The Dinner Party Manifesto: Eight Principles to Live By
The hosts of popular podcast ‘Dinner Party Download,’ Brendan Francis Newnam and Rico Gagliano, share an excerpt from their new entertaining book, ‘Brunch Is Hell.’
#1 Don’t Waste the Time You Have to Waste! Leisure time must not be squandered.
All week, we toil at work, or network frantically in order to find some work. Finally comes some time off: At last, a little space for dreams to be realized! A few precious hours to explore the world, or each other, or the wonders inside our own minds! And what do we blow a big chunk of it on?
Brunch. Adulthood’s booby prize. After brunch, any chance to use the day fruitfully has been drowned in hollandaise. Slouching out of the bacon hall long afternoon, we are tired, heavy, and limp, like an overdressed side salad. That screenplay you were thinking of penning? It has been preempted by a Bloody Mary–fueled food coma. That hike with the kids you thought you were gonna take? Yawn—you’ll do it next weekend. (That is, if you’re not seduced by another freaking brunch.)
Understand that we are not saying free time must be productive. Merely useful. Pointless silliness, for instance, is useful—indeed, it’s essential for mental health (see principle three, below). But we are saying that after brunch, you won’t be acting silly or doing much of anything else. Because at that point, your options will consist of a) lapsing into a drool-sleep or b) blearily watching TV whilst lightly moaning.
Luckily, there’s an alternative, sitting on the opposite end of your day off. 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.
And when you’re done throwing it, it’s nighttime. The time you’re supposed to be tired and maybe a little drunk. The time you’re supposed to fall asleep.
#2 Give and Let Give! Humans must give and receive stuff for no reason at all.
The two greatest powers known to man are the power of pure generosity . . . and the power of gratitude.
Your body likes it when you’re generous. In fact, when you give, your brain floods your system with the same endorphins that provide runners with their notorious “high.” Are you processing this? The same high as runners, without shredding your knees, or wearing those little shorts with the bathing suit lining!
Your body also likes to experience gratitude. Scientist Robert A. Emmons studied a hundred thousand volunteers and learned that people who are truly grateful for what they receive enjoy: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, more joy and pleasure, and more optimism and happiness. They also have a tendency to be more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving, and outgoing.
You will gain none of these superpowers from brunch.
Brunch involves ZERO giving or thankfulness. Brunch is an endless cycle of sadomasochism, sans sexy boots and knot-tying skills.
The brunchgoer plays the role of Master:
“Bring me water! And I’ll take the fennel soufflé. But instead of fennel, make it with okra. And coat the ricotta zucchini blossoms with rice flour instead of flour flour. Fry it extra crispy. Serve all that before the French toast cheesesteak. Also: coffee, with almond milk, and if not almond milk, soy milk, and if not soy milk, black, like the leather fetish mask which I am currently imagining you wearing.”
Meanwhile, the laborer plays Servant, paid subminimum wage to fulfill the whims of the Master. And they don’t even get a safe word.
Of course, as in any such relationship, beneath the surface the reverse is also true. The order placed, the once-Dominant customer now becomes Submissive—immobilized at the table, helpless to enter the kitchen to oversee preparation of the meal, beholden to the Waiter/Master, without whose aid and attention the banana pancakes might not be served with warmed maple syrup . . . or indeed, served at all.
Do you sense Giving or Gratitude anywhere in that equation?
“But what of gratuity?” the brunch fan might remark. “Surely tipping is a generous act!” Really, now? The obligatory 20 percent? That’s not a tip—it’s mandatory payment for services rendered. If you fail to pay, good luck leaving brunchville without a server shivving you in the chest with a broken ketchup bottle.
“But what if my friend picks up my half of the check?” you might ask.
“That seems like a generous act of giving!” Ah, but is it? Tossing a credit card into a tray? This is the equivalent of breaking up with someone via text: more an act of convenience than an act of virtue, a means of avoiding the awkward math of check division. Besides, you know that buying brunch is a ploy, right? Later, your “friend” will just expect you to pick up the dinner check. Which is going to cost twice as much.
