Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Do I Have to Tell My Party Guests Why I’m Charging Them?”

Each year we organize a community Christmas party which is a potluck party but we charge $10 for Adults and $5 for children 6-16. The party is open to anyone who wants to come and the fee covers the rental hall which can hold 250 people and also the entertainment put on by a professional DJ/KJ. The total usually comes to near $1000 for those two expenses, not counting other expenses like plates, cup, forks, spoons, and heating tin containers to keep food warm throughout the night. Decorations are included but must be replaced as they wear out. The only out-of-pocket expense other than the entrance fee is for drinks at the bar.

The question is: are we obligated to tell people where their money is going? The entertainment alone makes for a fun night but, unfortunately, a few regulars — maybe four out of 250 — question us. We have given left over money to a local pantry and to a few people who had family situations requiring financial help. We don’t advertise this get-together as a non-profit party, and we have expenses as I mentioned that we need help paying for. Are we okay in what we are doing? — Party Organizer

I have so many questions for you! Like: do you actually get repeat guests year after year? Do people really pay $10 a pop AND bring food AND pay for their own drinks at this get-together and still come back the following year? That seems kind of nuts! Let’s say you’re a family of four — two adults and two kids — and you go to this party and the adults have two drinks each, which maybe run an average of $5 (and that’s a conservative estimate) and the kids each have a soda at $2.50 a pop. That’s $55 for a Bring-Your-Own-Food party! No wonder people are asking where their entrance fee is going.

You ask if what you’re doing is “ok,” and that depends entirely on how you define “ok.” Is it “ok” legally? I’m not sure (maybe one of our lawyer readers can weigh in). It seems to me that if your party can potentially net $1500 ($10 per adult at a max of 250, minus the $1000 overhead expenses), then you should be letting participants know that this is a for-profit affair. And if I were you, I’d talk to a lawyer to make sure all your I’s are dotted and your T’s are crossed.

If you’re asking whether what you’re doing is “ok” in terms of etiquette or social appropriateness, then my answer is a much easier NO. Now, admittedly, I’m of the mind that if you can’t afford to throw a party, you don’t throw one. And unless something is advertised as a for-profit party or a fund-raiser with a clear explanation of where the funds will be going, you simply don’t charge your friends to come to a party that you’re throwing. It’s in bad taste.

I know I’m not going to change your mind on this matter; if you’ve been counting on your guests to foot the bill of a $1000 party this long — how many years have you been doing this? — then I hardly expect you’re going to start paying for it yourself now, or that you’ll stop throwing a party people have theoretically enjoyed attending simply because some internet advice columnist called you tacky. (By the way, I’m calling you tacky; I mean, charging people for the decorations at your party??). However! I would urge you to do one or a mix — or, preferably, all — of the following: 1) make the party donation-based with a suggested donation subtly posted somewhere near the entrance; 2) Supply alcohol and other beverages at no extra cost to the participants; 3) Post a flyer by the entrance or direct participants to a website where you say something along the lines of: “Thank you for your donation which covers the overhead costs of the party. Any extra funds left over will go to our local food pantry or will be dispersed to families in need, at our discretion.

*Overhead costs include: Venue, entertainment, plates, utensils, and heat for food.”

Again, I’d highly recommend you speak to a lawyer before throwing your next party and make sure your ass is covered, particularly since some of the “regulars” are beginning to question things. If you’re pocketing any of the money you make from this party — even with the intention of doling it out to people “in situations” as you see fit, I would think you have a legal responsibility to let people know that. You may also be responsible for obtaining a permit. Any time there’s an exchange of money for goods or services (including entertainment) — especially when a couple hundred people are involved — you need to make sure you’re on the right side of the law. And if you want to be on the right side of etiquette, stop charging your guests to come to your party.

***************

You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

163 comments… add one
  • avatar

    csp December 6, 2012, 9:14 am

    I think the charge is fine if it wasn’t pot luck/pay for drinks. We have neighbors that have a big halloween party every year. It is $20pp and that covers the space rental/buffet dinner/booze. Everyone is fine paying because we know those things add up. But seriously, $10/per person potluck seems wierd.

