an ode to Gen Z dinner parties

Aspirational, inclusive, budgeted and mismatched, new age dinner parties are here and phones are allowed at the table

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

Aspirational, inclusive, budgeted and mismatched, new age dinner parties are here and phones are allowed at the table

By Darshita Goyal21 Jun 2023
8 mins read time
8 mins read time

The group chat chimes and you receive an invite, it’s peppered with little hearts in pink and black and the scribbly cursive font reads, “You are cordially invited to Tum’s Quarter Life Crisis, an evening of crafting, cocktails, cowboy hats, cake and crying.” When you arrive at the kitschy East London home for the party, it spells everything the Photoshopped invite promised. Tiny cow-printed hats sit pretty as ornaments in plastic champagne glasses, there’s also heart-shaped coasters, extra large cookies that look like lippie kisses, craft supplies like glitter dust and beads and pink and white candles.

Each guest at this 25th birthday gathering also gets a blank cowboy hat to adorn, sprinkle and personalise as a souvenir. It’s giving coquette dreams; a frosted aesthetic where every prop is pretty enough to be snapped on a vintage-passing dispo camera. The dining table isn’t marble and there’s no matching cutlery, embroidered napkins or fine china. Instead there’s a foldable table borrowed from the host’s partner and crisps - in mismatched bowls - to nibble on. There’s also a frilly cake and takeout pizza.

Welcome to the world of Gen Z dinner parties that breathe and breed on TikTok. Before we move ahead, if the words ‘dinner party’ conjure up scenes from Downton Abbey and Macbeth, Princess Mia’s Genovian spread or that chaotic scene from The Office, a gentle reminder that these internet gatherings are nothing like any of them. The younger gen are realising that we don’t need a specific kind of home or even our own home to host elaborate dinner parties.

Tatum Van Dam's cowboy-themed 25th birthday

Such is the reigning popularity of these gatherings on TikTok that the hashtag #dinnerparty has over 1.2 billion views while #dinnerpartydecor has 37 million views. Thousands of videos show creators host themes like Sicilian summer, Mexican taverna, blind book exchange and Pinterest-inspired parties complete with handwritten menus and name cards.

At a time when homes are shrinking and formal dining rooms are a prestige rarity, these new age parties are oh so aspirational but far from being exclusive. According to a study conducted by thinktank Resolution Foundation in April 2023, one in six young adults in the UK are living in cramped houses. On the other hand, market research company Mintel found that 42% of Gen Z are cutting back on non-essential spends this year due to the cost of living crisis. But the lack of space or resources doesn’t come in the way of these DIY dinner parties, in fact it becomes a chance to show off creative hacks.

At these dinners the menu ranges from intricate charcuterie boards and hand rolled pasta prepped over hours to tinned fish platters, cocktails-in-cans, one tray bakes and defrosted canapes on a 3 for £5 offer from Iceland. The tablescapes are lush with chipped but cute ceramic plates and bowls, the scattered decor includes scented candles, rundown necklace charms, coloured crystals or those shells you once painted in high school.

And the runner isn’t lace or a precious family heirloom, it’s usually thrifted linen or gingham - the more creased, the better. Sometimes, it’s even inexpensive butcher paper that guests can doodle on or write messages for the host. It’s all about being extra while making the most with what’s already there and of course, using the least number of dishes so you can skimp on cleanup.

In a TikTok video, we see Saffie Michaelis, 24, hosting a brunch for her university friends where she’s serving freshly made pancakes with quick, premade croissants and fresh blitzes - frozen mango ice candies with Aperol Spritz poured over. Often, she repurposes bedding from IKEA as tablecloths and the candleholders double up as nibble bowls while the decor — including oyster bowls — comes from charity shops. The TikTok creative’s gatherings range from micro dinner parties of two to fuller groups of eight.

Dinner parties’ flexibility is just one reason they provide a solution to problems raised by the rising costs of dining out: “For a lot of us who grew up in cities, our late teens were full of going out-out parties and now we’re looking for something different when we hang out with our friends,” says Michaelis. “Gathering over food helps me build stronger relationships than sharing a sticky pint at the pub, and it can be done at a fraction of the cost of a meal outside,” she adds. After having a difficult relationship with food and her body while growing up, the intimacy and bond-building of dinner parties helped the TikToker fall back in love with the act of eating.

Michaelis’ thoughts are underscored by a larger trend among her generation. A 2018 study from European investment bank Berenberg Research found that Gen Z are drinking 20% less alcohol than millennials. Instead of spending nights clubbing, there is a shift towards more intimate cookouts at home. Also, as more young people move into their own (rented) places, hosting dinner parties, once a wildly adult phenomenon, feels like a liberating rite of passage. Yes, our parents also hosted dinner parties, but now, the rules no longer apply. Serve frozen meals on fancy looking plates, film at the table and even talk over each other - it’s all allowed.

Unlike a last minute hang at the pizza place, these casual-but-curated sit down dinners can take hours or days to plan and pull together, but this labour only adds to the charm. “I’ve become aware of how important it is to have a space that feels like you, and being intentional with every piece of furniture and ‘thing’ in your home.” explains Tatum Van Dam, who held a cowboy–themed 25th birthday in February.

Inspired by the unique tablescapes and hand painted menus she saw on TikTok, the creative decided to make her party scroll-ready as well. “Hosting friends is sort of like letting them into your world… I think the extra effort of putting things together makes the evening a lot more intentional and special,” Van Dam says. And let’s be real, to have a wholesome IRL experience that translates so seamlessly into inspirational lifestyle content online is a big plus.

Tapping into this trend, Lea Raymond, 23 and her sister Hana Flores, 31, started Hauste, an online platform that crafts digital-age dinner party guides. Priced under £25, the kits include recipes, shopping lists, tablescape inspirations, Spotify codes for playlists and even printable templates for menus or name cards. Raymond explains, “There is a sense of creative expression associated with hosting a dinner party at home, you can design every aspect of the event, from the menu to the decor. It's a way for younger generations to express themselves, curate unique experiences, and make a memorable impression on their guests.”

Beyond the good vibes, DIY dinner parties can also be cozzie livs proofed. We want to be able to hang with our friends without worrying about losing £40 on one main and a drink as is typically the case at most posh sounding sit down restaurants. In response, TikTokers like @FreshErica and @LiannaH provide tips to host on a budget, like scouring through Dollar Tree (American for Poundland) for table decor. "I usually shop for fresh seasonal produce to save money, it tastes better too," Lianna, 26, says. So when Liv Potts, a 23-year-old receptionist in London started a supper club hoping to make more friends, the financial feasibility was a big factor. “The idea is to have each person chip in about £10 so the pressure doesn’t fall on the host alone,” she says, adding that the club is also exploring the idea of potlucks, where everyone brings something along.

Clearly, at Gen Z dinner parties, the host and guests aren’t always rigidly defined. Visitors make pizzas together or mix up margaritas with the ingredients they brought in, keeping the interaction more casual and inclusive. “Guests want to help and feel involved, they don't want to feel like you're waiting on them! Recently, when I was getting dinner ready, a few friends helped me prep the final touches while the rest mingled, it was perfect,” says Heidi Bove, a TikTok dinner party enthusiast.

Basically, whether you’re hosting (or attending) for the love of food, thrifty prices, people or the pure pleasure of aesthetics, these new age dinner parties can be moulded and personalised to become your own. You can even use your phone at the table here, and there’s no fuss or rules, or need for occasions. At these gatherings, the world truly is your oyster ~

And to kick start the party inspiration, we’ve curated some fun bits and bobs for you to add to your space: