I recently bought a new dining room table. It is actually from the 1960s, made of olivewood and chrome, and from a mid-century modern furniture designer. It’s expandable, can seat up to 12 people, and is probably my most prized possession.
It’s not because of its monetary value or its uniqueness. I cherish it because it’s more than a table; it’s a vessel. It’s where family comes together, friends laugh and tell stories, new relationships are forged, debates are conducted, and the world’s problems are solved — even if only for a minute. To me, a dining room table is a gateway to the good life.
Growing up, dinner at the table was mandatory. My mother would cook something wonderful, my father had to put down whatever work he had brought home, I had to leave my toys behind, and the TV was turned off. It was the one undistracted family moment of every day. When asked about our days, “Fine” was never an acceptable answer. My father would ask about my grades and I would respond with a joke I heard in the lunchroom or on the playground.
As I grew up, so did the conversations. We would talk about what I wanted to do in life, and they would share their experiences. My brother would visit from time to time and all four of us would sit down as a family and just enjoy each other. When I look back, all my big decisions that shaped who I am happened or were at least discussed at the dining room table.
Outside of family dinners, my parents loved to host dinner parties. They would bring close friends and new friends alike to the table for an evening of food and conversation. The dinner seemed to go on for hours, far past the food. The conversations had a rhythm or a beat to them, like an orchestra performing. I remember thinking about how much fun they were having as I laid in my bedroom and listened to the roar of laughter way into the night.
In 1989, I left home for college and moved into a fraternity house. To my surprise, the dining room table continued to play an important role. We had to attend Sunday evening dinner as a brotherhood, and once a month it was a mandatory coat-and-tie affair. I looked forward to these dinners every week: 40 guys brought together from all over with different views and backgrounds. We were a group of 18 to 22 year old unsupervised guys, so the conversations weren’t necessarily deep; they were more about camaraderie. We laughed a lot and argued some. We pranked each other but took care of each other, and in the end, built friendships that would last a lifetime.
Now, as an adult, my favorite way to indulge on the weekend is good food, great wine, and gathering around the dining room table with friends and family. I have learned that there truly is an art to conversation, and sitting down at the table enables you to quickly move past the pleasantries and into something more. It is a place where you can connect with others on a more meaningful level. At Thanksgiving this year, I watched as the grown grandchildren sat at the table and truly enjoyed being there. A sense of warmth came over me as I listened to them share their new life experiences and even shed a tear as my nephew raised his glass and announced he was getting married. He’s the same nephew that proudly announced at the table years earlier that thought he knew exactly how Santa’s sleigh worked.
In the tradition of my parents, I now host the dinner parties and bring my friends together for evenings of conversations. We debate, talk politics, share memories, and even gossip a little. We laugh together, and we have even cried together. What we’re really doing, though, is experiencing life together at this table, and as I sit there and look around at my closest friends, I realize that this table is a lot more than wood and chrome — it is the good life.
Daniel Westhues is the CMO and executive vice president of Central Bancompany. His favorite things are a well-set table, good conversation, and the art of entertainment.
Here are my tips for creating you own “good life” moment at the dining room table.
Set the table.
The extra effort of pulling out the serving dishes, presetting the wine and water glasses, and using actual real linen napkins creates an atmosphere for everyone to engage in conversation and enjoy the evening.
Sorry, mother, when it comes to centerpieces, I believe less is better. Have you ever been to an event where the table decorations are really beautiful, but when you sit down, you realize you can’t see the person on the other side of the table? You want to be able to see and interact with everyone. Save the elaborate decorations for your next magazine shoot or Facebook post.
Seat your guests.
Be sure to mix it up. I never like having significant others sit next to each other. Place everyone in a way that you feel will make the evening more interesting.
Plate your food.
Buffet style is great for brunches, but for dinner, go ahead and serve the guests. The dinner itself doesn’t need to be complicated. This isn’t an episode of Chopped. Your dinner should not keep you in the kitchen while others are enjoying the evening.
Always serve dessert.
A little something sweet is the best way to end the evening. Personally, I like dessert as an excuse to get all the messy dinner plates off the table. It is also a new conversation starter, just in case your dinner conversation got too intense or deep into politics.
Journal the experience.
Take a moment to reflect on the evening. Write of your friendships and your new experiences. It’s a great way to catalog a year.