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    • avatar

      csp December 6, 2012, 9:15 am

      Another example. I am in Philadelphia and we have these things called Beef and Beer that raise money for a charity like a club sports team or family in need. It is just that , beef and beer and that is it. Still, it might be 20 pp but it is all you can drink.

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      • I'm An Earth Rocker!

        Vicious Delicious December 7, 2012, 12:28 am

        Philly! So that’s why I often relate to your responses, csp! 😀

        We’ve had family reunions but split the cost for tent (outdoor, chairs and tables only), which averaged $5 pp $10 for families, $0 for the low budgeted. We all BYOB, and either a dish OR utensils were an option to bring. We listed on invite cost and details on rentals, and there may have been $40 left which went for more booze! We all planned and agreed after being sick of only seeing each other at funerals…

        When I solely plan and host, I get everything myself and most people are generous and tend to contribute by choice.

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    • avatar

      ktfran December 6, 2012, 9:46 am

      Agreed. I completely understand helping out, but I wouldn’t want to also bring a dish and pay for drinks once I’m there. Either have everything included and people split the cost or scale down the party, make it pot luck and have it at the house.

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      • avatar

        csp December 6, 2012, 9:59 am

        right, I have gone to parties where there is a “pizza fund” jar just to curb expenses. Or even once I went to a potluck but 1/2 the people were told to bring beer, wine, or the ingredients for a signature drink. I feel like you are fleeceing your friends and neighbors.

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle December 6, 2012, 9:19 am

    First of all, WWS. I hope you take all of her suggestions.

    Second of all– WHAT ARE YOU (meaning, who is “we”?) Are you a general community organizer? Are you from a church? How many people does “we” include? And why can’t you all split the cost instead of charging a pretty exorbitant entrance fee? (I would probably gripe about that amount even if it was a cover charge to get into, say, a nice bar. I definitely wouldn’t pay $10 to come to a potluck party & THEN have to pay for my own drinks, too)

    I do think it’s nice of you to organize this event, & I’m happy your guests are having a good time. I’m sure they’ll be even happier to attend if you re-work the party to include Wendy’s 3 suggestions, while tossing the mandatory through-the-door fee.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest December 6, 2012, 10:34 am

      Yup, that’s my biggest question too: What are “you?”

      Secondly, I agree with the rest who have said if you are charging (presuming you are not just a woman who wants to charge people she invites to a party), you should up the fee and cover food, drinks, etc.
      I know my kid’s school does something LIKE this, where you pay $50 and its buffet, drinks, etc. (all inclusive,basically), but its a fundraiser with clear terms.

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    • avatar

      Meg Murry December 6, 2012, 11:09 am

      My guess is that the “community” is a group of people with a single thing in common, like the LGBT community, the Wiccan community, the Pakistaini community, the Single Moms community, the Buddist community, the chemistry PhD students community, Harley bikers community – so it’s a self selecting group with lots of “friend of friends”. One other idea that no one has mentioned – are there 10 families or individuals that would be really sad to see the party not happen? Would they be willing to pay $100 each to make sure the hall was rented? Anyone else really really care about the DJ and want to sponsor that or pay for it? Or anyone in the community know a bar or restaurant with a party room willing to hold the evnt for free or cheap? Or anyone willing to float the money for the bartender in advance then charge an extra $1 each for the drinks in the hope it will make up the difference, and willing to eat the cost if it doesn’t? Put up a sign thanking your “sponsors”, put a donation jar with a clear note as to what the donations will be going to (fund next year’s party with excess going to Operation Sandy, etc) and done! No cover charge needed.

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary December 6, 2012, 9:20 am

    I’m just confused on what this community party is. Is it a church party? For your neighborhood? Do you live in a small town? I think if everyone agrees on the cost, and this has been going on for years, it may be unorthodox but it’s probably OK. To be on the safe side I would use one of Wendy’s suggestions and put a notice by the door either about where the money goes, or a suggested donation. I don’t think the LW is pocketing any money. Most people probably assume the money goes to overhead costs, but $10/per adult does seem like a lot considering they pay for their own drinks and bring the food. Maybe just have people start bringing their own drinks (if this is possible? an american legion or VFW or other rental space may not allow it.)

