Tips For A Successful Dinner Party, From 'Musical Dictatorship' To Cleaning Your Bathroom

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"Brunch Is Hell," by Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
"Brunch Is Hell," by Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam have hosted "The Dinner Party Download" for 10 years. They have a new book out called "Brunch Is Hell: How to Save the World by Throwing a Dinner Party."

Gagliano (@RicoGagliano) and Newnam (@BFNewnam) join Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to share all the tips and tricks you need to be a successful dinner party organizer.

5 Tips For Hosting A Disaster-Free Dinner Party

1. Steer clear of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday scheduling

Brendan Francis Newnam: "Sunday, I mean, comes before Monday. So it's already ruined. The second half of Sunday, you're already worried about work the next day. So you're not gonna have people's full attention, they're not gonna be able to relax.

"And then on Monday, you're doing the things you should have been doing on Sunday, so that's not an OK night. And then Tuesdays are just dumb, like let's be honest, what's Tuesday night? Now Wednesday, we're getting on hump day, people are starting to need some relief. They've dug through their emails. They kind of know how the course of the week is gonna fall. And that's when we say you can initiate parties."

2. Clean your bathroom

Rico Gagliano: "If you can only clean one room and that's all the time you have, just do the bathroom, and you've done at least most of your due diligence. Just get the stubble off of the sink, get the wet Sunday circular off of the floor, and just make it nice and clean. Because it is one of the few places — probably the only place in your house — that people are going to be, at some point, alone, with a bright light illuminating every corner. You wanna make sure that that is not a horror show."

3. Make sure to cook at least 51 percent of the food

BFN: "We say 51 percent of the food needs to be cooked in your home, because the dinner party is a reflection of you. It's what makes it special. People are coming to your home. They're gonna see your books, they're gonna be in your house, and the food should represent you. But we allow for 49 percent."

"If you can only clean one room and that's all the time you have, just do the bathroom, and you've done at least most of your due diligence."

Rico Gagliano

4. Don't let music become a free-for-all

BFN: "This is a musical dictatorship, and it is yours. Or, if you have one friend who you trust and respect, you can hand over the iPhone, the records or whatever music you're using ... to one person, because otherwise it's gonna be a complete free-for-all. You're gonna be listening to Sly and the Family Stone at one minute, just vibing on that, and the next thing you know, Kraftwerk's gonna be playing, it's gonna be very disjointed, and then you're actually going to have this feeding frenzy around the stereo with people playing songs that really undermines conversation and the kind of warm vibe and glow you want to get at the center of your dinner party."

5. Have designated phone time (if you must)

RG: "The cellphone is the bane of the modern dinner party's existence. We actually have a number, we have a timeline of things that the dinner party has managed to overcome — challenges to the dinner party's dominance — and frankly, we're worried that it hasn't been able to overcome the advent of the cellphone, which allows you to stream kitten videos at the table."

BFN: "Our proposal for the cellphone is, look, this is reality: People do have responsibilities, they do want to check in, we do have leadership that's doing erratic things at all times of night and day. So we suggest you kill the cellphone for the most part. But there will become natural lulls in conversation, or maybe transitioning from the drinks to the dinner, where, allow people almost all at the same time, like, 'Hey, I'm gonna check my phone.' We all do it at once, and then we proceed from there."

Book Excerpt: 'Brunch Is Hell'

By Brendan Francis Newnam and Rico Gagliano

It’s the eternal question of dining etiquette: Assuming everyone at the table has had an equal portion of food, who gets the last piece remaining on a communal serving dish?

In our experience, this conundrum is typically solved via one of three methods, all of them lame.

a) MUTUAL PASSIVITY: No one takes it. The final chicken wing, dumpling, nacho chip, or pizza slice sits there until it rots — the sacrificial morsel which symbolically allows all assembled to quietly assure themselves they are not, in fact, gluttonous barbarians.

b) INFINITE DIVISION (a.k.a. “hippie halves”): This involves each guest cutting off a small portion of the last bit of food, until a fragment so tiny remains that it becomes subject to the laws of quantum physics. This is both ridiculous and mutually destructive: Rather than allow a single guest to get a satisfying final portion, the group silently works together to guarantee they all get a deeply unsatisfying one. And when it’s all over, there’s still a little piece of food sitting there.

c) THE ALPHA INTERVENTION: An “Alpha” guest boldly declares he or she will take the last piece . . . that is, “as long as no one else wants it.” For someone to now lay claim to the piece would involve rudely justifying why they deserve it more than anyone else. Therefore, the Alpha is not only allowed but encouraged by the group to take the piece. Though this seems like a decent outcome — the piece is fully consumed and the group is rid of the anxiety it causes — the Alpha is always left feeling selfish, and everyone else is left feeling steamrolled.

Therefore, we support a FOURTH, BEST solution: You, the host, should decide and announce to whom the final piece should be awarded. Here are some possible rationales on which to base your decision.

1. The Meritorious Service Award

One of your guests volunteered to painstakingly shuck three dozen clams for your turkey stuffing. Or they talked your upstairs neighbor out of calling in a noise complaint. Or they were unable to talk the neighbor out of calling in a noise complaint, but made up for it by bribing the cops when they showed up. For this, said guest deserves the last piece.

2. The Congratulatory Award

A guest at your dinner table recently birthed a child, celebrated a birthday, got a promotion, or had sex with someone who — all assembled agree — is an extremely enviable person with whom to have had sex. By way of congratulations, award this guest the final piece.

3. The “That Was Classic” Award

Perhaps a guest brought, as their contribution to the meal, a single white truffle worth $10,000. Or perhaps they tripped on the way up the steps to your house, banged their skull into the railing, and arrived at your door with a bleeding head wound that is still oozing an hour later. Either way, they contributed something spectacular that no one in attendance will soon forget. For this the guest deserves the final piece and, if needed, a ride to the emergency room.

4. The Bottomless Stomach Award

There is generally one person at a dinner party who is known for quickly and proudly pounding down unholy amounts of food. This person is usually infuriatingly thin, and totally comfortable with his reputation as a glutton. Awarding this person the final piece makes everyone happy: He gets food, and the others get to gently mock him — the only socially acceptable way to express their jealousy of his supernatural genetics.

5. The Mathematical Method

If you prefer an objectively fair, data-driven method for determining the taker of the final piece, simply assign each guest a number “X” by applying the formula

X = A+B²-(0+Z)-Q²

in which

A = the number of bottles of wine the guest brought
B = the number of days before the party the guest finally deigned to RSVP
0 = represents the time the first guest arrived at the party
Z = the number of minutes later this guest arrived at the party
Q = the number of times the guest checked his/her smartphone during dinner.

The guest with the highest number is awarded the final piece.


Sholanda RSVP’d seven days ago, brought two bottles of wine, showed up first, and switched off her smartphone as soon as she arrived. We would mathematically represent her thusly:

2+7²-(0+0)-0² = 51

Meanwhile, Jedediah showed up without RSVP’ing at all, forgot to bring wine, arrived sixty-eight minutes after Sholanda, and sent ten texts before dessert was even served. We express him, numerically, like so:

0+0²-(0+68)-10² = negative 168

Clearly, in this scenario, Sholanda gets the final piece. Jedediah gets a punch in the mouth.

Excerpted from BRUNCH IS HELL by Brendan Francis Newnam and Rico Gagliano. Copyright © 2017 by the authors and republished with permission of Little, Brown and Company.

This article was originally published on December 04, 2017.

This segment aired on December 4, 2017.



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