Updated on 04.09.10

Family Dinner Night

Trent Hamm

One of my readers recently wrote to me, telling me about the “family dinner night” they host. Here’s how it works.

Once a month, on a set day that everyone knows about (they do it on the second Friday of each month), they have a “family dinner night.” Once you’re invited to this event, you’re always invited. “Family,” to them, includes everyone important to them, regardless of whether they’re

About a week beforehand, they send out an email to everyone who is invited and whose address they have, announcing the theme and asking for help in preparation. Attendance is not required; it’s just something available for those who want to attend.

Those who can help will show up about an hour before the meal to assist in dealing with the meal prep and often bring an item or two to pitch in.

The meals themselves are “assembly line” meals – tacos, grilling, salad night, soup night, finger food night – which means that as people arrive, they can go through the “buffet line” and fill up their plate.

They usually put extra effort into a few specific elements of the meal, like making fresh salsa for the taco night or carefully marinating a pork loin on grilling night or making a great from-scratch dressing on salad night or from-scratch breadsticks for soup night. You get the idea.

This provides a social evening for the hosts without an incredible cost (yes, there’s the food cost, but it’s often reduced by people showing up early and bringing stuff). Even better, a few of their friends have started hosting their own “family dinner night” on different nights during the month.

I think this is a spectacular idea in many, many ways.

It’s a great way to add a low-intensity regular social event to your calendar. These are the kinds of things that build bonds long-term with your friends and acquaintances.

It allows you to mix social circles. You likely have valued friends and family from different “circles” who have never met each other and interacted. Having them meet in a very casual environment like this is a very good thing, as you can often bring about new connections, friendships, and even (sometimes) deeper relationships.

It’s inexpensive. Such buffet-style meals are usually fairly inexpensive on their own and they get cheaper if you have friends that bring pieces of the buffet, too.

It’s replicable. It often spawns similar events from other friends and family members on other nights during the week. Obviously, you have a very high likelihood of being invited.

In fact, my wife and I are considering starting our own “family dinner night” in June or July, once our child has arrived. We have hosted dinner parties before, but this moves the whole thing into a more casual domain.

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  1. J says:

    “includes everyone important to them, regardless of whether they’re” …. the sentence isn’t complete.

    This sounds like a nice idea, though. I used to host events like this where people would come over. We also played a lot of penny poker.

  2. Dawn says:

    I have friends who do something similar on Sundays. The dinner is typically spaghetti–they supply teh spaghetti, others sauces, salads, snacks, desserts, beverages.

  3. Julie says:

    My family has a weekly variation of this. My only relatives nearby are my mom and sister. Once a week we get together for dinner, rotating homes and cooking responsibilities. We keep it super casual, things like spaghetti, meatloaf, tacos, etc are usually the menu. It’s a great way to spend time together with very little expense. After dinner we usually play cards or a board game – that week’s hostess gets to pick.

  4. NMPatricia says:

    This is definitely a keeper of an idea. Makes me think of the possibilities for my goal of expanding my social circle. We moved about a year ago and have a really hard time meeting people. This way, do a potluck and have people bring a couple of other people. I might wait until I have enough companionable people to make a core group. Thanks for the inspiration.

    This is the reason why I keep reading. For awhile now, I have wondered whether this blog was worth my time. Not that it isn’t worthy. But I no longer have debt and have most of the other aspects under control. But this is the sort of thing that has far ranging effects beyond frugality.

  5. BonzoGal says:

    My husband wants to start doing this, along with a regular showing of a series of videos- he’s chosen “I, Claudius”. We’re going to host ‘drop in’ dinners and a movie/show on a set day of the week. Low-intensity socializing FTW!

  6. Todd says:

    Great idea. This would be a fun thing to do as a picnic in a park during the summer months. That way no one would have to feel they have to spend all day cleaning the house for the event.

  7. Leah says:

    love it! we’re working on starting something like this up where I live. There’s a bunch of us who like playing games, and it would be nice to get together once a month for games and dinner. We actually did this in college — it let all of us get a homecooked meal without blowing the budget. When you’re in college, it is sometimes hard to buy a lot of veggies or meat because I wouldn’t always eat them before they went bad. (Even when I didn’t have a meal plan, I’d often find myself at free food events or invited somewhere for dinner even when I planned to cook.) We’d all get together and make a big mess of something, like spaghetti or pad thai.

  8. Michele says:

    We used to do something like this once a week in our neighborhood in the summer. The ‘host’ (we took turns) would drag the BBQ out to the street, tables were dragged over to the host’s driveway, and everyone started showing up with salads, desserts, tortillas, bottles of wine, paper plates and such. The host usually provided the BBQ dish- burgers, dogs, chicken, fish, ribs, whatever. All the kids would play in that front yard and we would show Disney movies on a sheet on the side of the house.We always dragged out our portable firepit. Even though everyone in that neighborhood has moved away we still visit! Actually, we became such close friends with one neighbor that we moved to Oregon and continue our weekly dinners, although in the winter we eat inside because of the snow:) and a jacuzzi has taken the place of the firepit!

  9. kristine says:

    You may want to count to ten and double-check articles before posting. In a good article like this, it denotes a lack of care in the exectution that does not do justice to the care you put into the content. It’s like working really hard to be healthy and look fit, but then dressing sloppily. More typos than me is hard to come by!

  10. kristine says:

    I only say something becasue normally I would just be turned off by this, with the same feeling I get when someone “plops” food onto my plate messily, and just stop reading the blog. But I like this blog, and I figure that if the wheel squeaks- you might just fix it. It is not the same as commenter typos and mistakes, as no one here is commenting for profession.

  11. Dean says:

    One dish we often serve up at family dinners like this is a curry, it can be made for a reasonable amount, can be left on a low heat once cooked, the accompaniments (rice and/or naan bread) are cheap. Can also serve lots of starters like bhajis, samosas and pakora.

  12. BonzoGal says:

    Dean- I want to come to your family dinners! I loooove curries.

  13. Nancy says:

    My husband and I have been doing this since Christmas. Almost every Sunday my family (43, if everyone comes)is invited to dinner. We have usually two entrees, spaghetti and lasagna or chili and Southwest chicken soup for example. Everyone brings something, entree, salad, fruit, dessert, bread, drinks. We have had from 12 to 23 and not always the same people. Several nephews are college students in town, so they enjoy a home cooked meal. We ususally play cards or a game afterwards or before dinner if we get together early enough. Ages range from my dad at 80 to my grandson at 18 months. I usually host as my house is the most centrally located. It is fun to see the college kids playing “Go Fish” with the pre-schoolers. My 16 year old niece told me recently, “I love Sunday nights at your house.” What a compliment!

  14. Brittany says:

    Love it, love it! We used to do this in college, although usually more potluck style. I’ve moved to a new area about 9 months ago and then I finally have enough of a social group to start doing this again. Thanks for the nudge!

  15. Steffie says:

    Great Idea ! But I wouldn’t start a new thing so soon after a new baby. There will already be adjustments to get used to, not just the adults but the children have to get used to a new baby and having Mommie around all day.

  16. Caroline says:

    Awesome – totally want to do this!

  17. lynne says:

    We do this too. My son started having Sunday dinner for our family after my husband passed away. Then friends came, & neighbors, & it grew & grew. My son currently lives with me, but a family down the street took over.The host decides on the main course & the rest of us bring sides (or contribute to the main course) & desserts. We have been doing this for several years & it is a great way to socialize. (We also do a Monday night football & certain holidays in addition to the weekly dinner).

  18. Karen says:

    My friends and I were thinking about doing something similar but rotating the host every month or so. Love the idea!

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