All About Supper Clubs
Get Together. Most members find each other on CookingLight.com's regional bulletin boards, an online venue to help would-be members connect. You can learn more in our "Join CookingLight.com's Supper Club Community" feature. But you can also recruit members at work, as well as your gym, church, or synagogue. Extend a personal invitation to potential members. You may find members among your acquaintances.
Organize. Take a little time at that first meeting to agree on your club's basic structure. Will you rotate houses and have potlucks? Or will you cook all or some of each meal together? Remember to exchange contact information.
One idea is to make your first meeting on neutral ground: a restaurant or coffeehouse where you can relax together as you get to know one another. Early topics for discussion: How often to meet? Where to meet? Where will recipes come from? Talk about whether it makes sense for your group to cook together at meetings or to divvy up the work and each bring a course.
Plan to meet when you have more time to relax, such as a Friday or Saturday night. That way, you can relax and visit some. And keep in mind that anyone, regardless of skill level can join in the prep work.
Be flexible. All members may not make it to every gathering, so some meetings could be small, intimate affairs while others will be bigger events. And although it's called a "supper club," consider other types of meetings, such as a Sunday brunch, a casual weekday lunch, or a weekend cocktail-and-appetizers fete. Less-formal affairs may be easier to fit into some members' busy schedules.
Remember why you're there. What makes supper clubs most enjoyable is how supportive the members are of one another's cooking.
Tips from the Pros.
We checked in with long-running groups to find out their tips to starting a club.
Allow time for the group to click. It may take supper club members up to three meetings to feel really comfortable.
Keep talking. "I think communication is key, and the nature of a supper club makes it imperative that everyone has functional e-mail," says Diana Wilder, a member of a club near Hartford, Connecticut.
Set standards. "It's important to have some nearly set-in-stone things to work around," says Wilder. "In the Hartford supper club's case, the second Tuesday of the month is meeting day, and as it approaches, people can start considering what to do."
Remember that dividends pay off. "We now all bring empty Tupperware dishes to each dinner so we can take home all the yummy leftovers," says Becky Molloy of her Cincinnati supper club.
Menu selection is a democratic process for Nicole Van Doren and her group in Annapolis, Maryland. "The host suggests three menus by e-mail, and we vote on our favorite."
Keep the overhead low like Peggy Cawley's club in Rocky River, Ohio. "We share costs by keeping track of expenses and dividing evenly at each meeting," Peggy says. "This is less complicated than you might think and prevents any one person from absorbing too much of the cost."
Have fun with themes. Andrea Myers and her San Diego group allow the host to determine the theme. They've had French and Italian. "However, we're not limited to cultural choices. Other ideas include finger foods -where every course can be eaten with your hands -and things your mother used to make -but only if you can find a lighter version from the CL Web site, magazine, or cookbooks!"
Want to learn more about wine? Theresa Bober of Franklin, Massachusetts, and her group use their gathering to learn more about pairing wine and food. "We have all brought new wines, and I have found several new wines that I like," Theresa says. "Keeping track allows us to buy a new wine for other occasions."
Take a night off. "Our rule is that the host does not cook (unless she wants to)," says Elizabeth Fortune of Charlottesville, Virginia. "Typically, the host will provide beverages. It is enough work getting your house in order for guests without having to cook."
Thanks for the memories. Janie Vincente of Princeton, New Jersey, reports, "We take a group photo at every meal to commemorate our accomplishments. We're creating a memory book so when the year is up, we can look back and laugh at our menus, mishaps, and triumphs."
The Internet is a useful tool. "We use a Web site to manage the menu to make sure we have some of everything (appetizers, side dishes, dessert, and drinks)," says Alycen McAuley of San Francisco.