How to Choose a Venue for Your Party

I 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.

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

As 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.

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.

Potluck Etiquette

Church ladies know how to potluck! [Via Wikimedia Commons

Church ladies know how to potluck! [Via Wikimedia Commons

If you are throwing a potluck, you are not “hosting,” you are “organizing” as hosting implies that you are providing everything for a party.

Potlucks are not appropriate for wedding receptions as wedding receptions are supposed to serve as a thank you to the guests for doing the important duty of attending the wedding. However, you can get away with it in certain circumstances: having a VERY small wedding of mostly locals who are enthusiastic about the idea. It’s also a lovely idea to throw a potluck FOR a couple who otherwise wouldn’t have a reception.

For less formal gatherings, a potluck can be a great way for a bunch of people to get together without it being a significant cost for one person/family.

However, if you want to plan a potluck, make it clear when issuing the invitation. Do not pull a bait and switch:

“Hey, do you want to come over for dinner on Saturday?”

“Sure! That sounds so fun!”

“Great! Come at seven and bring a salad to feed 8!”

That is not okay. You must say something like, “Hey everyone, it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other and it would be really fun to hang out and play board games and have dinner on Saturday. We can have it at my place if everyone will bring a dish. I will grill burgers and hot dogs, so bring some sides, desserts, and drinks that go with them!”

And if you are the one with the great idea to host a potluck, please actually make some effort towards planning. In addition to food, you will need serving utensils, plates, cups, silverware, etc. You want to also help guide the party so you don’t all end up bringing potato salad. Making a party potluck doesn’t mean it doesn’t take any work. That being said, don’t be a potluck dictator! Letting people know what categories of items are needed is great, telling people that they must bring a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is not. Also make sure you have a convenient area to set up the food in a central location so everyone has a chance to access it.

For the potluck attendee, of course it goes without saying that it is beyond rude to show up at a potluck empty-handed. It is also rude to bring significantly less than anyone else. Don’t show up with one $2 2-liter of soda when everyone else is bringing their famous lasagnas and layer cakes! It’s fine if you can’t cook, just say that you will bring all the paper goods or 5 2-liters of soda- something comparable!

Another good rule is to bring at least enough to feed the number of people you are bringing with you plus a few more (ie a couple with two kids should bring way more food than a single person!)

If you have significant and difficult dietary needs, make sure you bring something substantial that you know you will be able to eat, or just decide that potlucks are not your bag and decline the invitation. Don’t get there and complain there is nothing you can eat.

Never criticize a dish someone else brings. If you don’t like it, simply don’t eat it.

Your dish should be ready to serve when you arrive- you won’t be able to guarantee that there will be fridge or oven space (unless you clear it with the host in advance.)

When serving yourself, be sure to take small enough amounts that there will be plenty of food for the people behind you. It sucks to be last in line and have nothing left to eat besides some melting jello salad.

Don’t go back for seconds until everyone has gotten firsts.

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!