The secret to a good dinner party
Last January, when I worked with Vogue, I had some insightful revelations on entertaining. I was co-hosting an authors’ dinner during the Jaipur Literature Festival on behalf of the magazine with Chiki Sarkar, founder and publisher, Juggernaut Books.The magazine had hosted a dinner the previous year as well but things were a little more formal with a co-host—we needed consensus on everything.
Let’s just say colleagues and spouses (I speak for myself) were more than mildly amused by the planning involved in the weeks leading up to it. At one point, I had three versions of seating charts on Excel. Ordinarily, I laugh at people who use Excel.
Sarkar planned to formally announce her new publishing venture at the dinner and wanted everyone to have a good time. The magazine would need a feature that went beyond the dinner menu and the first look at a contemporary restaurant opening inside the City Palace. Chilled champagne and warm conversation were essential to serve both ends.
More than any sense of literary hierarchy, the seating charts were needed to ensure that the conversation could be propped up effectively for over 4 hours. I was introduced to the world of dinner-party seating strategies which tell you, among other things, never to seat the “Introvert” near the “Outsider” or the “Gossip Fodder” near the “Politico”.
We seemed to have ticked every conceivable box, from food allergies to a conversation-friendly height for the centrepieces and flattering lighting that was just enough for moody photographs.
Then, a few days before the event, Sarkar texted to ask if I knew what the width of the tables was.
Even though I had become defensive about my Excel sheets by now, I was prepared to believe that we were perhaps going overboard.
But here was the best revelation of all. Sarkar told me she had learnt from a former publishing boss in London that the secret to good dinner parties was narrow tables. A narrow table is most conducive to conversation, broadening your personal field from the exchanges you can have not just with the people on either side of you but also with people seated on the other side and diagonally opposite you.
Many things went wrong at the dinner. There were two cancellations on account of diarrhoea and deadlines. Some people, in characteristic Indian fashion, arrived late. The Excel sheets were not adhered to as strictly as one had hoped: One couple didn’t take favourably to being separated. A party on the sidelines even tried to steal some of our guests.
The architect Ambrish Arora of Studio Lotus, who designed the restaurant, had consciously used raw materials authentic to the Jaipur experience, though in a contemporary style. The highlight was a pavilion of brass, fluted marble and mirror installed as the bar, lending the restaurant its name, Baradari.
The two long tables we used for the dinner were cut from marble too. Over 7 hours, the conversation went from David Bowie to student revolutions and Thomas Piketty’s Capital to Booker winner Marlon James’ love for longline adidas T-shirts.
The marble tables? They were very, very narrow.
The writer tweets at @aninditaghose