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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How To Be A Good Host

I tend to just serve really alcoholic punch and every has a good time. [Via Smabs Sputzer]

I tend to just serve really alcoholic punch and every has a good time. [Via Smabs Sputzer]

I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to address this topic, but sure enough, most of our party etiquette advice has been on how to act when you’re a guest. However, hosting is an art! No one wants to go to a party where they feel unwelcome or uncared for.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed between gracious and ungracious hosts is in intention (and, well, grace)—good hosts seem to enjoy their company, bad hosts act like company is a burden. A good host will often enjoy hosting, even if spending all day cleaning the bathroom and cooking four dishes is stressful, because seeing their guests happy makes them happy. Do not make your guests feel guilty about enjoying themselves, or be constantly reminding them about how much of a hassle this was for you to put together.

So how do you make sure you stay gracious? Here are a few tips.

1. Have a plan, or at least make decisions. There is nothing worse than showing up for a party (let’s say more than one or two who does not live at the residence) and the host has no suggestions on what to do. No thoughts on where to order out for dinner, no ideas on movies to watch or other activities, nothing. This is ok when it’s maybe a group of really close friends who can just hang out on the couch and “do nothing” in comfort, but not when there are ten hungry people in your living room and you got nothing. Be bold. Say you’re getting a bunch of tacos unless anyone has strong objections, put on your favorite album,  just go. If someone really doesn’t want to do what you suggest, good, at least you’re getting opinions rather than an endless chorus of “I don’t care.”

2. Ask for help in advance. Often times when planning a party, guests will ask if they can bring/do anything. Utilize this! If it’s a potluck or something more casual, ask everyone to bring booze or snacks. If it’s a dinner party and you’re making or ordering everything, email or call these people back and say “You know, I think I have most of it under control, I may just need help setting up the table when dinner is served!” Most people will really be willing to do this, but it’s good to ask in advance, just in case no one can help. And if people do help, make sure to thank them. Also, do not decline help and then complain that you did everything by yourself. I have seen this happen way too often and it still confuses me.

3. Make sure there’s enough of everything for the duration of your party. Not every party needs to be a dinner-and-booze party, but what is served and available needs to be reasonable for people’s expectations. Did you invite people over for cocktails at 9pm and only have cheese, crackers, and chips out? That’s fine, since it’s past dinner time. But did you only serve cheese and crackers at an all-day backyard party? Bad idea. This doesn’t just involve food—that backyard party would also probably suck if there were no chairs or blankets for people to sit on, no music, and one game to play for 40 people.

4. If the party is going to deviate from accepted expectations, let people know, and then be understanding. I’m going to bring this to a common debate among people getting married, since a reception is just a giant party. It’s generally considered rude to throw a “full length” reception without serving dinner (i.e. cake and punch at a quick 3pm reception is fine, only cake and punch at a wedding that starts at 5pm and ends at 11 is not). While not ideal, I don’t think this is necessarily rude, as long as you set your and your guest’s expectations accordingly. Want to have a long, evening party and only serve dessert? Make that clear on the invitation, and don’t be surprised or offended if some guests leave early or arrive late to give themselves time to find some food.

5. Seating arrangements. Traditionally, at a seated meal, you will want to split up couples- they talk to each other enough! However, use your judgment here. Do the couple in question know other people at the party? Are they generally social? If so they’ll probably do fine apart, but if one of them is incredibly shy and only know his or her partner, being split up may cause anxiety.

6. Clean your bathroom. Seriously the rest of your apartment could be a total shithole, and  you could close all those doors and no one would notice. I can guarantee every guest will be in your bathroom, and they will notice if it’s disgusting. It doesn’t need to be spotless, but at least wipe down the toilet, provide clean hand towels, and light a candle.

7. Have options for everyone, within reason. If 8 out of your 10 guests love lasagna and the other 2 think it’s just ok, they can deal. However, if those two guests are gluten and lactose intolerant and there’s nothing else for them to eat, you have a problem. You can’t please everyone, but try to gauge if there are any dietary restrictions or other preferences, and serve a mix of vegetarian, non-dairy, gluten free, etc. options. The same thing applies for alcohol, to make sure you don’t have a group of wine drinkers and only supply vodka. Also, have more than just water for the non-drinkers. (For a more thorough explanation of how difficult that can be, consult John Mulaney’s “I know you don’t drink” bit).

8. Pay. Part of hosting means providing food and drink, which also means going out and purchasing it. Now of course, there are plenty of situations where you are “hosting” by providing a space for the party, or Christmas rotates through the relatives houses every year and everyone brings a dish, or a potluck, where you don’t have to provide all the food and drink. But if you invite people over and say you are having a dinner party, you should be prepared to buy everything for the party. This is going to VARY a lot within whatever your social circle usually does, but it’s a good baseline to start with.

9. Don’t overexert yourself. If a group of people is coming to your house for a party, chances are they actually want to see you. Sure, plentiful food, good drinks and fun music are all nice, but not if their host is absent most of the night. See if you can have everything ready by the time people get there, with refills on dips or drinks in an easy-to-get spot. If you’re cooking dinner, find recipes you can make the day before and work well reheated, or that you can assemble and throw in the oven as people arrive. Or use all that help you asked for before so you can socialize and prep at the same time. Then go enjoy your party!