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    • avatar

      csp December 6, 2012, 10:02 am

      I was thinking maybe it is like my neighborhood. There are 500 homes in my neighborhood and there is a commitee for different events like easter egg hunts, fourth of July, stuff like that. So maybe it is something like that.

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      • avatar

        csp December 6, 2012, 10:04 am

        But, I was just thinking, if it was a neighborhood committee. They would just keep the money in the social account for the next event. To just use it to get new decorations is wierd.

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    • Jess

      Jess December 6, 2012, 10:36 am

      Same here! Maybe a neighborhood party? I can totally see if it were a neighborhood association party, that it would make sense to charge. I’m not clear about the nature of a community party.

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  • avatar

    emjay December 6, 2012, 9:20 am

    WWS! I also agree this is tacky. I believe that if you cannot afford the party then you should not be throwing it. How do you throw a party that people are already spending their own money on making or buying the food they are going to be eating and then ask them to pay an enterance fee and for drinks and decorations. To be honest, it looks like you charge to be reimbersed the money you are laying out to have this party, so you are pocketing the money. So my advice is, if you cannot afford to foot the bill, then you should not be throwing this party. And also I would question why, if I am bringing food or drink, am I going to be charged to get in and also drink.

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    • avatar

      emjay December 6, 2012, 9:26 am

      And I just wanted to add that if you discontinue the potluck part of it and have it catered, then I believe it would be OK to charge an enterance fee with a sign stating exactly where the money goes so it does not look as if u are pocketing the money.

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      • avatar

        csp December 6, 2012, 10:03 am

        totally agree

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest December 6, 2012, 10:36 am

      Wonder if after the reimbursement, she actually even pays her own $10 entrance fee.

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      • FireStar

        FireStar December 6, 2012, 10:55 am

        Throwing a party is work! I’d let them waive it in lieu of set up/clean up duty…

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  • avatar

    Amanda December 6, 2012, 9:21 am

    LW, do you work for the community you live in or are you just a citizen of your community throwing a party? If it’s the former, you should be OK with throwing a community party that raises funds (check with your lawyer), but if it’s the latter, then I’m really surprised that you have guests attending your party. Why people would pay to go to someone’s party, pay for their drinks and bring food without the money going to a non-profit cause does not make sense to me. In this case, don’t throw a party unless you can afford to pay for your guests.

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    • avatar

      kerrycontrary December 6, 2012, 9:27 am

      Yeh I think it comes down to “don’t throw a party you can’t afford.” For example, for thanksgiving my parents have like 30 people over. Do you know how expensive that is? We use organic food, buy all the beer/wine/liquor, and cook all the food. No one brings any substantial dishes usually, and we would never charge anyone. But it’s ok because my parents can afford it. Then, one of my cousins will do the whole thing for christmas. But why do you need to throw such a party in a rented space with a DJ? You can have just as much fun when combining a little bit of alcohol and a group of adults who know each other. I think the costs on this party could be dramatically cut.

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  • avatar

    EB December 6, 2012, 9:22 am

    yeah am also failing to see the appeal of this shindig…

    and i would guess for every guest who has outright questioned you to your face there are at least 10 more thinking the exact the same thing/discussing it behind your back

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    • katie

      katie December 6, 2012, 9:41 am

      preach.

      i have heard that in restaurants, for every one person who will complain about the food, there are 10 people who had the same problem and didnt say anything…

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  • KKZ

    KKZ December 6, 2012, 9:25 am

    Since she said this is a community party, that makes me think it’s somewhat more public than a private party with friends and family. I agree it’s tacky to charge admission to a private gathering, but a “ticket” price for a community event is not unheard of.