To recap: You are not grateful. And they are not giving, so much as sowing the seeds for taking.
But lo—witness the dinner party! A truer embodiment of Give and Let Give does not exist-eth!
The host—in an act of generosity second only to letting a stranger on the highway merge without signaling—welcomes guests into his or her most private space. Feeds them delicacies. Fills their glasses with euphoria-inducing fermented grape juice. And then listens patiently when they complain about how Best Buy refused to allow them to combine a 20 percent off coupon with the one-day-only sale price on that humidifier.
And in return for all this giving, the host receives something in return. Because it turns out that when you give, your body produces not just the aforementioned endorphins, but also the “love hormone,” oxytocin. Which by the way is the same biological process that occurs during sex. So a dinner party is basically an orgy, without having to see your friend Brian’s hairy back.
What’s more, this endor-xycontin cocktail—with, don’t forget, some wine dumped in there, too—renders you more empathetic and more connected to others, and generally makes you a way better person than the fatigued, stiff-necked, late-capitalism-blues-addled human you were when the evening began.
And those are just the benefits to the host! That’s the person who dislocated his spine lugging home a leg of lamb in a tote bag, and who has to do the dishes later! Think of the benefits to the grateful guest, who gets to eat said lamb, and drink the wine, and experience all the ecstatic health benefits that come with feeling gratitude!
But if that sounds terrible to you for some reason, fine: give us your cell phone number and we’ll call you when a table is ready. The approximate wait time is forever.
#3 Stop Making Sense! Humanity needs unstructured time to do ridiculous things.
This may seem counterintuitive. Surely mankind is at its best when logic, discipline, and rationality rule the day, right?
Yet in the most awesome eras of human civilization, extreme rationality coincided with extreme wackiness. Witness 1969, the year Americans put a man on the Moon . . . and then, a month later at Woodstock, dropped acid and humped in the mud until Jefferson Airplane’s set actually sounded good.
It’s not surprising that we’re at our best when we mix the sane with the wild. Just as kids need unstructured playtime to thrive, adults need recess, too—like, literally need it. According to health-care providers, grown-ups can look forward to delightful stuff like stress headaches and high blood pressure if they don’t do something unstructured every day.
Well, dinner parties are recess for adults.
Not a place absent of any rules at all—a civil place—but one where wildness can safely blossom. Where it’s okay to have an extra drink. Flirt with someone you shouldn’t. Talk loudly. Dance badly. Confess an ill-informed, mildly offensive thought. Ignore your diet. Smoke a joint if that’s your poison, or do enough cocaine to remember why it’s a bad idea to do cocaine. Brainstorm an opera. Or a manifesto about dinner parties. Or simply be in a space where you’re not exactly sure what someone will do or say next.
Does any of this sound like what goes down at your local brunch spot? Other than the “Ignore your diet” part? Yes, you might drink, but at such an early hour that it’s not lowering your inhibitions so much as your eyelids. Wanna whip out your guitar and improvise a ballad about filibusters or something? They’ll kick you out and use the guitar as fuel for the wood-fired grill. And yeah, go ahead and spark a joint at the brunch table. You will then be arrested.
There is no room, at brunch, for the freewheeling and the unstructured. It’s a pile of spontaneity-killing restrictions and rules, with patio seating and eggs. It’s a series of hoops through which society wants you, a trained monkey wearing a demeaning Shriner hat, to jump. Whereas a dinner party is where we get to SWAT THE HOOPS ASIDE and SWING
FREELY FROM THE GOD-GIVEN TREES.
#4 Perfect Imperfection! Humans must embrace what flawed, weird screwups we are.
Acting like we are perfect is, at worst, a fast track to disenchantment and disillusionment . . . and at best makes us feel super stressed-out and uncomfortable.
You are perhaps familiar with the term “the uncanny valley”; it’s the revulsion we experience when confronted by something that looks very much human . . . but not quite. Example: Nadine—the “lifelike” android that engineers in Singapore hope will one day provide companionship to lonely elderly people. Riiight. Nadine resembles a person, but her movements are too precise, her smile too perfect, to actually be human. She lacks unpredictable emotion. She lacks imperfection. We gaze uneasily upon her, knowing we’d never leave her alone with Grandpa, for fear she would dispassionately murder him.
