and your buddies can spend time exulting how great this idea will be for future meals.

P.S. For more dinner party tips and hacks from restaurant pros, check out Eater’s column Party Time.