Keeping a Big Weekend House Party Organized

Good Morning!

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!!

Sincerely,

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.

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How to Choose a Venue for Your Party

peggy-webI recently went to a birthday party with about 20 people attending at a bar that was supposed to be so quiet that the bartenders shushed the room when it started to get too loud. It was fine, but I started wondering if we were being rude by inflicting a party like that one a venue that was clearly not that into it (not so against it that they would kick us out, however). So that got my thinking about how to choose a venue for your birthday or get together or whatever that would suit the kind of party you want to have without creating an undue burden on the establishment or the other patrons.

So some thoughts:

  • Make sure the venue is adequately sized for your party, don’t try to squeeze 50 people into a 500 square foot bar. Likewise don’t try to get them into a restaurant with seating for 25.
  • Try to give a heads up- see if you can reserve a room or some tables at a bar, get a reservation at a restaurant. (Be kind to your gets and don’t take a huge group to a restaurant with no reservations and a 3 hour wait to accomodate your size!)
  • Don’t take a rowdy group to a sedate spot where you are going to significantly annoy the other patrons.
  • Try to choose a spot with a wide variety of drinks or food- an all beer bar or an all fish restaurant is going to be rough for some people (me, it will be rough for me).
  • Consider the cost. Maybe you can afford to down $20 cocktails all night (especially since your friends will likely try to buy them for you), but unless you know that’s your crowd’s level, maybe consider bringing it down a couple notches so everyone can participate with ease.
  • Possibly try to hold your event on a less popular night and or time when things are less crowded and your group is more able to fit into the place you want.

Obviously these are super loose guidelines- do what you want! But you are probably going to have a more successful event if you follow them somewhat.

Oh My God Don’t Complain To The Hosts Of A Party You’re Currently At

maxresdefaultAs we’ve established, planning a party is hard. No, it’s not hard to say BYOB and order a few pizzas, but when it comes to any parties larger than that–dinner parties, holiday parties, weddings–there are a lot of moving pieces. There are guest lists and menus and seating arrangements and invitations and possibly staff, all weighed against the ultimate stress of any party: money. So every party, generally, is a balance of all those things. It’s an experience that makes the most people possible happy without the hosts going broke.

This means that, sometimes, there are minor disappointments, though I hesitate to call them that because no reasonable person would be disappointed. If there’s only beer and wine instead of a full liquor bar? Fine! One dessert instead of a dessert buffet? Whatever! Plastic cups instead of glass ones? What is your life that this is even registering as a problem?!

Which brings me to an incredibly unreasonable person I encountered at a recent wedding. The wedding was beautiful, and featured heavy passed appetizers and a buffet with many, many options. There were plentiful tables, couches and bar tops, though apparently the deal was that, while there were enough surfaces for everyone to eat at, some people were to be left standing. Again, just fine! You take 20 minutes to eat on a bar top and sit on a bench later and everyone has a grand time. Well, that wasn’t the case for one guest, who I overheard on line for the amazing mac & cheese. She would not stop talking about how there weren’t enough chairs. As if that weren’t bad enough, the father of the groom came over and joked about cutting the line for food (as he is the father of the groom). She said no, because they were mad at him that there weren’t enough chairs. He looked incredibly apologetic and sort of slinked away.

You can probably tell I was horrified. It’s fine to privately notice, and maybe even complain to a close friend, that you wish things were one way and they are in fact another. We do this every day. But let’s just make it clear that a situation like this is no one’s fault. Nothing was done wrong. Things were just one way and this woman didn’t like that. Recognizing that herself is one thing, but complaining to the host is entirely another. Just…just don’t do this? Okay? Good.

Hostess Gifts Are a Bit Weird, No?

A tea cup is actually a fantastic hostess gift, now that I think about it. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

A tea cup is actually a fantastic hostess gift, now that I think about it. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

We’ve talked about hostess gifts plenty, but I was thinking about them the other day and I realized that they are sort of a strange custom. Something like wine, that could theoretically be used during the party (though you should never expect it!), makes sense, but when you get into some of the other ideas that end up on lists of “great hostess gifts” things start to get a little strange.

Like, “thank you so much for inviting me to dinner- here is a set of hand painted playing cards!” Or “a single teacup and saucer!” Or “a wine stopper from Italy!” All very nice things, but they seem so unrelated to the event at hand and so small and knicknacky that they really can’t be of much actual use to the recipient.

I’m not saying that we should abolish hostess gifts, because obviously they do serve a small purpose in showing your appreciation for something someone is doing for you. But, I do think that when you want to get a token gift in the under $10 range, it’s best to stick to consumables- chocolates, jams, flowers, pastries, wine that can actually seem luxurious at that price point rather than a small bit of junk that will end up in the donation box in six months.

The Ultimate Guide to Bedding Part 2

Part 1 is here.

So now that everyone knows the components of a bed, we can talk about putting it all together into a scrumptious mass of comfort and relaxation.

The first thing you want to remember is that if you always want your bed to be nice and clean and inviting, you have to make it everyday. Nothing makes your bedroom more untidy and stressful than an unmade bed. The inimitable Jolie Kerr runs a bed making challenge every year and every year more people are converted to the joy that is a nicely made bed. This is also great advice for a guest- make the bed everyday and make a marvelous impression on your host.

To make a nice bed, you take your mattress and cover it with either a topper or a mattress pad, or both! Then put your fitted sheet (that’s the one with the elastic in the corners) on top of that. The lay your flat sheet over that (if it’s printed, put the printed side down as that is the “nice” side of the fabric and then you are enveloped in the nice parts of your sheets!) and tuck in the bottom corners (hospital style or whatever is easiest for you). Then put blankets, if you are using them, over that. The next step is to put your pretty comforter/duvet/bedspread/quilt/coverlet on top. There are two main methods of doing this.

  1. Just lay it flat- this is typical for fluffy spreads like comforters and duvets
  2. Lay it flat and then fold the top third backwards, place your sleeping pillows on the fold, and then fold the spread back over the pillows. This is what you frequently see in older motels since it was pretty popular in the 50s/60s/70s. It obviously works better with a flatter spread like a quilt or coverlet. This is a good option if you don’t want to bother with shams or decorative pillows but you still want to disguise your drool-covered and sweat stained sleeping pillows.

This is what this style of covering looks like. [Via]

This is what this style of covering looks like. [Via]

Once your have your covering on, you need to put your pillows on. There are also two methods for this. You can lay your sleeping pillows flat, like you sleep, and put sham pillows (or not) on top of them, like pancakes. Or, you can do what pretty much all bedding stores do and put the sleeping pillows vertical, leaning against the headboard or wall and put the sham pillows in front of them. Then you can put your throw pillows in front of all that.

So, ultimately, it’s not THAT hard to have your bed look like this:

[Via]

[Via]

Wash your sheets once a week or at max once every two weeks, as a rule of thumb. Always wash guest sheets between guests.

When you are a guest, ask your host what they want you to do with your sheets at the end of the visit. Don’t assume they want the bed made up with dirty sheets OR that they want you to strip it.

Of course, if you wish to sleep in a rats nest of unwashed, unmade sheets, that’s pretty much your business.