Intimate communal dinner parties are the new (old) way to meet people in SF.
On Connection Dinners bring together likeminded strangers over the craft of local chefs, makers, and small business owners. (Courtesy of @_onconnection)

Intimate communal dinner parties are the new (old) way to meet people in SF.


Before the pandemic, connecting with new people was a challenge. These days it can seem nearly impossible.

There’s no water cooler chat when you work from home, no happy hour at the dive next to your office. Swanky nightlife is trending but so is the troubling disappearance of once-popular restaurants and bars. We’re just not interacting with the outside world as frequently as we did in the before times.

But in this labyrinth of modern loneliness, a classic social scene has begun to reemerge. Intimate dinner parties are once again drawing strangers together out of the void.

On Connection's first dinner at Pallas Gallery in May.(Lindsey Shea)

“There aren’t a lot of places to have conversations with people you might not meet organically,” says Richelle Stewart, founder of the On Connection dinner series, which launched in May. The intimate monthly party creates a bespoke five-course meal in unique and unexpected venues, with each event revolving around a personal growth topic that encourages guests to have a conversation that goes beyond the typical “What do you do for work?”

“Our first dinner was all about pivoting, so there were question cards on the table like “What scares you most about change?” and “Describe a time you’ve pivoted in your life,’” Stewart continues. “People come because they want to grow in community and in themselves and there’s not really a place for that. It’s very cool to see them come alone just to meet new people.”

Each On Connection dinner will highlight different chefs, makers, and small businesses. “They’re people who are community driven, invested, and involved in being a part of the city and the Bay Area, people who've really made a stamp here,” says Stewart. At their next event at the Wave Collective on June 13th, the table will be set with food by chef Jamila Leilani Keba, drinks by Purity Wine, and flowers by Her Urban Herbs; Color of Our Energy will be snapping aura photos of guests.

Gilda's Salon.(Courtesy of Proper Hotel/Gilda's Salon)

At the Gilda’s Salon Dinner Series, they take a different approach. Instead of new partners each month, this year’s parties are all inspired by the Asian Art Museum and held at the Proper Hotel’s richly decorated, private dining room.

“We are all big fans of any type of artistic endeavor and wanted to highlight the symbiotic relationship of art and food” says chef Jason Fox. “Some of the dishes have a more literal interpretation of the artwork they represent, like ‘The Demon Prince Injarit’ which features a spicy pork sausage and pork belly with cucumbers and curry. Other dishes are a more visual representation of the artwork like "100 Flower Vase," which features a slew of foraged wild flowers with a nasturtium sorbet and a chilled spiced broth." Napa’s Ashes and Diamonds supplies the wine pairings.

Like On Connection, the Gilda’s Salon Series is meant to be a “fun, communal, interactive experience” for guests; an experience you just can’t get at a restaurant. Indeed, that’s the philosophy behind all of the dinner parties popping up around the city.

The longest running is Good People Dinners, which has been bringing people together over meaningful conversation since 2012. They host as many as six family-style dinner parties a month around the Bay Area for around 40 people at a time. Events are held in private homes and “third spaces” like an exotic bird sanctuary or in a converted clock tower, and each hosts a speaker who ignites conversation on wide-ranging topics like the future of food systems, developments in A.I., and the nature of the mind.

Big Bad Queens.(Courtesy of @bigbadwolfsf)

Tickets to Good People gatherings are by invitation only but all you have to do to get on the list is sign up online; everyone is welcome. Meanwhile, membership is required to get in on the Big Bad Queens, a diverse feminist social club spearheaded by Haejin Chun, better known as cannabis-friendly chef Big Bad Wolf. Their occasional dinner parties are a much-needed space for building sisterhood.

After Covid, it’s a little like where do I go to meet people who are also looking to be a better person, to continually expand or grow,” says Stewart. At communal dinner parties, guests are there to engage with those they’ve never met before, there’s nothing to fear.

The dinner party’s resurgence likely has something to do with our collective, ongoing recovery from a global pandemic, Fox agrees. “There is a feeling that it is all right to be festive and enjoy ourselves again,” he says—and sharing a meal is the perfect excuse.

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