The Radical Act of Eating With Strangers


“Having that resilience, the ability to cope, having hope, being curious about other people: All of the assets of optimism, as I’ve observed them, are so necessary for forming community,” said Danielle Bayard Jackson, a friendship coach who has a quarter-million followers on TikTok, where she gives advice for making new friends and having healthy relationships.

When pursuing new relationships, optimism can work both ways: It can prompt you to seek out new friends, and it can also draw new friends to you. People who demonstrate optimism may also enjoy higher quality interactions, according to Dr. Emma Seppala, a lecturer at Yale University’s School of Management and the author of “The Happiness Track.” People are often attracted to those who are “positively re-energizing,” in what Dr. Seppala describes as a heliotropic effect: Just as plants are drawn to the sun, we are drawn to those who have life-giving qualities.

Dr. Seppala also called attention to an important distinction around cultivating new friendships: It’s not about how many relationships you have, but about how connected you feel to the ones you do have, she explained. “I think that’s really good news because there’s not always something we can do about how many people we interact with,” she said. She cited the example of a person at home taking care of a baby, or who considers herself an introvert.

Or, perhaps, someone who’s just moved to a new city in the middle of a pandemic.

Ms. Michaud, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., got the inspiration for Dinner With Friends after traveling to Lisbon with her parents in April 2022. Her mother, Peg Foen, who is Chinese American, had learned about clandestine Chinese restaurants in Lisbon that operate in private apartments and are typically discovered by word of mouth.

Ms. Michaud also comes from a restaurant family. Her grandparents, who immigrated to the United States from China, opened a Chinese restaurant in Plymouth, Mich., in the 1980s. Her mother, Ms. Foen, grew up spending afternoons in the restaurant — and, as an adult, opened a French bistro in Plymouth with her husband, Michael Michaud, Ms. Michaud’s father.

“Anita has always been very good at being a superb host,” said Mr. Michaud, who currently owns a distillery with Ms. Foen on Harsens Island, Mich. He added, “I’d like to think that she got that a little bit from just the way that we lived our life.”

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