Is BYOB Tacky?

Seems like a fun party. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy

A good friend and his live-in girlfriend occasionally throw cocktail parties at their apartment for the holidays, each other’s birthdays, etc. While he and his girlfriend are not hedge fund partners, they do reasonably well for themselves as independent, gainfully-employed 20-somethings. More often than not, their party invitations will specify that although they will be serving a punch or specific cocktail of some sort, they would like all guests to BYOB. 

My question is twofold: First, how do I handle the hostess gift situation here? Do I double up and bring them a bottle of wine in addition to whatever I would like to imbibe at this party? Do I specify which is which? Because that seems like it could get awkward. Second, am I wrong in thinking that this is incredibly tacky of them? 

Basically, how can I best be a polite guest in a situation where I think the hosts are being less than polite themselves? 

Sincerely,

Flummoxed in NY 

Official Etiquette

Miss Manners sees BYOB as “a collegiate and internship form, suitable for people who have not yet mastered adult housekeeping and whose finances are so close to the edge that they cannot wait for the costs of socializing to be shared through eventual reciprocation.” She also suggests following along with what the rest of you social circles does and if no one brings their own beverage, then you know that it’s not the done thing and you aren’t going to have much luck trying to change it.

Our Take
Jaya: Uhh is BYOB tacky??
Victoria: LOL no. Or, maybe it sort of is? But it’s fine. And duh, you do not need to bring two things.
Jaya: Absolutely, BYOB negates a host gift. And I usually don’t bring a “host gift” for a run-of-the-mill party. Special occasions or being a house guest, sure, but I’ll usually bring a bottle of wine or text the host and ask if I can pick anything up. I have never considered BYOB tacky though, especially if you’re providing punch or some type of liquor, as these hosts seem to be doing.
Victoria: Thinking about it more, I think it depends. I can’t remember my parents ever throwing a BYOB party. I guess at a certain age and income level it just makes sense for the hosts to provide everything, though I do not know what those levels are.
Jaya: It also depends how the hosts phrase it. When hosting a party, I’ll often say “we’ll have snacks and some wine and liquor, but feel free to bring any food or booze you want.” But it’s not like I’d kick someone out for not bringing a six pack. I probably wouldn’t even notice.
Victoria: And if you’re in your 20s, maybe you throw parties because you’re the one with the biggest apartment, so it becomes a nice, central place to get everyone together. But yes, I always like to have enough for everyone, but if people bring things that’s fine too.
Jaya: Man, I just can’t bring myself to call this tacky though. BYOB, potlucks, these are all known quantities.
Victoria: Yeah, I wouldn’t call it tacky exactly.
Jaya: I’m a huge fan of BYOB actually. I just think it’s a great, efficient way to have a party. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hosted a party with a “full bar” and been stuck with a bunch of stuff no one wanted. Or, people can be really picky about what they drink, so I’d rather they just bring something they know they want.
Victoria: Yeah, I think it’s great for more of a house party situation. But it’s definitely better to phrase it as “we have this, if you want to bring anything else, feel free” instead of making it a hard requirement. You really should provide enough punch/cocktails/wine for 1-2 drinks per guest, just a base level.
Jaya: Absolutely. I can’t tell what the hosts’ tone is from this letter, but I guess if LW wanted to test it they could just “forget” to bring something to the next party. Good hosts/friends would be like “oh no worries, we got stuff” or just not even mention it.
Victoria: Exactly. Though, if you plan on drinking a whole case of beer yourself, you should maybe bring it.
Jaya: It’s all just heavily contingent on your friend group and the social norms of drinking/hosting that exist within it.
Victoria: You know what I have encountered, that I do think is kind of tacky? House parties where the hosts charge admission.
Jaya: WHAT WHAT WHAT
Victoria: YES it’s a THING.
Jaya: Okay I have heard of rent parties? And I guess it’s like, if you’re spending $10 on a six pack or $10 on “admission,” you’re spending that money either way?
Victoria: Presumably the charge is to cover the alcohol, but then you don’t know if it’s going to be a fun party or if they have what you want to drink, and you might as well just go to a bar. Or if you spend $10 on a six pack, you at least know it’s beer you like.
Jaya: Okay, I do think this question sort of touches on the awkwardness that happens when an implied rule becomes explicit. I would not show up at a party without either a bottle of wine (or equivalent), or without checking with the host about if there were something I could bring. And when I am the host, my friends often show up with drinks or food, or call me asking if I need anything. It’s this nice exchange that most people silently agree to, so I can see how specifically saying BYOB disrupts that. It’s almost insulting–as if you wouldn’t think of bringing beer on your own. Is that reading too much into it?
Victoria: No, I think that makes sense. It’s like when my mom tells me to write a thank you note to my grandmother. Like yes, I know, I ALWAYS write a thank you note, why are you reminding me?
Jaya: But if I saw BYOB on an invitation, I would not be like “Mercy, this person thinks I have no manners!”
Victoria: Hahahah yeah. And you can always turn it down if you don’t want to BYOB.
Jaya: I cannot imagine the kind of person who would be so offended by the premise of BYOB that they’d refuse to go to their friend’s party. I mean you just gotta consider your own priorities there.
Victoria: And if you’re a host and have a specific theme/feel in mind, you should just provide everything yourself. Like if you’re having a speakeasy party and tallboys of Budweiser would kill the aesthetic. Though people can surprise you! I hosted a Mad Men party and provided lots of stuff, but my friends still showed up with fancy mixers and such.
Jaya: On either side of the equation, remember that you’re dealing with people you like. If you’re a host, try to trust that your friends are nice, considerate people who would offer to bring something or to help out without your explicit instructions. And if you’re a guest, be that nice, considerate guest for your friend who is being nice and hosting a party. Be generous with friends, no matter which role you’re playing.
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One thought on “Is BYOB Tacky?

  1. As a frequent party-haver, this question kind of rankles. My questions for the party-goer include: have you ever hosted these BYOB friends at your house, and provided all their booze? Have you ever thrown an all-you-can drink party for your friends? Do you offer to help clean up after these parties that you are going to? Have you ever asked to bring a friend (or two, or three) along to these parties? Do you have ANY idea of how much a group of 20-somethings can drink in an evening, especially when faced with an open bar?

    It may be just me, but throwing parties for my friends would bankrupt me if nobody chipped in. And in my circles it’s de rigeur to BYOB – you don’t even have to say it. I STILL spend quite a bit of hard-earned cash on extra booze (because even when people bring stuff, they very often don’t bring enough) and food and the like for parties. The BYOB New Years party we just had cost me something in the area of $400-$500. And then I cleaned it up. And I host WAY more than many of my friends do. I can think of people who have been to 5 or more of my parties and never reciprocated. Now that’s tacky.

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