Manner Monday: Dinner Party Drama

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A dear friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous) recently hosted a dinner party and was faced with everyone’s “worst nightmare”.  Here is a snippet of what took place:

“The best dinner parties are often comprised of guests who don’t know each other well. This backfired when I recently hosted a dinner party where one person (the husband of an acquaintance) dominated the conversation in an extreme way. He literally would not let anyone get in a word, boasted about his bank balance (!) and commented on current events in a way that very obviously insulted other guests. Several people gamely tried to change the subject or draw out other guests. This boor would always recapture the conversation. We THOUGHT we were being smart by separating spouses between the two dinner tables. In retrospect, maybe his wife could have diverted the conversation.  It was so bad that the next day I called the insulted guests to apologize for this guy’s behavior.

What should I have done?”

YIKES! I don’t think we can ever truly be prepared for such a situation, but thinking through a few “what if’s” may help you to have a few tricks up your sleeve in case you find yourself in a similar position.

Separating spouses at a dinner party is usually a great idea! When couples are seated together, you will oftentimes observe a partner stepping in to “correct” details of a story. By separating them, they’re “free” to tell their stories without interruption.

Use place cards and assign seats.  This gives you the luxury of placing your guests strategically and alleviates any question of where people are to sit. In addition to the place cards identifying positions at the table, you can write questions on the inside of the place card to help guide conversation.  Questions such as:

  • Dead or alive, past or present: Name five people you would invite to dinner and why.
  • Tell us about a favorite memory of your best friend from childhood.
  • What was your first paying job?
  • How did you first become acquainted with the “host” or “guest of honor”?

Or, you can create your own series of questions and place them in an attractive container and have them handy to pull out if you feel as though the conversation needs guidance: or in case you have one person who is dominating the conversation as in the situation above. In the scenario above, I think the majority of the guests would help to implement the “rules” of the “game” by saying something as simple as “Mary has the floor for this question.”

Another fun idea is a new twist on the traditional “Turning the tables” (click here to read more about this tradition). You would have the gentlemen rotate two “male seats” to the right so everyone has new partners to engage with in conversation.  If you have different tables, you could have the men switch tables.

And of course… something that everyone is thinking… don’t invite him to dinner again!

Please comment below to share any tips or tricks you have to help make a dinner party successful.

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