Party Planning

We hosted two different kinds of parties in the past couple of weeks. Two Sundays ago, we had a small dinner party with a group that we’ve known for 30 years. We spent six hours around the dining room table eating and drinking. The booze and the conversation flowed. Last Saturday, we invited everybody that we know to a backyard keg party.

The small dinner party was easy. The bigger party was more difficult socially, because we have moved a lot and have friends in very different groups. The professors don’t necessary mix well with bikers, although we have one friend who is a center of that Venn diagram. I get nervous when I’m not sure if people are having a good time, so it was difficult to relax until the crowd thinned out to a small group in front of the fire.

Few people host parties these days. (Here’s a how-to article.) I get it. It’s stressful and expensive. People’s social skills are rusty, which necessitates that I flit from group to group to make sure that people are having fun. But big parties are so important. It’s only through socializing that we improve. And being social animals, we need to fight for our right to party.

Have you hosted a party lately?

I, of course, was too busy to take pictures during our party. Instead, I took pictures of the leftovers and the day-after mess:


27 thoughts on “Party Planning

  1. I like to host parties where I don’t have to decide the invitation list – mainly, my book group meeting, once or twice a year. Between a half dozen and a dozen people, 15 at the most. Everyone loves my shaker lemon pie and so I have to make it, and then I get some good cheese and other snacks.

    I’ve hosted a couple of large parties, one when I and a good friend got tenure. We basically invited half the town and people brought stuff and I made some of my signature sangria. But mainly I am very conscientious guest at other people’s potluck-type events. I take said sangria (or, if I really like the person and there is a special request, the lemon pie), or some other good dish. I went to two this past weekend: a NYT savory bread pudding recipe to one, cornbread to the other.

    Cyclist-bikers, or motorcycle-bikers? I would thinks profs would overlap heavily with the former, not so much with the latter.


  2. I don’t believe NYT trend articles. They all seem to be based on one journalist seeing something happen with two people and deciding it is totally a trend and happening everywhere (eye roll).

    Parties are common in my social group(s) and always have been. There is a reason I have over 40 plates, though I don’t need that many anymore now that kids have grown and moved away. Still, I usually have a small dinner party every other month or so – usually no more than 6 people. A couple colleagues at work also have regular dinner parties. These frequently involve board games after dinner.

    There are cookouts throughout my neighborhood during summer – usually potluck where the host supplies the main dish and everyone else brings sides. Three male neighbors get together to host a ‘meat fest’ potluck every summer. All are married, but it is their show (the three provide the meat – brisket, smoked turkey, ribs, and do the work) and they expect the men in the group they invite to make and bring the sides. Women just need to show up. This does lead to jalapenos stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon being considered a vegetable, but it is fun.


    1. “considered a vegetable” – one of my mother-in-law’s favorite stories from the Reagan administration concerned the attempt to define ketchup as a vegetable for the purpose of counting vedge in school lunches. Then-Senator Heinz was in the committee holding hearings on this and he said that he had some familiarity with ketchup and that it should not be considered to be a vegetable.


    2. Wow, your description is not my experience. Mind you, I am extremely introverted, but I find others with more extroversion and social skills also bemoan the lack of reciprocal social gatherings in our neck of the woods. And, everything seems to be organized by women, when it does happen. I love that your neighborhood meat fest (sides! planning! is done by the men).


      1. And I don’t get what you describe. How do those people socialize (especially those with small kids)? Our solution was always have people over, feed them and play board games. Sometimes it was feed them spaghetti, but the food was never the point. Don’t they have super bowl or world cup parties? I do a Kentucky Derby party every year. I get my mint julep fix for the year (really, one a year is enough). Do they just not socialize or is it only done at restaurants and bars?


      2. Fascinating that our experiences are so different (though, mind you, I am sure that I am an outlier). I can’t use my experience to generalize, but I’d say my main socialization is with family (including extended family). And, when other groups get together, it’s often at restaurants, so no one hosting. When kids were younger, there were playdates, sports, and sports parties.

        There are a few big parties a year, but, a number of them are fundraisers (for the schools, or other organizations). And, there are the *big* birthdays (40th, 50th, etc.).

