My experiment with second degree dinners

For the past month, I’ve been doing something called Dinner with Strangers.

The idea is to make new friends through trusted second-degree dinners (inspired by Nat Eliason), which has benefits like…

  1. Meeting new people
  2. Less creepers because participants are vetted through your network (hence “second degree”).
  3. Dinner parties are cozy, intimate environments good for conversation

By means of self selection, the person who’s open to meeting strangers in an environment that demands vulnerability is the type of person I want to meet.

What started out as an effort to build a social community and create a “laboratory” for social experiments turned out to be pretty fun for everyone else.

I think it’s because the element of mystery is built into the format of these dinners.

Group design

The default group size is 6 people. Not only do I find this to be a perfect balance of meeting new people and maintaining an intimate atmosphere, but some studies suggest this group size is optimal for discussion.

(While group sizes can and do vary, every participant is encouraged to respect the max capacity, e.g. do not invite more than 1 stranger.)

Level 1 

First, we start with a co-host. Probably a friend you feel comfortable with.

Each one of you invites a guest you find interesting. It could be a friend or new acquaintance. Your co-host should not know your guest.

dinner strangers org 1

Level 2

Then the second degree magic kicks in – have your guest invite one person they find interesting. And it can’t be someone the host already knows.

dinner strangers org 2

Everyone meets new people!

The co-hosts meet 3 new people that night: your guest’s guest, your co-host’s guest, your co-host’s guest’s guest. (Say that 3 times fast).

dinner strangers connections

Your 1st level guests meet 4 new people, and the guest’s guests – those at the end of the “chain” so to speak – meet 5 new friends!

Wingin’ my first dinner

I wanted my first Dinner with Strangers to be simple so I went without a co-host and made dinner for everyone.

I invited 2 guests, and told each of them to bring a stranger.

1 guest bailed last minute, and a guest’s guest also flaked, so I reached out to others to refill capacity.

The conversational rules and prompts were a hit with guests:

  • No phones out / stack them on a table
  • At first, introduce yourself but do not say what you do professionally.
  • Conversational prompts like “What’s something you’re working on?”

I really enjoy using that last prompt when there’s a lull in the conversation, which usually comes after everyone settles in and does the intro.

At this point, guests are allowed to say what they do professionally. “What’s something you’re working on?” works great because it can go in many directions. Some people are working on their relationships, a project at work, or on their dating lives.

This should’ve been called Dinner with Stranger (singular) because I already knew the 2 substitutes I brought in. But I did end up meeting 1 great guest on this “rehearsal” dinner :p

Optimizations to consider

I’ve since had a 2nd successful dinner and am about to host a third.

Here’s some great feedback from guests that I’ve already started to incorporate…

  • Make it a potluck instead of putting the pressure on 1 person to cook
  • New conversational prompt: compliment guests. (This a great idea from Pat Wu, a professional complimenter)
  • Designate someone to takes pictures. I’m horrible at remembering to take pictures, and even if I do, I forget to upload them.
  • Design for continuity – what happens after the dinner?

^ on that last point: continuity could mean a Facebook group for attendees (I’ve since set one up) or hosting a larger gathering for board games, meetups at the park, etc. I’m planning to stagger one general event for every few dinners.

Hosting events is a great life hack

After the second dinner, I saw the potential of hosting events as a way to a consistently, fluidly invite people into my life.

When someone bailed, I was able to invite someone else I’ve just met or have been meaning to catch up with.

Recently a friend I haven’t seen in a while asked to catch up, and I sold him on the idea of co-hosting a dinner with me.

I’m really excited about Dinner with Strangers as a way to accelerate new relationships, deepen existing ones, and help “automate” my social life.

Wanna try this?

The inspiration for Dinner with Strangers was copied from Nat Eliason’s Second Degree Dinners, which was copied from something his friend invited him to.

Maybe this came from a cavewoman all along. By all means feel free to take these ideas and adapt them to your social life.

Visit my bougie Dinner with Strangers page to review the group design in a more visual format.

If you’re in LA, sign up here if you wanna chow down with me and some strangers.

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