I Wanted to Make Friends in a New City — So I Hosted 5 Strangers for Dinner

published Jul 16, 2023
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Dinner party table with tablecloth, nice place settings, lit candles, vase of tulips. people at the table after eating, chatting
Credit: Sarah Wood

I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, without knowing anyone. Intimidated by the arduous task of making new friends and building a social life from scratch, I complained to anyone who would listen about my community-building woes. Finally, a well-meaning friend sent me a viral TikTok by & The Table. The text on the video was mysterious, daring me to take the challenge: “Would you join a dinner where all six women came not knowing each other?”

Apparently, I would. And, spoiler, I’d also end up finding a solution to the never-ending problem of making friends as an adult.

What Is & The Table? 

Founded by Samantha Wolfson, a Philadelphia native who moved to Amsterdam in 2017, & The Table is a global dinner party series. Wolfson started hosting small dinner parties to make friends. In March 2022, she decided to open it up so anyone could apply to come to dinner at her home. To her shock, she received over 500+ applications for the five dinner spots. 

The dinners were so fruitful in friend-making that several of her dinner guests asked if they could host dinners in a similar format. Samantha said yes and helped them get started, realizing that perhaps women in other cities might be interested in doing the same. Now, there are over 75 & The Table hosts in 10 countries around the world.

Credit: Sarah Wood

How Do You Become an & The Table Host? 

After reading about & The Table and its origins, I was sold. But then I saw there weren’t tables in Edinburgh. Bummed by the bust of my make-friends-quick plan, I followed the account on Instagram and forgot about it. As the weeks went on, I joined run clubs and took yoga classes, but missed the meaningful conversations that can only take place around a shared table. Then another friend sent me the same TikTok again.

“No tables in Edinburgh 😭,” I responded. 

“Why don’t you just host one?” she asked.

Why didn’t I? That day I applied to be a dinner host in Edinburgh. I sent in a three-minute video answering the application questions and filled out the form. After an interview with Samantha, I was in! Then came the more difficult part. How do you host complete strangers for dinner?

The structure of & The Table dinners are the same around the world — always six women or fewer, three courses of food, and everyone is a stranger. The customization comes in when each host chooses their own theme and menu. I named mine “Newness & the Table,” aptly titled for someone who recently moved to a new city, but I wrote in the description that newness could apply to anything in their life — a job, a hobby, a relationship, a way of living. 

I posted the dinner and expected silence. To my surprise, the first application came the next day, and the requests kept flooding in. By the time the dinner came around, over 30 women had applied. I was flabbergasted. Here I was struggling to meet people, and there were so many people looking to make friends too! 

Credit: Sarah Wood

What Is a Dinner Party with Strangers Like? 

As strange as it sounds, I wasn’t nervous at all. I, at least, had read the thoughtful responses each person had written about why the theme of the dinner resonated with them, so I knew a few things about each attendee. Unlike me, they had no idea what to expect. I assumed there would be a few last-minute cancellations, but there were none — each guest showed up exactly at 6 p.m., bearing gifts and earnest smiles. 

Any early awkwardness was defused by jokes about how absurd the concept seemed. I pulled out appetizers as each person went around and shared where they were from, and the conversation flowed easily, moving from light chatter to more vulnerable topics as the night continued. Knowing that the fellow diners were all going through their own journey of new beginnings gave me permission to share my struggles of starting life over in a new place. Surprisingly, I found it easy to talk about what was actually happening in my life; I was being more honest than I would with acquaintances. 

Credit: Sarah Wood

Because the effort required to find the dinner, apply, pay, and show up is so high, it felt like the people who came were there to make the most of it. I’ve gone to big networking events and social happy hours to meet people, but I much prefer the small, intimate setting of a dinner party. For people who are more introverted, the extended length of a three-course meal gives them time to warm up. 

I also loved that & The Table caps attendance at six people. When hosting dinners previously, I used to cram 12 people around my dining room table, shouting that the more, the merrier. But the smaller group allowed for a shared conversation. I walked away feeling like I really got to know each person at the table.

Credit: Sarah Wood

What Other Dinner Parties Are Available? 

If & The Table isn’t in your city and you’re not comfortable hosting yet, have no fear. While still a novel concept, there are supper clubs popping up all over. Some other options are as follows:

Would I Host a Dinner for Strangers Again? 

After our dinner, the five of us started a WhatsApp group where we share recommendations and events in Edinburgh. Last week, I ran into one of the women from dinner at the finish line of a half-marathon. Several of us have gotten coffee and one of the women recommended the experience to her friend who is coming to a dinner I’m hosting next month

The after-dinner glow was so strong after the first one, I immediately went on and posted two more. The next dinner is centered around creativity, and the following one is specifically for writers. My dream has always been to build a writing community where I live, but when I first thought of hosting a dinner, I was so skeptical about even filling a table that I didn’t want to be too specific. I’m delighted that the seats at both dinners are already filled. Not only is hosting an opportunity to meet interesting people, but it’s also a chance to curate a group of people who share similar interests and dreams. 

I’ve always rolled my eyes at the saying, “Come as strangers, leave as friends.” But my experience with & The Table shows it’s not that far-fetched after all. Hosting the first dinner was a turning point in my Edinburgh experience — it made the city feel smaller and more like home. All it took was one meal with strangers.