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When I found myself at a sit-down dinner party at Kathy Griffin’s Bel Air mansion, I had no idea what to expect. But it turns out the outspoken comic is a warm and consummate hostess who has made it her mission to hold “salons,” inspired by the late Hollywood agent Sue Mengers, in which guests don’t just talk about their work and families but also discuss ideas. Not only did I walk away with some entertaining anecdotes (more on that below) but I also picked up some genius party tricks. Here’s a reverse engineering of how to give your hostess skills the kick in the pants they need.

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1. Enforce a Strict Invite-Only Policy

Kathy invited exactly enough guests to fit around her roomy 14-person dinner table. (If that seems like a lot to you, limit your list to the number of people who will fit around your table.) Via text, invitees were asked to please respect her wishes for no tag-along plus-ones. 

2. Share Advance Intel on Guests

Kathy texted all of her guests a list of who would be at the party, as well as everyone’s social media handles. While this seemed a little bit up-in-our-business, it actually proved helpful to get to know what sort of crowd would be attending. In this case, a mix of media and entertainment types.

3. Make Introductions Once Seated

In Kathy’s house, there was a quick meet and greet in her mansion’s ginormous foyer, but the real chatting started at the table when she turned to each guest and asked them to state their name and profession, and something interesting about themselves. Nerve-racking? Yes. But it put everyone on an even playing field in terms of knowing what special knowledge or skill a fellow guest might have to contribute to the conversation.

kathy griffin dinner party tips

4. Enlist Help in the Kitchen So You Can Focus on Hosting

If you’re busy keeping the conversation flowing, you don’t have time to make the cocktails or bring the potpies from the kitchen. So enlist some waiters (or friends or family members) to do the heavy lifting.

5. No Side Conversations Allowed

You know the usual dinner-party etiquette that asks that you chitchat with the person on either side of you? That’s turned on its head at Kathy’s table, where the host might point to you and ask your opinion on a current event or to participate in a party game. (The night I was there, we were all asked to state the most famous person in our phone contacts. No pressure, though: Tig Notaro pointed out that we could all make up anyone we wanted, since it wasn’t as if anyone was going to check.) This makes for a funny, freewheeling table full of entertainment, especially when Kathy would shout “No side conversations!” if you happened to slip up and ask someone a polite question like, Where do you live? or Where is the bathroom?

6. Ask Everyone to Sign a Guest Book

Joan Rivers gave Kathy hers and insisted she use it. If the practice was good enough for the unsinkable Ms. Rivers, we are here for it.

7. Dress Up a Bit

Famously, Los Angeles is about as dressy as a weekend hanging around your college dorm. Yet Kathy wore a bodycon dress with a bit of sparkle, which elevated the entire event, no matter how earthy the conversation got (like when our host was graphically holding forth on the rampant hooking up going on during a gay cruise she entertained on). Look pretty, feel pretty and your confidence will rub off on your guests having a good time.

8. Name Drop, But Make It Interesting

OK, so maybe you don’t live in a Bel Air mansion with Kim Kardashian as your former next door neighbor like Kathy does, but there is undoubtedly someone in your orbit about whom you have some colorful stories. In one evening, guests spilled the tea on what politico starts the day at noon with cocktails, who has fallen prey to Russian assassins and what it’s like to have dinner with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening (oh, and none of those stories came from our famous host, by the way).

9. Talk Money, Politics and Sex—Just Keep It Friendly

You know those third-rail topics that you’re encouraged to steer clear of in polite society? Well, not at Kathy’s table. Instead, foster a no-holds-barred conversational flow that might touch upon any of these topics (or even death and taxes). Just keep the tone friendly, and you’ll be so interested that you won’t even miss the focus of the tenth tip.

10. Put the Phones Down

Perhaps Kathy’s easiest-to-imitate advice for her salons: Put your phone down and actually look at and talk to one another. It takes practice, but you might find yourself being more quick-witted and charming than you ever thought possible (or at least having fun listening to guests who are).

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