WELL, BRUNCH IS THE “NADINE” OF HUMAN INTERACTIONS.
Witness: A scene at a typical fancy brunch spot. Isn’t it darling? It is awash in flowers, each in perfect bloom, the ideal complement to the starched gingham tablecloths, on which sit matching gleaming place settings! The beautiful waitstaff serves you with quiet efficiency, urging you in hushed yet adorably conspiratorial tones to go ahead and have another Bloody Mary! “It’s got a wicked kick, no?” beams your server, teeth sparkling in the warm patio light.
Yet all the while, there is that uncomfortable feeling. The sense that you have seen something like this scene before. In THE STEPFORD WIVES.
Or perhaps you’re in a place like Brooklyn and the brunch spot is more ramshackle . . . but expertly ramshackle. The cocktails arrive in—oh, how cute—mismatched drinking vessels: a mason jar for you, a chipped teacup for your companion! The pulled pork hash is delivered in a blue plastic cereal bowl! And wait: what’s that music on the sound system? “It’s the first Ramones album,” says your server through his lush beard, the tattoo on his neck pulsing as he pours you a seven-dollar Arnold Palmer.
Wow—Ramones, during brunch?! How punk!
Except it is not punk. It is the very definition of POSEUR. This brunch spot is a business machine, mimicking “ramshackle,” doing its best to hide the gears of the profit-motivated robot grinding beneath that veneer of homespun humanity.
Don’t get us wrong: It can be an entertaining experience to watch a machine attempt to appear human. But to regularly take part in the charade? To try and appear as though you, too, are a cog that belongs in this mechanism? That’s going to sprain your fake-smile muscles, and kill your soul.
Ah, but at a dinner party like the ones we champion herein, the imperfect, the unpredictable, the flawed, and the wrong are celebrated!
Dinner parties are arranged and hosted by individual humans, who are not expected to be smiley and peppy no matter what happens. They might cuss and express an outrageous opinion, even.
They host the party in their real home. Which may not be spotlessly clean. Where, on your way to the bathroom, you might get a glimpse into their bedroom, strewn with undergarments and Chipwich wrappers. A real home, where the decor and the menu and the music are authentic reflections of the host’s actual personality—not the end result of a data-crunched business plan.
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.
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro put it best on our show when he said,
I am a lover of imperfection . . . only because it’s a standard we can all live by, you know? I think imperfection is a highly attainable goal. Whereas perfection isn’t. It isn’t! . . . And I think when we allow ourselves to be imperfect, fallible, grotesque, even, we deal with it.
#5 Tend to Friends! Humans must hang with groups of other humans with whom they neither work nor share genes.
That poster in your guidance counselor’s office was right.
Not the one with the cat that says “Hang in there!” That poster is, in fact, wrong: the cat should stop torturing itself and let go. It’s a cat, for God’s sake. It’ll totally land on its feet.
No, we’re talking about that poster that touted the importance of friendship. Yes, wise poster: Friendship Is the Surest Way to Lasting Happiness.
But what makes friendship special is also what makes it, too often, a social afterthought: it’s based on choice. Unlike work and family relationships, there are no immediate consequences for neglecting friendships.
And it’s not hard to fathom why friendships become so hard for the average grown-up to maintain. Peek at the typical person’s to-do list:
Thing for work
Thing for work
Thing for work
Thing for family
(Repeat till dead)
And maybe, at the end of a day, when the house is finally quiet, you login to Facebook and scroll through pictures of people on vacation or losing hair or holding babies. Some of those people used to be your friends. Remember friends?
Work is important. Family is important. But your Life-Stool™ needs a third leg. That third leg is friendship. Your people. Your tribe. Without them, your life topples over. We mean that almost literally: according to an exhaustive study conducted by the Gallup organization’s Tom Rath, friendships improve health, save marriages, and help prevent you from becoming homeless. Another study found that folks with a large network of friends lived longer than people with fewer friends. Like, 20 percent longer.
