I am a member of the Foreign Service and have Home Leave once every three years or so. Rather than try to go around to every friend or family member for the few weeks or month I am home, sometimes I rent a cabin or beach house and invite people to come to stay for as long as they like. My only request is that they bring a ham, or a casserole or some such. A large dish that can be shared among everyone. That way the limited cooking facilities are not over taxed and I don’t end up buying and making all the food.
My first time with this went very well. I selected all my favorite people and almost everyone said yes and a wonderful time was had by all. However, this most recent time the house I had used before was no longer available and the only one available was an Outer Banks style “Party House.” I also threw it open to all my friends and family on social media rather than individually selecting guests myself. There was much Sturm und Drang and problems with sleeping options.
My protocol question is thus: Out of the 20 people who came, only one couple brought a casserole. One other fixed a lasagna, which was nice, but many people did not bring any food at all (some people were given a pass as they had to fly to attend) and many people revealed dietary restrictions upon the start of someone cooking. Some were vegetarians, some no gluten, others no garlic or onions. I had thought I had made it very clear in the invitation that people needed to bring a certain kind of food, but how responsible am I for food restrictions of my guests when I am not told in advance? They looked at me and my partner to “organize” meals, but I had intended a very free form style.
What should I do next time to improve things? Help!!
A Stranger in a Strange (Home) Land
Victoria: Ah, the life I could have led if I had gotten further into the Foreign Service process! I only got past the initial test though.
Jaya: Firstly, I love this idea. I think making everyone come to you if you have limited time and resources is the way to go. Everyone should do more “office hours” type planning.
Victoria: Yeah, it’s amazing, like the bigger version of “I’m in town for one night and will be at this bar, come see me.”
Jaya: Exactly. But I think where he went wrong was opening it up to everybody on social media.
Victoria: Yesss, that was a terrible idea because people are monsters.
Jaya: Facebook is great for party planning, but makes it harder to be specific–which is what a gathering like this needs.
Victoria: Yeah, I think as long as he lays out the expectations very specifically, then all will be well. I mean, I think it still would have worked with the bigger group open to all as long as it was super super clear that you were expected to bring food.
Jaya: Yeah, and it’s hard to tell if he did that and people on social media just ignored him, or if those ideas weren’t laid out. Either way there was a miscommunication.
Victoria: Yeah, I mean, he says it was only 20 people, so that shouldn’t have been too terribly hard to manage.
Jaya: But right, booking a house and saying ANYONE can come automatically makes sleeping problems. There are only so many beds!
Victoria: Yeah, I don’t think open houses really work when there is sleeping involved. So the format probably does need to change a bit. Especially if people are flying in!
Jaya: Yes, I think in the future, going back to a curated guest list will probably minimize this sort of issue. But in general, if you’ve said people need to be responsible for bringing food and they don’t, that’s on them.
Victoria: Yeah, and if they have dietary restrictions they definitely need to let you know in advance! And if it’s a particularly complicated one, maybe they should plan on just bringing their own food.
Jaya: You can certainly offer to help, whether it’s lending them your car so they can go to the grocery store, or sharing what you have if it’s enough. But if you did your best to make it clear and remind everyone of their responsibilities, they don’t get to be mad at you for ignoring it. (I mean they will be mad, they’ll just be wrong.)
Victoria: Haha yeah, exactly. I also don’t think you can really plan on a free form house party…there has to be some degree of organization. Like assign meals to people or something.
Jaya: Yes. And it sounds like the original plan offered some structure like that. Maybe it’s just a matter of reminding everyone of that.
Victoria: Yeah, when people are basically all in one place for a weekend or whatever, they need to know that there will be meals and sleeping places and enough showers and all that stuff. And someone has to be the one to coordinate it and that person is usually going to need to be the host (except, haha, I have sometimes jumped in with close friends and sorted out who is sleeping where, but that is very much a me thing!)
Jaya: Totally. Maybe if you do share it on social media, you can say there are X number of beds, this is first-come first-served, everyone is responsible for at least one dinner/making any dietary restrictions known, so you don’t get 20 people showing up to a five bedroom house. I mean, the lesson here is best laid plans, right? You can make reasonable requests and remind people of your expectations, and sometimes they will ignore them and then get pissy about it. And all you can do is try to offer some small help while setting boundaries. And then next time invite the people you know have their shit together
Victoria: Yes, exactly. I think it’s very important, as a big planner myself, to know who you can rely on and when it’s important that you are inviting only reliable people, to just do that. Although, I guess if you only get to see people every couple of years then maybe you want to be more generous.
Jaya: Yeah, it’s a balance. See more people but risk having to take more responsibility, or limit your guest list.
Victoria: Or do your thing somewhere where there are a lot of restaurants and just eat out. I think a loosey goosey sort of thing is probably easier in a place where there is decent transport and restaurants/grocery stores. Like if you are in the middle of nowhere, everyone had better come prepared with EVERYTHING.
Jaya: Exactly. Whereas an open house works best when it can actually be open–people going into town or to the beach as they please.