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My friend, Jim Haynes, has been hosting a weekly dinner party in his home in Paris for the past thirty years. Every Sunday, at least 50 guests from around the world gather to feast on good food and provocative conversation. The demographic varies — from a truck driver from Arizona to a Dutch political cartoonist.
What do they all have in common?
A deep desire to connect and celebrate life.
I went to one of Jim’s dinners.
I walked in, and being the true bon vivant he is, he reached out his arms for a big bear hug and said, “You must be Tonya,” as if we’d been lifelong friends. We’d never met, and to this day, I have no idea how he knew he I was. A sign of a fabulous host!
That night, I met a woman from Germany who was writing her book on healing from the pain her family had caused during the Holocaust, a Russian poet and a student who was taking a gap year and debating if he wanted to go to college, just to name a few.
I walked away with fond memories and two new friends — a darling couple from Australia, with whom I still keep in touch.
How to know when it’s time for you to host a Dinner Party
Life can become very humdrum and before I know it, I feel like I’m in a rut.
I can begin to feel the minutiae of everyday life — the bills that need to be paid, the laundry that needs folding, the thing that I forgot the name of that I need to pick up from the hardware store.
That’s a good sign that I need to host a dinner party.
There’s nothing like knowing a group of six or more people are coming over to force you to close the laptop, put away the ordinary to-do list and start thinking about something fun and exciting.
A great dinner party is a break from the ordinary and a chance to connect with what really matters — connection, inspiration and a perhaps a memory that your 90-year old self will thank you for.
The dinner party that is forever etched into my mind
There’s this one dinner party that I often think about when I want a little mental escape.
Imagine this: a veranda overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Italian music floating through the air while we sat underneath a grove of olive trees.
My friend, Frederico, informed us to be at his home at 8 o’clock in the evening. When we arrived, nothing had been prepared. He passed out aprons and Prosecco and gave us our instructions. For two hours we cooked, laughed and danced around the kitchen. Then, we gathered around the table.
We shared our dreams.
We told stories.
There were heated debates filled with curiosity and void of nastiness.
And, the laughter? We had to take breaks to catch our breath. Those Italians love a good joke!
What I remember most was the presence.
My mind didn’t wander to the bills that needed to be paid or the work that needed to be done.
There was no place to be but there.
Just sipping limoncello underneath an olive tree at midnight.
It felt like time stopped and I’d been transported to this magical place — one that challenged and encouraged me to see beyond the noise of everyday life.
Enchantment is described as “a feeling of great pleasure; delight” or “the state of being under a spell; magic.” The famous dinner parties of literature, such as Alice in Wonderland, possessed this sort of magical quality.
And, that evening, I was invited to step into the allure of the art that goes into a fabulous dinner party, which will always leave you feeling enchanted.
Having Dinner vs. A Dinner Party
Anyone can have dinner, the main meal of the day.
But a dinner party?
That’s a rare event.
Dinner includes food and perhaps a bit of “how was your day” conversation. A dinner party is a feast on life itself.
I’m sure Emily Post would roll over in her grave with what I’m about to share, but a great dinner party is not about perfect place settings and formal multi course affairs.
In her poem, If I Had My Life To Live Over, Erma Bombeck writes, “I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, the sofa faded.”
A client of mine told me that she has deeply wanted to throw a dinner party for a year, but her apartment was too small.
When I told her about Jim’s Paris Dinners and how he had managed to fit over 50 people into his small apartment for 30 years, her excuse lost its weight.
What was really going on was fear — fear of people saying no, not doing it perfectly enough, burning the food or the night being a disaster.
A great dinner party isn’t about the size of your home or even the food. A perfectly prepared dish of duck confit doesn’t make for a great dinner party if the company is as bland as a rice cake. The most important ingredient is the energy around the table.
After my most memorable feasts that left me changed, I made a commitment to never be too busy or scared that I can’t host a dinner party.
If Jim has managed to host one weekly for thirty years, then for sure, I can manage one a month.
In fact, I made it a mini-mission in life to master the dinner party. You see, one of my core values is “connection”. Not only do I love to connect with others, but I enjoy connecting people to each other. Dinner parties just happen to be a fun way to do it.
What makes for a great dinner party?
