Second-Degree Dinners: The Best Way to Meet Cool People in Your City

By Nat Eliason in Social

Published or Updated on Dec 14, 2015

Four months ago I moved to Austin knowing no one in the city but my 9 coworkers and a couple of acquaintances.

The problem I immediately needed to solve was:

“How do I find interesting new people?”

I tried Meetups, bars, events, all the typical places. But in almost every case, the return on investment in terms of “interesting people met” to “time spent” was terrible.

The best way to find people seemed to be to meet someone interesting, then try to meet as many of their close friends as possible.

But getting your friends (especially new ones) to throw parties or invite you out to things doesn’t scale and makes you feel needy, so how do you get looped into everyone’s friend network at once?

These dinners are hands down the best way to meet cool people in your city in a way that’s fun, inexpensive, helps everyone involved, and even makes the participants feel special.

Here’s how they work.

What is a Second-Degree Dinner

A Second-Degree Dinner brings together 6 people who, mostly, don’t know each other.

There are two “hosts.” Both hosts invite someone who they enjoy spending time with and that they think is interesting.

Then, both of their invitees are expected to invite someone that they think is interesting and send them the invitation as well.

This way, the two hosts and the two initial invitees only know two other people at the dinner. They get to meet three new people.

The second-degree invitations will know only one person and get to meet four.

Best of all, you’re only meeting pre-vetted people. No weirdos, not some rando who’s trying to sell you on their social media consulting, only cool people.

Once the dinner starts, everyone goes around and says:

  • Who they are
  • Where they’re from
  • What they’re working on
  • Something they’re excited about. It could be a new book, app, relationship, anything that has them jazzed up.

The intros usually happen during ordering / getting drinks. It’s a good way to break the ice, make sure that everyone knows each others’ names, and give a bit of a background for the next portion.

Then the real fun begins. You go back around the circle, and each person talks about one thing that they’re struggling with or that’s a challenge in their life.

It could be work, personal, physical, mental, whatever they’re working on and could use some brainstorming around. Everyone else from the group joins in to give ideas, related experiences, and insights to help them workshop the problem for 10-12 minutes.

The benefit to this is that you immediately jump into a deeper relationship with everyone else at the dinner. By forcing each other to open up about a challenge and be vulnerable, you prevent creating just a surface level meeting that might happen at a networking event or meetup.

By treating everyone at the dinner as a good friend and trusted advisor, you immediately build a closer friendship than you might otherwise do in 2, 3, 5, or more encounters.

At some of my past dinners we’ve talked about:

  • Fear over starting a new job
  • Depression from moving on from a startup
  • Handling relationship difficulties
  • Broaching hard subjects at work
  • Trusting employees and not micro-managing
  • Quitting a job to start a consultancy
  • Writing a memoir
  • Being less judgmental of people
  • Handling criticism of your lifestyle from old friends

Afterwards, you can hang out and wrap up any way you please. Maybe you’ll want to get drinks, exchange book recommendations, whatever direction it goes in.

The dinner usually lasts 2-3 hours, but it goes by quickly since you’re having such a good time.

How to Host Your Own Second-Degree Dinners

Sound fun? It is, and you meet great people along the way. Some of my best friends in Austin I’ve met through Second-Degree Dinners, and I’ve never heard someone say they didn’t enjoy attending one.

If you want to start hosting your own, here are some tips to help you get started:

Pick a Good Co-Host

Find one person you’re close within your city who you want to be your co-host.

It should be someone that you think is interesting, and that has a fairly different friend circle from you (at least for now).

Find a Good Location

The location makes a big difference in the quality of the dinner. You should look for a restaurant that’s:

  • Inexpensive: You don’t want people to worry about the price
  • Not going to be crowded: Having space makes for a better experience
  • Quiet enough: You don’t want to be yelling over each other
  • In a central location: So people don’t have to drive too far
  • Not going to rush you out: You’re going to be there for 2-3 hours, and they should be cool with that

Have a Fixed Time

We do every 2-3 Thursdays at 7 pm. Weekdays are ideal since weekends people might have other plans.

By doing it every 2-3 weeks (when we’re both free) we keep a regularity to it, and most importantly, we’re under pressure to keep going out and meeting cool people.

We’re essentially leveraging Parkinson’s Law to make ourselves go out and find more cool people to invite.

Set Some Rules

A few rules / guidelines can improve the experience a lot. Here are my rules to get you started:

  • No inviting dates, co-workers, co-founders, or significant others
  • No phones at the table
  • Keep time for the workshopping, but don’t rush people
  • Try to draw people into the conversation if they’re not participating
  • No sidebars, keep just one conversation going

Seat People Strategically

One way to help facilitate conversation is to make sure that no one who knows each other is sitting next to or across from each other.

The easiest way to do this if you’re at a rectangular table for 6 is to put the second-degree people in the middle seats, you and your co-host sit at opposite diagonals, and then your invitation sits opposite your co-host and vice versa.

This should help:

second degree dinners organization

Be Vulnerable First

As the host of the event, it’s your job to set the tone for how open everyone can be. You should share first during the workshop, and you should open yourself up through your challenge. Talk about an insecurity, weakness, fear, something that people wouldn’t expect a stranger to be comfortable talking about.

It’s scary, but people appreciate the openness and respond in kind. If you just talk about something very surface level, then no one else will open up either.

Let the Table Improvise

At one dinner, we finished the intros, and one person suggested we all share a couple of book recommendations before jumping into the challenges, so we did.

At another, one person was using Periscope for lead generation and did a demonstration. He launched a Periscope session to tell his followers about the dinner, passed it around the table so we could all introduce ourselves, and then one of the viewers was down the street and actually came and joined us as a 7th person.

These things will happen, and you should go with the flow. It adds a bit of spice to each dinner and makes them more memorable.

Take Pictures and Exchange Info

When the dinner ends, get a picture with everyone, and make sure that everyone adds each other on Facebook.

As the host, you should make a Facebook message group afterwards so that if there were books, articles, videos, etc. that people referenced during the dinner they can all exchange links.

These groups are also great for inviting people to future parties, events, etc.

Do Reunions

I haven’t done one of these yet, but at the ends of the dinners, it always comes up. People love the environment and feel close to the group and want to get back together in the future.

Have Fun!

Ugh, I know, cheesy, but do it.

Let me know how your dinners go!

Credit to Michael Williams for inviting me to his version of this in SF, and giving me the initial idea. Also if you like this idea, you should check out Sol Orwell's post on hosting dinners to give you more ideas.


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