        When my kiddo read your comment, he said “Is she from the south??” (that’s a foreign country to him). Indeed, some of the folks I know here who say that there’s a lack of “reciprocal socializing” comment that they invite people to their home, but break the social contract on a whim (i.e. don’t say whether they’ll come, cancel at the last minute) and don’t reciprocate (and, I don’t think it’s for a lack of enjoyment, but because the “rules” aren’t natural to them).

        I do detect a hint of discontent over the socialization landscape — among those who have different traditions of socialization (though mind you, my experience isn’t representative, but, I have very low socialization wants).


      3. I like being the host *because* I am an introvert. I have a clear role and much of the conversation I am expected to make is ‘scripted’ because of the role – ‘let me take your coat’ or ‘have you met X?’ I also have a ready made excuse to be alone in the kitchen if I need a break – I just needed to get more ice, more napkins etc.

        I also control who is there because I control the guest list. It is much easier for me to socialize with 6-8 people than with 20 or more. The huge, 30+ person dinners were driven by my ex-husband. I haven’t done one since we divorced.

        “Indeed, some of the folks I know here who say that there’s a lack of “reciprocal socializing” comment that they invite people to their home, but break the social contract on a whim (i.e. don’t say whether they’ll come, cancel at the last minute) and don’t reciprocate (and, I don’t think it’s for a lack of enjoyment, but because the “rules” aren’t natural to them). ”

        To me, this is not about not knowing the rules, this is about those people not caring about how their behavior affects others.


      4. I like to host because I have a kid with autism. He used to HATE going to other people’s parties – too loud and overstimulating. Now, he’s fine going to other people’s house, but there’s still a small chance that he might do something really socially embarrassing, like gagging when he sees what other people cooked for dinner. Ian likes to around social activities at our house, because he can be part of the fun if things are going smoothly and then can hide up in his room if the other people are too annoying.

        If I host, I can control the environment to be Ian-friendly.


      5. I’ve been thinking about this issue, what the “rules” are when people come from different backgrounds and communities. Certainly the reciprocation would appear to be rudeness (and the Southern raised people in my social circle certainly see it that way). But as an example, I hear that French people (in France) don’t generally invite people to their homes unless they know them very well, as in, nearly family (from books, so I don’t know how accurate this characterization is). If that characterization was accurate, you could see Americans inviting French to their homes and seeing the invitee as being rude, while the French see the behavior as an odd quirk of American behavior, one they didn’t avoid for other social reasons.

        Same goes for the perception of non-equal relationships — say, professors, who might host parties at home for their labs/colleagues, but wouldn’t accept reciprocal hosting from graduate students (and post-docs, and even junior professors). And, say, if you are invited to the Gates or Bezos home? do you reciprocate? maybe not, and trying to might be seen as overly forward and potentially awkward, depending on circumstances. Those examples might be specific enough that the “rules” are understood, but there are more complicated ones — in which the relationships aren’t understood or aren’t clear, in our apparently egalitarian social relationships.

        Why am I going on and on? because I think that some of these questions are a byproduct of an increasingly diverse world (though some of the behavior is indeed simple selfishness, which might extend to selfishness beyond money or time or energy, but also in risk taking and responsibility to community).


  3. I’ve been incredibly social these past few weeks, but not in a party-hosting way. Two friends (different days, from different times in my life) passed through town and I met them for lunch. Then my oldest friend and her husband and daughter passed through during her first East Coast trip in about 10 years (she’s from Portland, OR). Unfortunately, the 18 hours she was in town overlapped with an engagement party of a dear friend’s daughter (and I’m close to her daughter and fiancé too) so I invited them to the party too (I checked with the host!). And then last week my sister came to town on her way to pick up a dog she was adopting. Add to that two kids’ birthdays and the 4th of July, and a trip next weekend to Roscoe for a big party at the farm where I was married, and I am pretty much socially exhausted.


  4. We’re hosting a teen birthday party soon. It will probably involve:

    –The Cat Returns

    I did host a LARGE potluck in January, but the last time I hosted something resembling a dinner party was very, very early in GWB’s presidency.


  5. Not to sound like a broken record, but this is another example of the age/cohort/period issue. Most people host and attend lots of parties when they are in school or are yuppies, because most of their friends are nearby and the standards for a “party” are low: a stereo and some alcohol (or other substances). Most young parents don’t do much in the way of parties because (i) they are tired and (ii) it’s a nuisance, finding a babysitter etc. Most empty nesters and young retirees are very socially active, having time, big houses, extra money, etc.