A few months ago, I attended a dinner party in my hometown. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was off. Don’t get me wrong, the food was superb and the home impeccable. Yet, the feeling of connection and celebration was missing. The conversation felt forced and awkward. The hostess seemed stressed.
I later learned that she and her husband had an intense argument just moments before we arrived (and Lord knows, we’ve all been there). But, it proved a very important point:
A great dinner party has more to do with energy than meal planning. (I believe this to be true in all aspects of life.)
The hostess is responsible for setting the tone. Of course, delicious food paired with the perfect wine with a beautiful ambiance is important. However, as with everything in life, the intention is of the highest importance.
As a hostess, my intention is always simple: to be present, create an environment that enchants, energizes and inspires, and to have a blast! And, to do my best to cook a good meal. (By the way, having a few signature dishes in your back pocket makes this part super easy.)
It doesn’t matter if it’s having some of my daughter’s friends over for a casual supper, or when I am hosting one of my wildly elegant French Kiss Life Dinners around the world, in a private dining room with a tasting menu and sommelier guiding us thru the wine pairings, my simple intention is always there!
I just love using the Southern hospitality that was bred into my bones paired with my love for people to create an unforgettable evening.
Still Doubting the Dinner Party? Read here.
Now, you may be thinking,
“Tonya, you’re taking this whole dinner party thing a bit too far.”
But that’s what a great dinner party challenges you to do — to elevate beyond the ordinary.
These are moments we all live for, and they’ll never be found staring at a computer screen or trying to complete a to-do list.
Yet, most women don’t create these moments for themselves.
We’re either complaining about how boring and miserable our lives are and doing nothing about it.
There’s one important truth that many have forgotten:
Life longs for us to celebrate and connect. <click to tweet>
To stop and take it all in.
To break bread and share stories.
Not to mention something else I’ve discovered: stepping away from the obligations of life and engaging in something extraordinary is where the best ideas and a-ha moments find you.
Plus, you never know where that one person, idea or conversation that has the potential to change everything may be hiding out. I’d bet on a great dinner party. That’s where they often find me.
Choose to breathe life back into this lost art of The Dinner Party!
French Kissing Life is about…
…experiencing and celebrating life – not reading, thinking or talking about living but actually getting out there and doing it.
…putting on the dress we’ve been saving for a special occasion, getting on a plane, train or automobile and showing up to have face to face connection with like-minded people.
…dining on delicious foods, sipping fabulous wines and feasting on tantalizing conversations.
…bringing enchantment and elegance back into the every day.
What if we didn’t wait for inspiration but showed up for it?
What if we chose more life and less busy?
What if brought back the lost art of dinner parties?
Here’s what I think would happen:
We’d be so engrossed with creating our own lives, we wouldn’t have the time to compare it to others.
We’d be happier and more content.
We’d feel closer to our loved ones.
We’d meet new ones.
We’d laugh more.
We’d enjoy more.
My 90 year-old self and your 90 year-old self want us to meet!
A couple years ago, I tried something new. We had a global community of tens of thousands of women, and yet I’d only met a few of you in person.
So, I decided if Beyonce can go on tour, why not me?
I traveled to 6 different cities where I hosted fun cocktail hours and chic dinner parties.
At the cocktail parties, I was able to pass out my famous Tonya hugs (the kind that releases major endorphins) and celebrate with ladies in the community.
I jumped in the back of a limo with some of you and we headed to a private dining room where we feasted for 3 hours.
We laughed until our bellies hurt.
We shared our wildest dreams.
We set mind blowing intentions.
We made inspiring plans.
Friendships were born and magic made.
And, guess what?
I’m craving face to face connection with you.
I want to celebrate with you.
I want to share inspiring stories with you.
I want to break bread and toast dreams with you.
I want to encourage and support you.
Yes, I want to French Kiss Life with you…in person!
It became very obvious:
So, yes my 90-year old self has spoken.
And, when she speaks, I listen.
Now onto you…..
Is it time to close your computer, put on your best outfit and meet up with like-minded ladies?
Is your 90-year old self nudging you to come meet up with us?
If so, listen to her.
She’s a smart cookie and always knows where to find a good time!
If you’re wondering if this is the right thing for you, all are welcome to my table.
I simply have one request: that you come prepared to French Kiss Life!
Will I see you?
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