If you’ve been considering starting your own supper club, but aren’t sure how to get start, this post will help you work through the details and start a supper club of your own with ease.
I’ve participated in a number of supper clubs over the years. All have been different in style, but most importantly, they’ve all been great fun. It’s incredibly easy to start your own supper club and the return on investment will far exceed your expectations.
There are many types of supper clubs, one being a professionally run restaurant concept taking place in the host’s house, and one being a non-professional gathering of friends who want to share a meal, drink great wine, and build a social circle. This post is all about that second type. If you’re a professional looking to start a commercial venture, this isn’t that. But if you’re looking for a fun way to get your friends together over dinner, you’re in the right place.
» You might also be interested in our guide on How to Host a Blind Wine Tasting Party.
What is a Supper Club?
Let’s start with the basics. What is a supper club, anyway?
For our informal, at-home purposes, a Supper Club is just a fun gathering of friends around the table to share a passion for cooking, eating a delicious meal and good conversation. The nature of the club – who cooks, how often you meet, what the rules are – all come down to your preferences.
Although we aren’t going to discuss how to get started with a professional or paid supper club, in some parts of the world (London, for instance), a Supper Club is a popup or underground informal restaurant where diners pay for a seat at the table as a professional chef or aspiring chef cooks a fabulous meal for them. Supper Clubs also can be groups of friends that visit different restaurants around town together.
The type of supper club we will be discussing in this post are informal gathers of friends, without payment or formal organization.
How to Start Your Supper Club in 4 Easy Steps
Step One: Define Your Goal
I’ve started three of my own supper clubs, and they’ve all been different. What you want the club to be and what you’re hoping to get out of it is what will make your club unique, and that has to be decided up front.
Here are some questions to answer that will help define your goal:
- What is the purpose of your group? Is it to meet new friends, build deeper friendships, or just to have an outlet to cook meals to share with others?
- Who will do the cooking? Will it be shared by all members?
- Will the hosting duties rotate, or will you or one other member always host?
- Do you want a large or small club?
- Do you want a cocktail party atmosphere or a formal dinner?
- Do you want only exceptionally creative and seasoned cooks in the club?
- Will the date be flexible or fixed?
Step Two: Define Your Concept
While the general concept is always the same – a group of people getting together to cook and eat – you will need to define the details of the concept you want for your supper club.
The Food Concept
Most supper clubs revolve around the food, so it’s wise to start there. We have successfully created supper clubs with differing views on food:
- Each meeting focuses on a different ethnic cuisine. All members bring one dish from this cuisine.
- Each meeting is hosted by one member of the group. The entire meal is prepared and served by that member.
- The ingredients for the meal are decided before each meeting and the members of the group share the cooking. One of my favorite concepts was to choose 4 random ingredients, then each member of the group prepared a main dish with these ingredients. This only works with a small group.
Need some ideas for food to serve? Check out these Cocktail Party Appetizers.
The Hosting Concept
Next, you will need to decide how your club will be hosted. If the group is large, you will need to find a space that is big enough to accommodate everyone. If you’re planning a seated dinner for your supper club, the host must have enough chairs and dinnerware for everyone.
- The most basic format calls for rotating hosts. Each guest will be placed in a rotation and when its their turn, they host the dinner and provide the food.
- Another choice would be to have the host create the menu and assign parts of the meal to the other participants to bring (someone brings the wine, someone brings the salad, and so forth).
- Alternatively, the host of your club could always be the same person (likely yourself), or you could choose a neutral location like a condo party room where there is no set host.
The format of your supper club is the next concept to tackle. Will your dinners be formal, dressy events, or casual potluck-type parties?
If you can tell your guests what to expect when they are invited to join the club, there won’t be any surprises or clashes later on.
Step Three: Inviting the Members
Once you’ve decided on a goal and a concept, you’ll need to choose the guests to whom you will extend an invite. You’ll want to send out an initial invitation that explains what the Supper Club is all about and how it will work.
You don’t have to define the rules just yet, but provide enough detail so they can make an informed decision. For instance, guests will need to know what is expected of them – will they be expected to host and to cook? How often? Where will the meetings be held and how often? Will there be a dress code?
Don’t be surprised if your invited guests are a little leery at first. You may have to do some convincing before all your guests are on board. See below for the top reasons why people are hesitant to join a supper club.
Once your initial invitation to join the group has been accepted, you can then send out the details of your first meeting. Since you’re the organizer, you make the rules.
Step Four: Establishing the Rules
You’ll now use the information you’ve already brainstormed above to establish the rules for your supper club. It can be as relaxed or defined as you want. Here are some rules to consider forming:
- How many guests will there be?
- When and where will you meet?
- Will there be one established host or rotational hosts?
- Will this be a seated dinner or informal gathering?
- Who will decide, make and provide the food?
- Who will decide on and bring the wine or other beverages?
- Will there be a theme?
- Will there be any other interesting twists? (see below for more details)
- How often will you meet?
- What happens when a member leaves the group?
- Can members bring guests?
