Last updated: 4th October, 2023
1. Why (or why not) host a dinner
Hosting dinners can be a nice, intimate way of getting to know local members.
Reasons for hosting a dinner:
- Attendees do not feel obliged to spend.
- It can be a more relaxed atmosphere.
- If you are a parent, after a while it might be easier to host - Jeff and Julia in Boston put their children to bed upstairs instead of needing to leave early to take them home.
Reasons for not hosting a dinner:
- You don’t have the time to prepare/clean up.
- You live far away from most guests.
- You don’t have the space to host a large number of people.
- You don’t feel comfortable with lots of people (and potentially, strangers) in your home.
- Many people in the EA movement are vegetarian or vegan, so most catering in the EA community is vegetarian or vegan by default. This means fewer dishes need to be cooked, and it also shows respect for those who prioritise reducing animal suffering. And it is better for animals too.
- Check for dietary requirements when you invite people. If a regular attendee has a specific dietary requirement, you may want to make sure to have food they can eat as default. You can keep track of attendance and dietary restrictions these using an excel spreadsheet like so:
3. Other tips
- Check you have enough plates, glasses and cutlery, and ask someone to bring more if you are likely to be short.
- Consider whether having paper plates, plastic cups and cutlery is worth it, given the time cost of washing up after the event. For many people this would be okay, but consider that this may appear overly wasteful, especially for people who prio forritise the environment.
4. Dinner structure
Written by Julia Wise
As people trickle in, we usually do informal snacking and saying hello. Then when there's critical mass, we sit down with dinner and do some introductions, with each person saying how they got interested in the topic of effective giving or some aspect of it that they’d be interested in talking more about. It usually branches out from there, and after an hour or two we get up for dessert and end up splintering into smaller groups (which allows people to talk with people who are interested in similar topics). I request that people explain what they mean when they reference acronyms, organisations, or individuals, so newcomers aren’t wondering “Who is Holden?” “What is 80K?”
I think people usually enjoy the discussion a good bit. One of my favorite moments was hearing someone call a friend during a discussion to say, "Can you leave that other party you're at? Because this one has a lot of smart people talking about really interesting things." The friend did indeed leave the other party and come to ours.
A few times, we’ve scheduled these dinners for when some interesting person was going to be in from out of town. We often get guests who wouldn’t normally come. These dinners tend to be less about open discussion and more about “ask Toby Ord questions.”
I think it probably helps in general to have a host who enjoys hosting and not just the topic. I enjoy feeding people and helping them feel comfortable, and it can be more difficult to help people feel comfortable when talking about tricky ethical issues than it would be at a regular dinner party when you can always switch to a safe subject. When someone seems uncomfortable (often because they came with someone else and weren't necessarily interested in the topic) I find some time to make small talk with them so they don't feel completely out of place. It would be a good idea to have someone who plans to do this, even if the host asks someone else to do it if they don't feel up to it.
Logistically, I think it helps to have at least two organisers. Jeff and I usually divide up work: as people are arriving, one of us is finishing up cooking while the other gets the door and gets people settled with snacks and drinks. Later, one is keeping the discussion going while the other is refilling food. At the end, one might be driving people to the subway station while the other is cleaning up. We did it once with just me, and I asked a reliable friend to come early and get the door, etc.
Sometimes we announce a particular topic (“the new GiveWell recommendations”, “Rob will show part of his new documentary”). This usually doesn’t take most of the time, and there’s still a lot of other discussion.
- “People often bring something extra for dessert or snacking, but I think it's easier for guests if it's not an all-out potluck, so they know it's fine if they just show up.” - Julia
- If you want to host but are unable to cook, potlucks can be a good way of reducing the workload. Ask someone in the group to bring a large dish of something that everyone can eat, so that everyone’s dietary needs are met.
- Choose dishes that are easy to cook in bulk so you don’t need too much preparation time or stove space to cook everything. Here are some popular dishes that are easy to cook.
- Mild curries with coconut cream and vegetables, served with rice, are good as it is cheap, can be made in bulk, and it is something that most people can eat. The easiest way is to use curry paste rather than adding spices yourself. (Catherine recommends Mussamun curry paste as it is delicious and mild, but check that the type you select has no fish sauce in it).
- Vegetable stirfries with rice or noodles (rice noodles are gluten free)
- Wraps with a variety of beans and salad ingredients, so people can select what ingredients they want. (Provide gluten free wraps if needed).
- Soup and bread, especially if it is cold weather. Provide gluten free bread if needed. Pumpkin soup can be very filling and is very cheap to make.
- Vegetarian nachos. Check the nacho chips you buy have no dairy in them, and unless you are using vegan cheese, have the cheese separate, or only put cheese on part of the nachos to cater for people who don’t eat dairy.
- Cook the dish for yourself or your household once before preparing it for a larger group, but remember it takes a lot longer to cook a larger quantity, particularly the chopping, and the cooking time is longer. You may wish to do some of the preparation in advance.