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  • Writer's pictureVal Lonergan

Low-Stress Easy Entertaining for Busy, Tired Parents: Behold “The Crappy Dinner Party”

Growing up at my house, hosting a dinner party was a big deal. The house was immaculate, the phenomenal dinner (in all its courses) was carefully planned. Cooking, prepping, and baking could span over several days. The table was set with pressed linens, the good china came out, wine was chilled, candles lit, music on.

My parents owned their own business and would regularly entertain business people, out-of-towners, groups of friends, and other grown-ups. (Kids usually got babysat.)

On one hand, I think my parents genuinely enjoyed hosting these kinds of parties. On the other hand, what was with the drive for perfection in the 1980’s?!

I’m certain these evenings created lots of happy memories. Yet, I can only assume, they also created a ton of stress. In #reallife, that’s a boatload of work!!

You can probably guess that as I became an adult, I figured this was the normal standard for hosting dinner parties.

Discouraged, I looked around our own house – perpetually in the middle of some half-finished renovation project, toys and clutter everywhere, dog fur covering the floors and couches, and simply no room to seat numerous people around a beautiful table… Entertaining folks "properly" at our house seemed impossible.

I felt we couldn’t measure up.

I was embarrassed by our home.

Plus, always feeling consumed by work and the responsibilities of raising two young kids, we had little time to plan (let alone cook) a delicious meal. I don’t have any fancy cooking skills...

Some grown-ups look in the fridge and effortlessly beautiful-mind all its random ingredients together into a delicious meal. I am not one of these people.

FUN FACT! On the rare occasion when we did have a dinner party, I was a basket-case leading up to it. There was a lot of yelling and frantic cleaning. It was no fun for anyone — my poor husband and kids had to endure this worst version of me. Then the doorbell rang, I threw the vacuum cleaner into the closet, ran to the door and pasted a smile on my sweaty red face.

For people who love socializing, we hardly ever had people over for dinner. Letting people see how we really live had become our secret shame.

If you can relate, there’s good news for both of us.

The Conversation That Turned Things Around

One day, we met some other parents at a kids event. During a chance conversation we made a startling discovery.

I mean, it was life-changing.

“You guys seem like fun people,” a couple said. “You should come to one of our crappy dinner parties,” they said.

“Yeah! Definitely!!!” I said. Then, trying to downplay my eagerness I casually added, “so, what’s a crappy dinner party?”

“Very, very casual. We invite interesting people we think would get along with each other to come and hang out. That’s it! We order pizza, all the kids run around and play, and there’s lots to drink. We don’t clean the house, and there are definitely no hostess gifts. None of that.”

To say that the proverbial clouds parted and I heard angel voices from the heavens at this moment is an understatement.

My first thought was, “wait, we’re allowed to do that?!”

I mean, this was a new concept! You can have people over and not be a stress-case about it? You can have actual fun and… not be pretending?

This was all revolutionary for me.

“It’s way more fun that way,” my new life guru Michelle said, snapping me out of my mental reeling. “And it can be spontaneous too – I mean, how many people do you know in the same boat as us, folding laundry on a Saturday night at home with the kids? Why not just call around and have some low-stress fun instead?”

And just like that, The Crappy Dinner Party started to sound more like The Ideal Dinner Party.

Not long after, we headed over to their house for our first crappy dinner party. I was actually surprised by how strongly I had to fight the urge to bring something, it’s so ingrained in me by now. Flowers? A fresh baguette? Wine? Appetizers? Dessert? Just say NO!

I finally caved and decided on bringing some ice. Because what party can’t use more ice?

The ice was frowned upon when we arrived. “Hey! You’re breaking the rules!” they said, jokingly.

The evening was lots of fun. We met really friendly people and Michelle and her hubs Geoff encouraged us to tell funny & embarrassing stories about us getting lost on the way home from our family vacation. The kids made some friends and had lots of fun, too.

Just like that, a new tribe was found.

The Rules of The Crappy Dinner Party

Shall we make things official then? Here are the ground rules:

1. The state of your house

Anything goes. The rule is no cleaning, ignore the mess, no judgment. No apology shall be made for the cleanliness state of your home, its contents, its residents, or its improvement progress. (By all means, if cleaning makes you happy, then have at it.)

2. The menu

Ordering pizza or heating up store-bought pizza is perfectly fine. You can of course have other varieties of food delivered (Chinese? Indian? Doesn’t matter.). But no one shall sweat it over the stove all day (unless that’s what makes you happy).

3. The guests

Fun people. People who feel they used to know how to be fun. Other parents. People who make you laugh. Friendly neighbours. Good storytellers. Easy-going folks who mesh well with others. People you’d like to get to know better. They do not all need to know each other. The kids don’t all have to be the same age.

Note: No miserable grouches, people you don’t like, people you feel obligated to invite, judgy meanies and pushy know-it-alls (unless these types of folks bring you a lot of joy).

The Evolution of Our Own Crappy Dinner Parties

So, did we host a Crappy Dinner Party of our own? Yes, we did. Did we follow all the rules? Well, not exactly. Old habits die hard!

I still did some house cleaning — but I was relieved to have received “permission” to be more zen about it.  The goal was less about perfection and more about people not tripping over our stuff and falling on their faces!

I still like having chill music playing (and love making playlists), and I might throw together a simple salad.

The hubs had a recipe he really wanted to try making — it was steak frites (for any who don’t know, that’s French dish of thin steak, crispy french fries and a sort of dijon-based sauce poured on top) — it was a good thing our friends were here under the pretences of a crappy dinner because the fries took about an hour-and-a-half longer than planned to cook! We ate way too late, and nothing came out of the kitchen at the same time. (The longer story involves trying to heat up the french-fry oil in a big vat on the BBQ, thinking it would speed things up. It didn’t.)

But, the important part is that the kids had fun running all around the house, and the adults just hung out and talked and laughed. All in all, a success!

Note: Geoff and Michelle said it was the least crappy Crappy Dinner Party they’d ever attended, so much so that it probably didn’t even qualify. Mercifully, we were granted the opportunity for a do-over!

This whole idea has allowed me to focus more effort on making human connections — to be present enough to have conversations with interesting people — and less on the details of the dinner itself.

Other versions of this effort include having more casual get-togethers with the neighbours on our block. They’re all lovely, friendly people and I truly love the sense of place and community that has developed. These dinners are far from crappy – but it’s a genuine relief to care so little about the details and just look forward to the time together. It doesn’t have to “be a certain way”. We keep it simple. Plus, I have a soft spot for anything that can become an annual tradition.

Neighborhood BBQ - Block Party - Low-Stress Entertaining - Crappy Dinner Party - Zenshmen

Annual Neighbourhood BBQ

The Potluck is another standard way to go, and we do these regularly with the friends we see most often. With these awesome people we also do a Friendsgiving because they live away from their families, and because we like to reinvent the rules. (And yay! Another annual tradition!)

As we get more and more involved in kids’ activities, sports, school, etc., we keep meeting new folks who share our interests and season of life. Some easily and willingly fold into the mix of new friends, some don’t. I’m just glad I now have the Crappy Dinner Party concept to share with them and we can drop all the stress we used to heap onto our plates.

That reminds me – I should call around and plan a Crappy Dinner Party for this weekend. I hope you do too!


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