And by the way, close relationships with children and relatives . . . had almost no effect on longevity.
Got that? Friends keep you alive. Whereas family members unilaterally remove your foreskin and hang that bucktoothed photo of you from third grade in the center of your living room.
So, friendship is necessary. But where in the twenty-four-hour call center of modern life do we cultivate new friendships and nurture old ones? The brunch spot? Where if you linger for more than an hour with your pals you’re made painfully aware that you’re costing the servers valuable tip money?
No. Brunch is for an obligatory meetup with cousins visiting from out of town, and your Mom says you have to go because she didn’t raise a monster. As for making new friends, is the best time to do that with your face zigzagged with fresh pillow creases, and your breath redolent with the ripe scent of coffee and egg? That was a yes/no question, and the correct answer has two letters.
People! The dinner party is the sanctuary of friendship. It is your secular church. Your secret meeting in the woods where everyone gets naked, sacrifices a bear, and then gets sexy time with each other in the bear’s guts. By the way, 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.
At your local brunch joint, do you encounter a broad cross section of society, representing a variety of social backgrounds and points of view? Or does the clientele consist of a whole bunch of YOUs, differentiated from one another only by the amount of sea salt they prefer on their avocado toast? We bet it’s the latter.
And why wouldn’t it be? As we’ve noted, the brunch joint is the result of a business plan designed to appeal to a demographic. If you like the place, the others in there likely share your taste in food, your interior design aesthetic, your coffee order, your newspaper of choice, your political biases, and perhaps in some cases your boyfriend.
Hell, even if your brunch spot was a social melting pot—perhaps called the Melting Pot— would you get up from your table to introduce yourself to the guy at the espresso counter wearing a Trump hat (or—for you Trump supporters—the coffee klatch of transgender fashion designers at the corner table)?
In a country becoming physically more polarized with each passing year, we doubt it. Liberals concentrate themselves in major cities and on the coasts; conservatives keep their distance in suburbs and the heartland. Between them yawns a vast chasm of desert, highway, and fashion sense that neither feels inclined to cross.
And even within these communities we still fear each other, probably thanks to nightly news reports showing us every violent crime in a twenty-mile radius. Studies say people who watch this stuff frequently are more likely to feel that their neighborhood is unsafe and that they’ll be victimized at any moment. Now, admittedly, living in constant fear of The Other may spare you from, say, being shot by the trigger-happy vigilante next door who mistakes your evening walk for an assault on his creepy wood-shed. But fearing everyone is how that guy got that way in the first place. Think about it.
Furthermore, huddling for safety with people of your own kind actually prevents you from being as smart and creative as you could be. For real: “Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and demographers show that socially diverse groups . . . are more innovative than homogeneous groups.” That’s straight from the pages of Scientific American. A magazine we trust, because the title consists of two words we fervently believe in.
So here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna roast up a chicken, buy some cheap wine . . . and then take any opportunity to make your guest list a veritable rainbow of humanity. The tribe we told you earlier to create? Strive to expand it with new members from other tribes.
When your pal tells you she’ll come over just as soon as she ditches her Tea Party uncle . . . tell her to bring him along. Your immigrant cabbie made you laugh? Put him on the guest list, too—and not just because you have a feeling he’ll drive home your one pal who never can hold his liquor.
This is our idea of a dinner party: the metaphorical equivalent of pushing your table up against a stranger’s at the brunch joint. Except without the stranger worrying you’re on PCP. Or a server complaining that you’re blocking the aisle.
#7 Get Off-Brand! Humans need a safe space away from advertising’s 24‑7 soul assault.
Depending on which marketing researcher you ask, folks in the Western world get bombarded with an estimated 3,500 to 10,000 brand images a day. And not just on TV, where, for instance, Super Bowl ads are admittedly more entertaining than the game. Or in magazines, where you expect to thumb through fifty fragrant pages of Chanel ads before you get to that article about Prince William’s parenting style. No, you’re bombarded with ads pretty much all the time, no matter what you do.
