Recently, my friends, Brigitta and Christian, recalled how, shortly after moving to the U.S. from Germany, they invited friends over for dinner. "We spent the day preparing the food," Brigitta recalls. "Our friends arrived. After appetizers and drinks, we sat at the table and ate. When we tried to usher them to our living room for drinks and conversation, they said it was getting late, and they needed to go."
"I was confused," Christian says. "I asked them, "How can it be late? It's not bedtime yet?'"
"In Europe, a dinner party is not only about eating but spending an entire evening with friends," Brigitta explains.
I wish it was so here. Seven years ago, Carey and I invited friends over for dinner one Saturday night. After we cooked all afternoon, our guests arrived at 6:00 and were gone by 8:45. We wanted them to stay longer, but the food had been eaten, and it was "getting late."
The average U.S. household spends around $3,000 a year eating out. Our social lives revolve around breaking bread together, but are we doing much more than filling our bellies?
When I was younger and living in New York City, I worked for six years as an actor in national theatrical touring companies. Nine months each year were spent on the road, eating every single meal in restaurants. Eating out ceased to be a big deal by week two of my first job. The people with whom I shared a table and our conversations became the main course. To this day, I remember stories and jokes we shared over meals, with no memory of the food over which that sharing occurred.
Eating out is overrated and expensive. For less than what Carey and I spend on one meal out, we can prepare dinner for six at home. Of course, that preparation takes time- the one thing most of us have convinced ourselves we lack. But the time we put into preparing a meal is a gift to our friends and family. And the time that they take to enjoy that meal and the conversation afterward is their gift to us.
In 2017, Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam published a hilarious- and in my opinion, important book: Brunch is Hell: How to Save The World by Throwing A Dinner Party. They contend that the dinner party- "where friends new and old share food, debate ideas, and boldly build hangovers together"- is the cornerstone of civilized society. By reviving "the fading art of throwing dinner parties, the world will be better off, and our country might heal its wounds of endless division."
Societal salvation through dinner parties? Think about it. Greek philosophy was born as dinner conversation. Judaism has survived for four thousand years because of weekly Sabbath meals. Christianity has lasted for two thousand years because believers gather for a symbolic meal- "Communion." Studies show that families who regularly eat dinner together deal better with the problems that life inevitably throws their way.
Perhaps a better response to the seismic social divisions all around us is not another online post or Tweet but a dinner invitation.
Throw a dinner party and save the world? Hey, it's worth a try.
Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouthâ€™s official channel) since 2011.