Before 2020, it was fun to host barbecues or holiday parties for numerous friends and acquaintances once or twice a year. But for more than a year, such mass gatherings have seemed reckless and unsafe. Like everyone else, my girlfriend and I want to do the right thing. It’s totally understandable that we should keep our distance and avoid risking those with elderly relatives or living with someone quite senior. On the other hand, not socialising with any of our close friends and shutting ourselves off in isolation, seems unbearable. After calculating risks, we settled on having small dinner parties, usually with just another couple or at most three guests. This sort of dynamic felt the most comfortable for all involved. We could still meet but maintain some breathing room, so to speak, unlike a crowded house party. Even before the pandemic, we had been using communal serving utensils and never double-dipped our chopsticks or forks into dishes. If it’s safe to have dinner-for-four in a restaurant, we reasoned that a meal at home is even less of a risk, because the environment is more controlled. There are no strangers cooking and serving the food. And there’s no diner coughing one table away. With the various lengthy periods of restaurant dine-in bans this past year in Hong Kong, we were eating at home anyway. It didn’t require much more effort to increase the portions by one or two. It started with just inviting close friends over, then congenial colleagues. Instead of a lot of people massing at one time, we were parcelling face time with us on separate weekends. The menus began with simple roast chickens and pot pies, then gradually we expanded the repertoire, experimenting with new recipes for moussaka and leg of lamb. Why open a restaurant in Hong Kong? It’s a great way to lose your shirt Occasionally, laziness got the better of us and we shared takeaway pizza with friends who didn’t mind one bit. Over Lunar New Year (which occurred on the same weekend as Valentine’s Day), we indulged in a poon choi with a couple of living-alone singletons who had nobody to share a romantic dinner with. With evening dining allowed again (cross our fingers there won’t be relapses due to further outbreaks), obviously it’s easier to book a table somewhere and just go out with friends. But the experience certainly doesn’t compare. After a few of these weekend suppers, what became clear to me was the food was the appetiser of the evening. What was really satisfying and enjoyable was the company and the convivial conversation, which people desperately missed from impersonal Zoom calls. I think the quality time of sitting at a table with someone is the antithesis of a fake friend saying, “Oh hey, long time no see. Let’s catch up soon.” A common refrain from our guests was how much they appreciated being in the company of, well, anyone again. A dinner invitation in 2021 is akin to offering a pardon to a prisoner. Well, more like a four-hour parole. Obviously, there’s more work for the hosts. Beyond the shopping and cooking, you have to set the table, take out the nicer tableware, then after, there’s all the dishes and glasses to be cleaned. However, I look at that as part of the welcoming ritual. To show and receive hospitality is part of the intimate pleasure of dinner parties. I believe it is a shared common value the world over. The only difference is that, at most Hong Kong dinner parties, moving from the living room to the dining room doesn’t require much actual movement. Why giving up alcohol, or drinking much less, is a new trend In our tiny flats, it just means sliding the couch over, opening the folded wings of a table, and deciding who will sit on the ottoman at the foot of the table.