The Dinner Shuffle

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It wasn’t just action and adrenaline events we organised in Spice. Eating out was a huge part of the social programme and we arranged an extensive dining programme with an average of 15-25 people joining us at any given time. This in itself posed a dilemma: how do you prevent some poor sap being stuck with someone who doesn’t say boo to a goose or another who can bore for England all night long? Simple. You ask a certain number of people to move after each course. Some Spice groups called this a Dinner Safari, others called it a Revolving Meal and some toyed with a Merry Go Round Meal. We stuck with Dinner Shuffle (also referred to as a Sinner Shuffle after Dom sent an email to one unsuspecting member who was left wondering what kind of organisation he had signed up to).

I really don’t know how best to describe a Dinner Shuffle to those who have never experienced one, so let’s look at the following scenarios.

Exercise 1

Select every other person and move them two empty spaces clockwise. (Moving them one empty space would mean they are sitting on the other side of the person they’ve just sat next to. This might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but it has been questioned on many occasions). Ask them to take their belongings* including napkins, glasses (both seeing and drinking) and count how many forget, whilst frantically gathering their coats, scarves, handbags and rushing to put their shoes back on.

Outcome: Chaos! 10 people moving around a crowded restaurant doesn’t make you popular with the other diners or the restaurant staff. Plus you’ll have people not knowing which way is clockwise.

Exercise 2

Select every third person and move them two spaces clockwise. (Not forgetting to tell them to bring all their paraphernalia as in * above).

Outcome: Slightly less chaotic. 6-7 people moving around a crowded restaurant is easier for all concerned, but you’ll still have people not knowing which way is clockwise and those who can’t count. Now it’s not a problem if someone sits in the ‘wrong’ seat, as they’ll be sitting with a fresh group of people, but the person who is ‘meant’ to be sitting in that space won’t see it that way.

So the confusion has died down and you’ve finished your first course. The plates have been cleared away and you’ve managed to relax. The way is now clear for the second shuffle.

Exercise 3

Let’s follow Exercise 2’s example. Ah, but if we shuffle every third person who has’t already been shuffled clockwise, they’ll end up sitting next to the same person in round 1. Problem solved, we’ll shuffle them anti-clockwise. Oh and if someone sat at the end of a table hasn’t moved yet, you’ll need to make sure they move so they’re not left out of the mix.

Outcome: By this stage in the evening and after a couple of glasses of wine, people will pretty much sit where they want. This mostly manifests itself in someone fancying the pants off someone on the far side of the table and making a bee-line for them. We had absolutely no problem with this, it’s the people being rugby-barged out of the way as some lustful lothario beats off all contenders to sit next to Reading’s answer to Jennifer Lopez that inevitably ticked some people off.

You’re ahead of me if you’ve realised that only 2 out of 3 people have been shuffled. Oh the complaints. There were those who really did think that everyone would be shuffled, there would be others who refused to be shuffled especially if they’d been sharing a nice bottle of wine and getting on like a house on fire with someone they’ve just met.

Then there were the logistics. How many do you think would have ended up next to or opposite someone they’ve already chatted to? More than you can imagine. Did the members hold back in telling you this fact? Of course not. I used to tell them it was a feat of mathematical prowess to work out the formula for such an outcome but no one believed me.

Are you still with me or have I managed to confuse the hell out of you? Well, perhaps one of our members, Tony Foord, who we once asked to coordinate one of these evenings, can describe it a bit more clearly:


Hi Dom,

Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to this. I wanted to be sure I knew what I was getting into first so I thought I had better have a dry run.

I managed to borrow 7 Barbies, 1 Action Man, 2 Teddies and a Cuddly Penguin (thanks, Becca) and seated them around the table. I tried to sit the Teddies and the Action Man between the Barbies as far as possible. I wasn’t able to tell what sex the Penguin was but I guess that kind of problem does crop up from time to time.

The first course went quite well, I thought. Action Man and 1 of the Teddies and I shared a nice bottle of red wine. The other Teddy unfortunately toppled forward into his soup but I’m hoping I will be able to clean him off later.

The first move went quite well too. Both the Teddies, Action Man, Penguin, the butchest Barbie and I all moved 2 places anticlockwise. I felt surprisingly drunk though considering we’d shared the bottle of wine between three of us. Had some trouble explaining to Action Man that a place is only half a space (if you move every other person), i.e. if you moved only one place you would be sitting on top of the Barbie next to you. (Perhaps you should make the difference clear in the joining instructions?) I don’t think the Barbies got it at all.

Second course was mostly ok except Action Man and I had a bit of a struggle with our second bottle of wine and some of it got spilt on Soupy Ted. And a couple of the Barbies fell over.

Thought I’d try something more ambitious for the next move – a bit like you and Jane do. I got every Barbie (except Butch Barbie) to swap places with the most nearly opposite Barbie while everybody furry plus Action Man and Butch Barbie simultaneously moved 6 places clockwise. Chaos! Just like the real thing in fact. Eventually managed to disentangle Action Man and Desperate Barbie and get everyone into a seat.

Dessert went really well. Chocolate fudge cake, and I happened to be sitting between Diet Barbie and Detox Barbie! Soupy Ted and Penguin both fell in theirs though – I wish I hadn’t let them order the whipped cream. And several of the Barbies complained that there weren’t enough Action Men.

What do you think, am I ready to do it for real now?

I think it would be best if I don’t go back to Caffe Uno though.


17 thoughts on “The Dinner Shuffle

  1. Sounds like a blast! I’m going to try something similar at my next soirée. Even though everyone usually knows each other, there’s “clumping” and this would be a good way to break it up! Awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My mother-in-law tried something similar at her second wedding. There was a formal seating chart for the first few courses, then, for dessert we were asked to turn over our name cards and to move to which ever table was named on the back. Some people moved and others had nothing on the back, so stayed where they were. There were about a hundred of us and as far as I remember it worked well enough. It was an interesting concept, which I had not experienced before, and i would happily do a dinner shuffle again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am literally crying tears of laughter 😂🤣 I really miss my Spice life (especially the ‘interesting’ characters, real life Barbies, (wannabe) Action Men and plenty of lovely furry teds!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds awesome! I love the message from Tony Foord!

    In Japan our work parties would often be like this. Everyone would be seated on the floor, so it is easy to move around once you’ve finished eating. As there are no chairs, you can sort of sit anywhere and enourage coworkers to drink sake. I think you and Dom would fit in really well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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