I love being in a book club, but not always because of the books (Ask me about The Mercy of Thin Air…blech!). What I love is that we dine out every time we meet. This wasn’t always the case. We tried gathering at members’ apartments, but that didn’t work as well as we’d hoped. Conversation strayed too far from the book and interruptions (spouses, hosting duties) popped up. Restaurants were a better fit – but finding the right one proved to be a process.
We first met at a pub owned by a famous author. It was a bit too rowdy and no one was really thrilled with the fattening, downscale fare offered there. We tried a yummy Korean restaurant that made sublime bibimbap, but the slim wine list and lack of a full liquor license left us cold (and thirsty). A deceptively overpriced restaurant proved financially disastrous. A too-casual joint (think chili!) was yet another letdown, although we did discover Dorothy Parker was on to something: Round tables are a must!
Armed with a refined list of our needs (reasonable prices, upscale cuisine, interesting cocktails, respectable wine list, vibrant crowd, round tables, and convenient location), I set out to find the right restaurant for us. It turned out to be Elizabeth, a new-ish place in the NoLita section of Manhattan. A tall banquette provides us with privacy and fosters conversation. The restaurant offers budget-friendly, $25 Mondays (two courses and a glass of wine or beer), a noted mixologist helped craft the cocktail list, and the menu appeals to our diverse appetites. Nearly two years into our book club, we’ve guaranteed that we’ll always enjoy our meetings even if we don’t always enjoy the books.
Want to avoid our trial and error and make the most of your book club meetings? Use these tips:
Consider picking a regular venue. As my fellow book clubber Nancy commented, “I love that we have a regular book club restaurant, and that it’s so adorable and elegant. Just like us.” The latter sentiment may be debatable, but having a place ideally suited to our needs has made planning our meetings a snap.
Look for pre-fixe deals – or ask if the restaurant might create one for your group. Depending on how big your club is and how often you’ll commit to going there, you may be able to work something out.
Get cozy. Don’t be afraid to sit a bit closer than you normally might. Squeezing seven people into a table for five actually makes things more fun.
Note your needs. Use the “Special Requests to the Maitre D'” section on OpenTable to let the restaurant know your party is a book club and make personal requests (such as a round table or sitting closer than usual).
Start at the bar. Avoid veering off topic by meeting at the restaurant’s bar for a drink beforehand. Catch your breath, catch up, and trade gossip. When you sit down for your meal, it will be much easier to keep the discussion focused on the book.