- Will you conform to dietary requirements or will you seek members with no dietary rules?
Why People Are Hesitant to Join a Supper Club
Common misconceptions often keep people from wanting to commit to a supper club at first. You may have even fretted about these issues yourself. Don’t let these stand in your way.
Misconception #1: You need to be a fantastic cook to participate in a supper club.
That’s just not the case. You will learn a lot by putting in your best effort, stretching yourself outside your comfort zone and embracing the challenge. And you will become a better cook because of it. That’s almost guaranteed. But you don’t need to have incredible cooking chops to join. Assure guests that, while some members will be better cooks than others, it’s the camaraderie and common love of food that is more important.
Misconception #2: You need to have a fancy house with a big dining table and enough matching dinnerware to serve everyone.
If the concept is to have formal dinners with 12 people, then you shouldn’t invite guests whom you know can’t accommodate that requirement. But for an informal supper club, it won’t matter if there’s room at a table for everyone. It’s just as fun to set up folding chairs or eat picnic style on the floor together. Assure guests that whatever they have available for hosting is totally fine. No fancy cutlery or pricey cookware set required.
Misconception #3: You’re too busy to participate.
Unless you intend to meet up every week, the commitment is usually rather small. It’s the equivalent to going out to dinner once a month or less. Who can’t conceivably make time for ONE dinner out in a month? If you’ve invited someone who can’t, it’s either an excuse or they are the world’s busiest person. It will consumes more time if you’re the host – but you’ll likely only host once or twice a year.
If you have a larger group where it doesn’t matter if everyone show up, it might be possible to set a recurring date, like the 2nd Friday of each month, but be prepared for cancellations because there will always be conflicts with that method.
In my supper club, we choose the next date together after dinner so everyone can look at their calendars and decide what’s best. We’ve gone as little as three weeks to up to three months in between meetings in order to find a date that suits everyone, but then we commit to that date, and it always works out.
A Supper Club Plan You Can Use Today
If you want to start your supper club today, without having to spend hours thinking through concepts and deciding on themes, I have a great plan you can implement today to start your own supper club with very little effort. This is the plan that I use for my current supper club and we LOVE it. I’m sure you will too.
Goal: To expand our culinary and cooking knowledge and build on current friendships at a casual, seated dinner.
Guests: 6 or 8 people. This concept works best with couples, though cooking teams could be established instead.
Concept: One couple or member acts as host on a rotational basis. The host provides the location, an opening cocktail, appetizer and dessert. The host also decides, in advance, which ingredients will be used for this round.
Three ingredients are chosen and emailed to the group at least one week in advance (two is preferable for maximum creativity). You can choose a protein, a vegetable, a spice or herb or another random ingredient. For instance, our most recent dinner featured veal, Parmesan, mint and brandy.
Each couple or member then uses the chosen ingredients to create a main dish. They will also bring a bottle of wine that pairs with their main dish. Usually the dish they’ve made is kept secret for the element of surprise.
Service: The host serves cocktails and appetizers to begin. Then main dishes are served, one by one. Each couple or member is given time to finish cooking, put together their dish and present their dish. It’s best to keep portions small, especially if there are 4 couples or members serving a dish. You want to be able to make it to dessert, after all!
In the past, I’ve done supper clubs that involved the host providing the entire meal from start to finish, the guests only providing the wine, but I’ve found this new concept to be much more engaging and rewarding. Everyone gets to participate each time, there’s friendly banter about whose dish was the best, and you get to experience the same ingredients interpreted three or four different ways.
At first, we thought all the dishes would end up being the same, or so similar that it wouldn’t be fun, but a dish was never duplicated. In fact, each dish was usually very different.
Other Fun Concepts or Twists
There are a million ways you can make your supper club unique and fun. Adding a twist to a basic concept is the best way to spice it up. Here are a couple of ideas for adding a twist.
- Add a rotating theme: Mardi Gras night, Martini night, all-white night
- Make it a Chopped or Iron Chef theme with friendly competition built in
- Go out to dinner as a group instead of the usual dinner at home
- Have a progressive meal, where you move from house to house, eating one course at each place (that is, if everyone lives close enough together)
- Invite a professional chef to cook for you or do a cooking demonstration
- Cook the main courses together as a group
- Have a cook-off style dinner (everyone makes their best version of the same dish)
- At one supper club I did, each person made a cooking rule that the host had to incorporate into the meal. When you were the host, you could replace your old rule with a new one. So there were always 6 rules you cooked with (such as “must cook with cheese”, “must make 5 courses”, “must have a sauce”). Since the rules were constantly being replaced, the cooking was always fun and challenging.
As the organizer, you may have to replace members of the group occasionally. Be prepared with a backup couple or friends who you know will want to join in case you need replacements on short notice. As you start mentioning it to friends, you’ll probably find that so many people want to join that you could start multiple clubs.
Final Thoughts on Building Your Own Supper Club
Above all, have fun with it, experiment with different concepts, enjoy the food and conversation and pass the idea forward so more people can enjoy the fun of Supper Club!
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