I am fortunate enough to live and work in a metropolitan area where I grew up – Chicago. Amazingly, I’m still surrounded by many of my childhood friends that have also chosen to stay in the area. Regardless that all of us live within a 30-mile proximity to each other, it’s still incredibly hard to get together. Families, careers and other responsibilities have made time incredibly precious, forcing us to come up with a way to make time to see each other.

We’ve had this tradition going on almost 12 years, now, where once each month, a different individual will pick a restaurant that we’ve never been to before. This event is appropriately called “Dinner Club.” Tactically speaking – we meet, we chat, we dine, we drink and we elect the next DC organizer and the date at the end of each one to ensure we’re holding to our commitment. But add the personalities of a gregarious group of thirty- and forty-somethings, and you have something extraordinary.

At the end of our December gathering, I was up to lead the group to a new destination. I took this challenge to heart, even pushing my not-so-brave palate to pick someplace fun, animated and great for a group of dialogue champions.

I chose Havana, a Cuban restaurant in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago. While everyone is usually not able to make every dinner, there were 14 of us that sat gathered for an evening of stories and laughs. I’ll share that we are a vocal group, often getting looks from other patrons to “hush up” or “turn it down a notch.” While we are not obnoxious, it’s obvious we enjoy each others’ company.
Usually right out of the gate, the games start. Well, not games per se, but questions and conversation starters like…

“What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in the last month?”
“Share an update on your neighbors.”
“Find someone in this restaurant who looks like a celebrity.”

Sudden plate swapping and drink tasting is rampant across the table as friends exchange harmful barbs with each other on politics, the weather, our families and Hollywood gossip. It can be hard to get a word in edgewise, but as long as you remember your thought, you’ll have a chance to weigh in.

Over the years, the topics of dinner conversations have varied from the mundane (“What’s the best way to fold a napkin?”) to the irreverent (“I can’t stay awake in church.”) What I’m finding now is that our age is beginning to show. Conversations can sometimes include our own illnesses, the health of our parents, the mischief of our children or the passing of a friend. Whether it’s moments of insane laughter or the tender thoughts, I still cherish all of the monthly epiphanies with this crew. Dinner Club keeps us engaged, keeps us humble and keeps us connected.

I shudder when my schedule doesn’t allow us to make it, and I ooze with anticipation when it’s marked on the calendar in pen.

With every venture out coming in at about 3 hours, you’re committing yourself to a full non-stop evening. Most of the time, we linger in the lobby sharing the last few moments of camaraderie before jumping back into our cars and returning to our lives. It might be those moments that I like the best, sharing the final words of appreciation and love than make our friendships endure.

I’m writing about this group because I hear from so many other friends and co-workers that they would love to get together with old friends. What we have built does not take a rocket science degree. Reach out to old friends, set a date, pick a restaurant, make vivacious conversation and go. I bet what you find there will inspire you to do it again and again. What you find will be inspirational. What you will find will be awesome.

Will you try this idea with a group of people you’ve been meaning to get together with?  Tell us who in the comments below!