    We usually have one or two dinner parties a year in the City and one in the summer. In the City, that means two couples because our table isn’t big enough for more. In the summer, it might be 6 or 8 guests. We haven’t had a big cocktail party in a long time (since the day Lehman filed). We also host a lots of church events at our house, which I’m not counting.


    1. Yes, definitely a segment of the world (a fairly small, but real) where “when Lehman filed” is a historical marker. My memory is a conversation about which car (porsche, bmw, benz) was going to be driven on a road trip across France between summer houses (reported second hand, I am psychologically incapable of being part of such a conversation). People’s memories are short, though, so I won’t be surprised if people forget and return to the uncorrected world.


    2. I also host a lot of “church” events (at our UU fellowship, which is not really a church but like one in many ways), and I realized that as a board member I’ve spent a huge amount of time planning and organizing those, and encouraging people to come. This is stressful in itself and so may take time and energy away from planning stuff at home. It also involves many of the same people I would otherwise have over for dinner.


    3. y81,

      I think you’re correct about stage of life.

      I was chatting with a psychologist today, and she said that family-organized (GULP!) birthday parties tend to disappear as a thing around 16, partly because the kids don’t see the point if they’re not boozing it up…


  6. Everything changed after 2008. Before 2008, Steve’s firm used to throw huge Christmas parties for the families. Three floors of the office were put aside for entertainment for the children – Free Build a Bears, free food, cookie decorating, pictures with Santas, art projects, guys dressed up as Elmo. They must have spent hundreds of thousands on that party. Coming from academia, we were stunned by the whole business, but my kids loved it. I dressed them up in matching GAP sweaters and took lots of pictures.

    All that ended in 2008 and never came back. As did departmental holiday parties and free lunches and bonuses. Bonuses were a big problem, because they essentially doubled one’s salary and people expected them and bought homes based on the assumption of the double salary.

    Our entire area of the country is based on Wall Street money, so there was a trickle down effect around. Home renovations ended, so contractors lost their businesses. Home values dropped. Restaurants went out of business.

    Both Steve and I think that Wall Street needed a major correction, and that’s what happened, but there were also lots of people – good people – who were hurt in the process.


  7. I admire Laura for her deliberate choice to host. I do think that the trends aren’t just generational, but combine with other trends (including a diminished role of the church in community/public life), internet (and internet communities), decreased trained social skills, and increasing diversity (in food, in style, in expectations).

    I’d like to hear more about the community characteristics that develop the in real world social life that Tulip describes — workplace dynamics, including longevity, neighborhood, child ages, stability, community diversity, . . . .

    On my block, families across the street (white, catholic) would arrange a easter egg hunt & an end of summer potluck. Those families now have children in HS and college; the mothers are working now. I really appreciated the events, but am not suited to being the host, but am feeling concern about it. We have some new younger families in the neighborhood, who would appreciate an opportunity to meet each other, but are in that busy stage of childraising.

    OK, I’ve convinced myself that I need to pay forward my admiration of Laura’s efforts by trying to start something, even if not well suited.


  8. I remember a while back when all the introverts were talking about “Quiet” and other celebrations/support of introversion and though I am an extreme introvert in all the ways described in those books and articles, I thought how important those who make the effort to build communities are. I really can’t flit between clusters introducing people to one another, but I have benefited greatly from those who can, but also chose to do it.


  9. As an example of my “diversity of communities” questions with regard to social interaction — I’ll bring one up that came up recently in my social circles:

    Is it rude to not share food? or to expect people to share food? Does the sharing rule depend on the style of food?

    Presumably everyone would agree that it would be rude to expect other people to share food while refusing to share yours.


  10. Knowing how to cook and bake makes hosting very cheap, if you’re interested in being frugal. I host regular dinner parties with a group of friends (once a week, rotating) and end up hosting about once a month. I also live in a 300 sq ft studio. I can feed 6-7 people a full meal + dessert for well under $20, which is less than the cost of going out to eat. Guests bring beverages. Anything bean-based is usually filling, healthy, and really cheap (in addition to being delicious, if done well).

