This time last year, I would have told you the term "supper club" conjured images of making a pot roast in heels and a frilly apron (like this) — to be eaten with one of those savory, molded Jell-O salads that were apparently ubiquitous in mid-20th-century America (like this) — while your husband serves aperitifs to well-dressed guests in the living room (like this).
But now, roughly eight months into a successful supper club endeavor, I am happy to report it is not the stuff of 1950s advertising illustrations. It's an easy way to spend quality time with friends on a regular basis without running up your restaurant budget.
Here's how we did it, and how you can do it too.
1. Pick your membership.
Unless your social circle is marked by tons of free time and enormous dining rooms, the ideal supper club composition will be six to eight adults, typically in the form of three to four couples or pairs of roommates. The goal is to have a big enough group that everyone is being hosted more often than they host, but also a small enough group that making the meal is not a huge and expensive ordeal. If you've got kids, bring 'em, but don't include them in that count of six to eight.
One aspect of membership selection to keep in mind is geography. Supper club members should live relatively close to one another, or at least their homes should be easily accessible. If the journey to other members' homes is a chore, your club is imperiled from the start.
2. Set a schedule.
Here again, the aim is a happy medium. My supper club is every other Sunday night, holidays and other interruptions excepting. We picked that night because our church meets at 5 p.m. on Sundays, and we noticed we were spending a lot of money eating out together after the service. We have four couples involved, so that works out to each couple cooking roughly once every other month.
If there's a time you likewise tend to get together with your friends already, that may be a good time to choose. The key is to be both realistic and regular: You want to meet rarely enough that it doesn't feel like a major new obligation, but often enough that it becomes part of your routine. Also, think carefully about weekend versus weeknight commitments. The former may seem like the obvious choice so you don't end up with company after a long day at work, but remember, for most dinners, you won't be hosting — and weekend obligations can quickly begin to grate.
3. Make a few rules.
In our group, we have a strict no-potluck rule. When you're a guest, you don't have to bring anything. Not wine. Not dessert. Nothing. You can bring something if you're eager to share, but all the responsibility for each gathering lies solely with the hosting couple.
No phones at the dinner table is another solid option, though my club doesn't enforce it. You might develop other guidelines — no talking politics, for instance, or no guests helping clean the host's kitchen — as you go.
4. Stay low-key.
This is the most important rule on the list. Maybe you've seen The New York Times' guide to hosting a dinner party. It's thoughtful and comprehensive, and no doubt makes for a beautiful evening. DO NOT USE IT FOR YOUR SUPPER CLUB. If you do, you will not have a supper club for long.
A viable supper club is a low-key supper club. A chill supper club. A supper club where it is totally fine to serve sandwiches. Where there are no appetizers. Where your prep time is less than an hour. Where the drink choices are, "Uh, I think there's an open box of wine in the pantry, or you can take whatever beer is in the fridge."
Do not dress up for your supper club. Do not have a theme. Do not create a custom playlist. Do not start making the food two days in advance — unless, of course, that makes it more low-key for you. The point of a supper club is to relax with your friends on the cheap. They don't need to be impressed. Food should be tasty and filling, but not complex. A big pot of soup with bread you didn't bake is totally acceptable. A tater tot hotdish is too. You know what's a great dessert? Ice cream you bought at the store.
Don't let the supper become the focus of your supper club. The focus is hanging out with your club members.
The next host couple in our supper club rotation is us, and I'm going to make sandwiches. The recipe I'm using calls for pickled tomatoes, but I'm going to substitute regular dill slices because then I don't have to make another trip to the store. We're going to crowd two extra chairs at the ends of our dining room table and spread out two tablecloths that do not match each other or the shape of the table. And then we're going to eat and talk and confirm that, two weeks later, we're meeting up again.
I'm sure it will be lovely.