Second-degree dinners: your post-lockdown social strategy

Second-degree dinners: your post-lockdown social strategy
19 May 2021

Do you have enough good friends and interesting acquaintances in your life?

If so, you can stop reading here.

If you could do with a few new faces and fresh contacts, though, here is an easy, fun strategy how to go about it. I am publishing this short article in the hope that others will emulate it – just as I am applying it myself right now.

Second-degree dinners aren’t a new invention, nor could I claim to have invented them. While few people seem aware of or practice this concept, they certainly seem interested once you explain it to them: “Oh, what a fabulous idea, sign me up!

Here is how it works.

Meet new but carefully chosen people

You are most likely to get on with people who are friends of your friends. Let’s face it, it’s easier to enjoy someone’s company (and make friends with them) if you have a few things in common.

Everyone’s friends have other friends that you don’t know yet, and that’s what second-degree dinners make use of: every guest agrees to bring someone along that the others don’t know yet.

You are most likely to get on with people who are friends of your friends.

The classic set-up for a second-degree dinner was suggested by author Nat Eliason in a 2015 article that’s been floating around ever since.

Two hosts invite two people they know, but which the other host doesn’t know yet. These two invitees are asked to invite two of their friends, who in turn must not be known to anyone yet (they are “two degrees of separation” from the hosts, hence the name).

This makes for a dinner table of six where:

  • The hosts and the initial invitees get to meet three people they don’t know yet.
  • The second-degree invitees get to meet four people they don’t know yet.
  • Everyone only meets people who were vetted by someone at the table.

You can play with the concept and add all sorts of additional features, such as having everyone:

  • Speak about a challenge they’ve recently faced and overcome.
  • Say something about the last book they’ve read and what they got out of it.
  • Explain the most useful thing they’ve learned during the past month.

By revealing something about yourself, you build a deeper connection right away.

The possibilities are endless. The key is to get up and get things going, in the way that you feel works best for you.

A few other potential sensible rules could include:

  • If you have a significant other, have them organise their own second-degree dinner.
  • Ban subjects such as climate change and vaccinations.
  • No getting the fucking phone out.

I break one of the cardinal suggestions myself by having tables of four instead of six. One of my pet hates with dinners is when the dinner table breaks up into totally separate conversations. With a table of eight, this happens almost inevitably because of distance and noise issues. With a table of six, it may or may not happen. If you keep it to a table of four, you’ll usually have a much higher-quality conversation flowing. You’ll make less new connections that evening, but this doesn’t mean you’ll meet just one new person. You could make your co-host and/or your own invitee someone you know but don’t know particularly well, in which case you’ll still make three new-ish connections.

The possibilities are endless. The key is to get up and get things going, in the way that you feel works best for you.

Let’s do it!

The night before publishing this article (the second evening after indoor dining had become legal again in England), I organised such a dinner for four in London. Tomorrow, I’ve got another one lined up.

During lockdown, we’ve probably all lost friends because of people moving away or any of the other massive changes that occurred during this period. Now that we can go out again, I think we almost have an obligation to make sure our social lives and personal networks get back into the swing of things. Our waiter was a West End actor who temporarily works in a restaurant until theatres reopen. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford it, it’s good to feed some of your purchasing power back into society in a way that helps get things back on track.

For a bit of inspiration how to do it, check out the beautifully illustrated website It has no other purpose than to popularise the concept. That’s exactly the right attitude, i.e. put something out there without an agenda and then see what the universe sends your way. It’s usually better than you think, but you’ve got to initiate it yourself.

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