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A table of food at a dinner party.

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How to be a great host

A San Francisco art director and artist shares his best advice for creating bustling gatherings

With three social groups to his name, George McCalman might be one of San Francisco’s most active hosts.

Three conditions led to McCalman’s lively calendar: He wanted to demolish his “friendship silos,” gather fellow African Americans, and he was rebounding from the end of a long-term relationship.

This all gave rise to what McCalman calls the Dinner Club, the Black Brunch Club, and the Gay Happy Hour, respectively.

The Dinner Club, shown here, was born out of a need to integrate different parts of his life. Of the Black Brunch Club, McCalman says: "I grew tired of being the only black person in the room.” Gay Happy Hour brings friends together for a small pre-party before a night on the town.

All this party experience is bound to produce some ideas for successful entertaining. Here now, McCalman shares his thoughts and expertise on hosting, which he does to dazzling effect in his Edwardian apartment (designed along with friend and interior designer Tim Balon as the setting for both the Black Brunch Club and the Dinner Club).

The dining room with the tables empty, and then with food set for the dinner party.
Left: For George McCalman, two tables in the dining room provide maximum flexibility. He can configure them a few ways, and seat up to 25 people. Right: As guests gather for the Dinner Club, the potluck dishes begin to accumulate.

Deconstruct the dining room

When he redesigned the dining room, McCalman decided to put in not one, but two dining tables made by his friend, furniture designer Alexis Moran.

"Before, there was a formal dining room table here. It always felt oppressive to me," says McCalman. "The idea [behind two dining room tables] is that they can be pushed together and used as a single dining surface, or separated as a dining and a work space."

For example, he says he will often start an art project on one table, and reserve the other for dining. "It can take six or eight months for me to complete a piece of art," says McCalman. "This way, I don’t have to scoop up everything when I want to have a dinner party."

When both of the tables are free, they can be configured in three ways. "I’ve been able to seat as many as 25 people at the table," he says.

George laying out all of the food from the potluck on the table.
Left and right: McCalman simplifies his dinner gathering by assigning guests dishes to prepare. It eliminates the “what do I bring” worries and makes for a cohesive meal.

Establish the format

The Dinner Club went through a few iterations (at one point a single person was cooking for everyone), but it quickly settled into a near-monthly potluck at McCalman’s home. The routine works for everyone, and he likens the event to a well-oiled machine.

Give guests guidance

After some trial and error, McCalman has perfected the process. It starts with cooking direction.

"As the organizer, I assign people the dish they are to bring. It’s just easier that way, because the back and forth about what to bring with so many people was exhausting,” he says. Music is another assignment for the evening, and guests take turns playing DJ.

Members of the supper club around the table.
When the meal gets underway, McCalman says opinions will be “flying left, right, and center.”

Cause worlds to collide

"I realized I had ‘friendship silos,’" McCalman says. "I wanted to bring the people I knew together in one place."

Today, when Dinner Club has a gathering, the group includes a chef, florist, fashion designer, Pinterest content strategist, scientist, architect, marketing strategist, and yoga guru. They are all people from different aspects and chapters of McCalman’s life.

"It’s an eclectic, racially diverse, and very interesting group of folks," he says. Once he broke down the silos, he says that connections were made and new friendships blossomed.

George’s friends around the dinner table.
The gatherings bring together people from all chapters of the host’s life—the mix includes people ranging from a fashion designer to a scientist to a yoga guru.

Eliminate the A-holes, encourage the opinionated

Besides knowing McCalman, the guests have a couple of other commonalities: They are nice, but opinionated people. “The unwritten rule is no assholes, no bullies, no divas. If you invite grounded folks, people who are curious about the world, that makes for a good group who will like each other and a fun evening,” he says.

Of course, “nice” doesn’t equal “quiet.” In other words, there are no wallflowers in the mix. “They have opinions and those opinions will be flying left, right, and center during the evening,” says McCalman. “It’s very inspiring."

George pouring more wine for one of his guests, and an intimate view of the table.
Left and right: McCalman says one of the best parts of the gatherings is the fact that when he brings friends together, new friendships blossom.

Outside of that, give rules a rest

McCalman also has the hard and fast rule of having few rules. "People appreciate some guidance on what to bring, but other than that, they are most comfortable if you just let them be themselves," he says.

Be the host you’d like to have

McCalman says that as the host, he sets the tone. "If they see you having a good time, the guests will have a good time," he says. "If you are stressed and anxious, the guests will feel the same."

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