    Maybe that’s the way the LW could frame it to guests. Invite them, give a ticket price, and a footnote disclosing what the ticket cost covers.

    Now, ticket cost + paying for booze + bringing food, yeah, that does seem a little over the top. Could he/she bump up the ticket price just a bit and offer an open bar in exchange?

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  • katie

    katie December 6, 2012, 9:27 am

    ok, so im seeing this as more of a huge town-wide (church-wide?) party instead of just a big party you throw for your friends… so, in that instance, i dont think its wrong to charge people for the costs related. however, i dont then understand why its a potluck- why isnt the whole thing just catered? why isnt it just an open bar? to me it seems like it is much more complicated then it could be… if i were you, i would approach different restaurants or caterers or wedding vendors or whoever and ask them if they would like to be a part of this. open bar all night, buffet style food all night, entertainment all night all wrapped up in a flat fee at the door. that will make it so much easier for you when you advertise- $20 at the door for drinks all night, food all night, dancing all night! ect..

    other then that, i completely understand why people are starting to question where their money is going. people dont see the overhead costs related to a restaurant. thats why food costs so much more at a restaurant then it does at home… i can go out to a restaurant and get a steak meal for around $40, $50-60 if its nice with drinks. if i was at home, that same meal would cost me less then $10. BUT, when i cook at home, im not paying for the invisible overhead costs like rent, heat, electricity, ect. if you are making people pay at the door and then also pay for their food and their drinks, what are they really paying for at the door?

    i think you just need to approach this much more like a party planner/caterer ect would. stop being just a person who throws a big party, and look at the big picture a little more and just become a little more professional about it.

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    • avatar

      Eagle Eye December 6, 2012, 9:34 am

      Yeah, I think that I read it similarly to you, the simple fact that she’s assuming that she’s going to get more than 100 people (to cover the price of the event) makes me think that this isn’t a small get together type of thing but some sort of community (church?) wide event.

      However, it should definitely be streamlined and there should be at least the perception that the guests are ‘getting something’ for their $10, which in the current setup it doesn’t really look like it. By streamlining the whole event, having an open bar and getting the meal catered even if you have to double the price, it will, at the very least, seem like you’re getting something for the $20 or so per person.

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      • katie

        katie December 6, 2012, 9:37 am

        exactly- the guests need to “get something” out of the cover charge. that is exactly what restaurants and bars have to do when they charge at the door.. you gotta be creative and figure out ways to make money! in this case, it should be super easy, though, if this LW is really un-interested in making money and just wants to throw a nice party. breaking even in this case is SUPER easy if she would approach it the right way.

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      • avatar

        Eagle Eye December 6, 2012, 9:41 am

        Also, who’s ever throwing the party should be okay with the idea of losing money on this whole venture, unless she is specifically organizing it into a charity, $20 may still fall short if she does chose to streamline since people may eat and drink more than $10 or so of food and alcohol but that kinda needs to be okay, since its a party, not a business venture!

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle December 6, 2012, 9:52 am

        This, exactly. When you throw a party, you inevitably wind up eating (not literally) at least some of the cost.

        I like the ticket or general cover fee idea only IF the LW changes this dinner from a potluck to fully catered. And definitely open bar.

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle December 6, 2012, 9:52 am

        (& then she can invite us all 🙂 )

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      • bagge72

        bagge72 December 6, 2012, 11:40 am

        You also don’t need to provide open bar. I think peopel would be fine having it catered buffet style, and still have to pay for their drinks.

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      • avatar

        ktfran December 6, 2012, 9:52 am

        I would glad pay $20 or $25 if I new that included entertainment, food and drinks all night! I agree that the host and hostess should look into this instead.

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    • KKZ

      KKZ December 6, 2012, 9:48 am

      Another option would be to cater part of it – maybe appetizers and meal, if there is to be one – and then have everyone bring a dessert to share.

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    • avatar

      emjay December 6, 2012, 3:33 pm

      I know a lot of catering halls throw holiday parties with a flat rate and it. Includes an open bar , food, a DJ and more. Maybe the LW should reconsider doing something at a catering hall and the people who RSVP are advised that they are to pay for their plate(s) according to the hall’s price per person. Then it is a stress free event for every body and the people attending will know where their money is going without questioning the LW.

