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Special Projects Social’s Tim McDiarmid Managing Communal Dining 

  • Xelina Flores-Chasnoff

Chef Tim McDiarmid and Peter Zubiate of Zubiate Projects have hosted almost 20 installments of the Special Projects Social. The pop-up dinner parties celebrate fine food, artisanal desserts and libations, music, art and creativity at large. While the two producers have the events down to a science, how can attendees most enjoy the art of communal dining? McDiarmid shed some light on the finer points of how to eat, where to sit and what to do at a Special Projects Social, or just about any other communal dining affair.


According to McDiarmid, the most common faux pas arises when guests dish up their plates. “People don’t want to be the first to dive in,” she said, “they don’t want to mess it up.” Here’s the protocol: If you’re the first person to pass around a dish, don’t be afraid to toss the salad, mix in the dressing, grab a little of everything and most importantly, said the chef, “don’t take the whole garnish!” McDiarmid recognizes that family-style dining can be tricky and unfamiliar. “I am constantly rotating and giving my little spiel about the food,” she said. The large plates at an SPS dinner are intended to feed six to seven, so plan on sharing with the people beside and across from you.


“First timers are a little awkward about seating,” McDiarmid observed, “but it really takes so little time before everyone is warmed up.” Many guests choose their seat based on the unique artist-designed plate, while others strategically situate themselves by friends or the bar. Given the long, narrow tables and closely arranged place settings, anticipate that you’ll be making new friends.

If, before the meal has started, you find a place more desirable than the one you originally claimed, it’s acceptable to rearrange, McDiarmid said. However, avoid asking the crew to relocate an entire place setting. “It’s very difficult for me when people have come late and done that,” she said. After all, strangers are just friends waiting to happen. “The intent is to push the limits of what is comfortable, knowing that the design of the tables and doing everything family-style organically leads people to connect,” said McDiarmid.


One seat for the pop-up clocks in at around $150, which goes toward production costs. The event sells out every time, and, no, there are no refunds. McDiarmid maintains a waitlist in the case of last minute cancellations, so email her through the SPS website ( if you’ve missed the original batch of tickets.

What do you get for that price? The menu, a silk-screened napkin and an artist-designed plate at your place setting are yours to keep. At the end of the evening, the crew stacks rinsed and dried plates near the exit for easy pick-up as you leave. Best SPS practices suggest that you should take your own plate from the pile rather than someone else’s. You never know who might have set their heart on the particular design off which they ate.

On the flip side of that, be proactive if you can’t live without your specific plate. “If you want to make sure you’re getting yours back,” suggests McDiarmid, “Go as soon as the crew brings the clean plates out and grab it, or wipe it off with a napkin and take it with you.”

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September 23, 2020

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