    In general baking is a great skill because high-quality baked goods are costly to buy pre-prepared and few people actually know how to bake, so everyone is incredibly appreciative/impressed. Pie crusts can be a bit of a pain in my studio apartment, but an apple pie is around $5 (possibly less) in ingredients and so much more appreciated than an equivalent bottle of wine at a potluck. If I’m feeling lazy, chocolate chip cookies (or better yet brownies because dropping cookies on a baking sheet can be a pain) can be mixed up in 10 minutes and are about equivalent in ingredient costs (probably $2-3, but I’m not going to calculate precisely). High quality baking chocolate is expensive and you can find brownie recipes that call for $$$ of chocolate, but there are also really tasty cocoa-powder based recipes that are almost as decadent and still miles better than anything store bought.

    I don’t throw parties in my studio, but I used to when I lived in a two-bedroom. Most guests would bring alcohol or snacks to the party, and I would offer an array of snacks (chips, cheese and crackers, crudites) and generally a small quantity of beer/wine and as well as pre-mixed punch, which allows for a lower quality of alcohol and allows me to stretch the amount.

    In general I’m of the attitude that if you’re friends are snobs such that they’d look down on your hospitality, then you need to get new friends. If I hold a party and people are upset I haven’t served organic strawberries or my crackers are store brand or my liquor isn’t top shelf, they are more then welcome to not partake in the free food or drink.


    1. “In general I’m of the attitude that if you’re friends are snobs such that they’d look down on your hospitality, then you need to get new friends.”

      ^^^This^^^ It ought to be about the company, not the food anyway.

      To BJs point about rules: I have some very foodie friend/colleagues and we bring in food for the others to try or invite each other over to try something new. In this way, we are breaking the ‘rule’ that you shouldn’t serve something you haven’t made before (you’re not supposed to experiment on your guests) but it is the point of what we are sharing, so we do it gleefully.

      I live in northern Virginia, so many of my neighbors are not native to the area (and neither am I). But, we don’t have the problems you mentioned. I should also note that my neighborhood is mixed race, so diverse, but has a pretty large number of retired military (2 of the meat fest guys are retired military).


  11. I grew up in a partying family. My father loved to throw parties, and to a lesser extent my mother does too. I remember having parties pretty regularly as a kid, in addition to things like weekly summer potlucks. Our community was mostly church based, but my dad would also invite anyone in the neighborhood. Sometimes he’d just leave the front door open and put out a sandwich sign on the sidewalk that said: “Party! come on in.” We lived in a socio-economically and racially diverse urban neighborhood and most of our closest neighbors didn’t actually speak English. They would enthusiastically show up at our parties and were good friends with my parents.

    My mother was too busy to party on that schedule, but she doesn’t bat an eye at hosting a holiday party in our house for 200 people, and she considers getting meat and cheese trays from our local German deli and only preparing dessert and sides to be “cheating.” One year we made about a thousand Swedish meatballs as part of our smorgasbord. She only throws parties for 50+ people once or twice a year, but now that she’s retired she is non-stop hosting dinner parties, book clubs, lunches, and all other sorts of smaller parties.

    Also, it should be “your,” not “you’re” in the final paragraph above.


  12. More:

    –I get a pretty big social fix from being on the kid birthday party circuit (and with a 5-year-old youngest I have years of this ahead of me).
    –We’ve been a bit bad about reciprocity (especially from empty nester older colleagues), but in our defense, we moved here with little kids, and we still have a little kid, and as I’ve mentioned, we last attempted a dinner party early in the GWB administration.
    –We did a grad movie night the first few years we lived in TX.
    –Husband’s department does a monthly grad potluck, mostly hosted at grad homes. The department provides the meat (for example, BBQ), paper goods, extra tables and extra chairs.
    –We bought our large home near campus from an empty nester colleague of my husband, who had previously hosted a number of potlucks. When we announced the purchase, people did express the expectation that we would step into their hosting duties…As we had a new baby when we bought the house, I hemmed and hawed. When we finally volunteered to host a couple years later, I broke into a rash which caused us to cancel (we thought it might be something infectious), but which turned out to be hives from stress.
    –However, in January, nearly 5 years after we bought the potluck-haunted house, we finally hosted a potluck for husband’s department (grad students and faculty). It was dozens of people and it was fine, although having about 10 preschoolers in our home turned out to have an effect similar to a indoor tornado. I have since suggested to husband that we can do one potluck a year.


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