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  • avatar

    GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 9:29 am

    I personally beleive that when hosting an event, you host the event you can afford. If you invite a guest then treat them like a guest. Do you charge a $5 cover fee when you invite guests over for dinner to cover your electricity and updating your decor? No.

    The only exception is if you are a charity organization trying to raise money or an individual raising money to donate to a charity organization.

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  • avatar

    SweetPeaG December 6, 2012, 9:40 am

    Like others, I am confused about who the guests are in this situation.

    Last year, my fiance’s sister in law through a huge party on Christmas eve. She wanted something that would bring together all the branches of the family, so she had to rent a small hall to accomodate the large group. They ordered a bunch of pizza and stuff. I think someone they knew did the DJing. Each couple/family might have kicked in $20 to help her out. She asked if anyone would be interested in kicking this amount in before she rented the hall. I didn’t find it in the least bit tacky. I guess because I am not the kind of person that minds everyone in a family sharing in the costs of such an event. Likewise, when my friends get together, we often do a potluck. We usually just assume that’s how it goes. I am big on sharing! Caring is sharing, guys!

    However, this situation seems different. Who are these people coming to your big shindig? Are they all people you know very closely and it is sort of understood that since you go through the trouble of planning, everyone shares in the cost? If this is just a community event, it seems VERY odd that you would have it as a potluck. If you are going to charge, you need to provide food, entertainment, and maybe a few selections of alcohol (maybe just beer and wine?). You really can’t charge and ask them to bring food. If you are going to make it a strictly charity event, then you may need to go around asking restuarants/catering companies to donate food. And give all of the profits to the charity, which you make known.

    I am just not sure the in-between structure of this event works.

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    • katie

      katie December 6, 2012, 9:50 am

      my guess is that she is in some weird in-between phase of both of those. like, this started out as a smaller party, a potluck, and grew and grew and she hasnt grown the party or her methods of throwing the party with it.

      like i said, she just needs to approach this in a totally different way and think like a professional would.

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  • avatar

    temperance December 6, 2012, 9:48 am

    I don’t think I’d pay $10 for admission to a potluck. Why not just have it catered with that money?

    It’s weird that the guest fees are paying for the party decorations, IMO.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar December 6, 2012, 9:49 am

    I find it tacky when people host parties at their home, for selected invitees… and then for some reason throw in a cover charge. Once you are throwing a community party, open to the public, then a cover charge doesn’t bug me. But yes – you have to tell your guests where the money is going and more importantly, get all the permits you need to throw that type of public event. For my jurisdiction, that most definitely includes a liquor license as soon as there is sale of alcohol. To be honest with you, if this is something you do on the regular, then I would incorporate a separate entity to throw these parties because you are exposing yourself to significant personal liability by hosting a public event where anyone with $10 can attend – and drink alcohol.
    And as for the proceeds of the night – make that clear where that is going i.e. the your local shelter etc. The money shouldn’t be doled out at your discretion to the people you feel are in need because, quite frankly, wouldn’t those people only be your personal friends and family about whom you would have that particular knowledge? So just give the money in full (with no personal tax receipt) to a bonafide charity – and post signs to that effect.

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    • katie

      katie December 6, 2012, 9:55 am

      to add to the liability- i wonder about the liability of people bringing in food presumably made in their homes to then be consumed by people paying to be at a party. what happens if someone gets sick? what happens if a lot of people get sick? also, i know that in some states it is illegal to make food in a home and then sell it to the public, which would be essentially what is happening here…

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 10:16 am

        The venue for my wedding won’t allow us to do potluck or have any food there that wasn’t prepared by a professional. I was considering a potluck, having a (non-professional) friend do the food, doing lots of it myself beforehand, etc. The venue considers it a liability to them somehow, although I have no idea why. I don’t know where the line is between potluck BBQ in my backyard and potluck or homemade food for a private event at a venue, but whatever.