The front window of your local watering hole is festooned with neon booze signs. The roadside on your drive to work is lined with billboards advertising new cars and personal injury lawyers to represent you when one of those cars crashes into you. Wanna show your pal a sweet ten-second YouTube video of a parrot massaging a cat? First you’ll have to sit through a nerve-splintering thirty-second ad for a new horror film that’s full of shrieking people with blood on their faces.
Hell, we know a guy with an image of Cap’n Crunch tattooed on his shoulder. Hook up with him and you’ll experience a cereal ad while having intercourse.
According to a UK think tank called Compass, the effects of all this advertising range from turning kids into whiny little greed machines to making it increasingly difficult for adults to imagine a world “where time and relationships matter more than what we buy.”
To remedy the situation, critics call for (among other things) a ban on advertising in all public spaces and levying a tax on all advertisers. Sounds great! As does a world in which unicorns pee IPA and smoking improves respiratory health. But until these impossible things happen, how do we take shelter from the consum-nami?
Probably not by driving down the billboard-packed street to a brunch spot, to sit at a sidewalk table beneath more billboards and order from a menu which boasts Blue Bottle CoffeeTM, Niman RanchTM bacon, and HorizonTM organic milk. While the entire waitstaff is financially motivated to upsell you a bunch of stuff you can’t afford and aren’t really even hungry for, in a manner not unlike, oh . . . advertising.
No. The best we can do is create for ourselves, and for each other, a respite from the consumer blitz . . . in the form of, yes, dinner parties. We can welcome friends and neighbors into our homes and draw a blessed curtain between them and the billboards. We can serve them foods denuded of packaging, in an environment free of brands. We can short-circuit the ad machine by creating a space where the TV is off, and the only deceptive sales pitch is “C’mon, two more slices of caramel cheesecake won’t kill you.”
#8 Love! Humans must avoid hate and experience love—duh.
Try this experiment: At around midnight, strip to your underwear, lie down in bed, close your eyes, and don’t eat for eight hours. Wake up, get dressed, walk a mile to your local brunch spot, and stand in withering hot morning sun for an hour waiting to be seated. Enter a packed room where everyone’s banging glasses and plates while shouting, as loud tinny music blares. Sit on a wooden chair. Stay there for ninety minutes. Leave all the cash you have on a tray.
Now answer these questions.
If a jolly busker started performing in front of you, would you:
a) Toss him a coin? Or:
b) Sweep his legs and hog-tie him with his guitar strings?
If someone inadvertently cut you off in traffic, would you:
a) Take a deep breath and thank goodness you were safe? Or:
b) Pin the horn with your elbow while feeling under your seat for a bottle, rock, or loose D battery with which to penetrate the offending driver’s rear window?
If you got a phone call from your mother, would you:
a) Answer and ask how her weekend’s going? Or:
b) Immediately demand to know why she insists on ruining your life and relitigating every mistake you’ve made since fucking kindergarten?
Thought so. The truth is simple: Brunch breeds hate. True fact which is true: Drafters of the Geneva convention designated “brunch” as a rare non-war-crime war crime. Only after ferocious lobbying by the World Mimosa Council and the International Federation of Hash Browns was the provision dropped.
Brunch breeds hate because brunch, by its nature, is the absence of love. True! This horrible day-destroying meal was only invented in the first place so restaurateurs could sell leftovers from the previous night’s dinner service before it rotted. So brunch is literally made of unloved things. Sometimes even served while My Bloody Valentine’s album Loveless is playing.
As Dostoyevsky wrote, “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
By which he meant: Brunch is hell.
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.
Mainly we aim to let you know what to expect as your party hums along, to provide you with some helpful tips and some tales to tell . . . and most of all to set minimum standards of behavior to which hosts and guests can aspire. Partly because we’re sick of some of the nonsense that people, including ourselves, pull at dinner parties. But mainly because if we all adhered to some standards, everyone would enjoy dinner parties more and throw a ton more of them.
And when you all do, we hope you’ll then invite us over. Because honestly, now that we’re finished writing this book, our lives feel empty.
Read on, and change the world forever.
Excerpted from BRUNCH IS HELL Copyright © 2017 by Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.