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      • avatar

        Eagle Eye December 6, 2012, 10:20 am

        Its all liability stuff, like what if someone is allergic to peanuts and there was a peanut dish at the potluck, I maybe wrong (all lawyers can correct me) but I think that the person who was allergic to peanuts could still sue the venue, even though they didn’t do any of the cooking.

        So, its for stuff like that.

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 11:29 am

        I mean, I get that there’s a liability. I just don’t get why it would fall on the venue and not on me. I’m willing to take the chance that my homemade wedding cake isn’t going to make anyone sick. But oh well. I would have gotten married in someone’s yard if I had realized that beforehand.

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      • katie

        katie December 6, 2012, 11:35 am

        see, with this i think that if you wrote a legally binding enough contract to go with it, you would be fine, and i dont know why more places dont do that. the venue can sign away its liability to you, provided you agree to accept the liability for yourself, you know?

        i also would not pick a place with such strict rules. i understand why they exist, but i need more flexibility, and i would be willing to accept the liability..

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      • avatar

        GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 11:54 am

        From our experience (owning and opperating a catering/banquet facility) if it comes down to court the judges have sided with the client rather than the company. Even with a pretty solid contract. Something as stupid as the temperature of the steak (steak was listed as “char-grilled” on the menu description but the client during the wedding was unhappy there were char marks on the steaks server to their guests) we lost out on and had to pay damages and the cost of the food back to the client. Because the judge was sypathetic to the client that she was “embarrassed” that the char-grilled steaks were served to her guest…what?? That’s how they are described on the menu! The wedding/food industry is ridiculous.

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 12:00 pm

        Umm that’s ridiculous. I don’t even know what to say about that.

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      • katie

        katie December 6, 2012, 12:02 pm

        yea, that makes sense, and that really IS ridiculous. i would have filed a complaint against that judge for even hearing such a ridiculous case…

        and really, how is having an iron clad contract not enough? thats legal. thats what the judge is supposed to go by. that judge sucks.

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      • avatar

        GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 12:23 pm

        The women also argued that the steak was “over cooked.” There was no temperature listed on the contract for the steak to be served at. The chef argued that the meat was served at medium to medium-well, which in his opinion is the “industry standard.” Of course neither party had any photographic evidence to back up their claims. So the judge picked the clients side. It was a ridiculous bullshit case through and through and the women has a well noted history of taking legal action against companies for BS reasons.

        Shit like this is why I will never enter into my family business. Ever.

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      • avatar

        temperance December 6, 2012, 2:03 pm

        People will always file suit against who they perceive to have the deepest pockets. The venue has liability insurance to cover such things, and are more able to pay high damages awards. Even if you personally contract for the liability, a judge might decide that the venue can’t discharge their liability in case of a suit.

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      • avatar

        GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 11:03 am

        EagleEye is right, it’s all about liability. My family owns a banquet hall (with their own onsite catering) and is very strict about allowing outside food to be served. If it comes into our kitchen and is served by our staff, we’re liable for any reactions/affects it could have on a guest (like a peanut allergy reaction). Meaning a wedding guest could sue our company for damages etc. Not a risk we are willing to take. We make very very few exceptions to this rule and those exceptions usually involve deserts or candy. Our culture is so sue happy we just can’t take the risk. (We’ve been sued for ridiculously things like the temperature a steak was served so…)

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      • katie

        katie December 6, 2012, 11:33 am

        like they said, it is all about liability, but different things can also play into it like local laws (like i said, in some places its illegal to serve things that didnt come out of a commercial, food inspector certified kitchen), how their business is set up, ect.

        the contracts regarding catering halls are especially tricky. we had a very intensive class on that in college, and the smallest things need to be payed attention to.. the best story my professor told was a guy who catered a wedding where there were 2 open bars and an ex-alcoholic uncle. the uncle went to both bars, ordered a double vodka, went back and told them he spilled his drink and ordered another. so thats 8 shots of vodka in a matter of minutes… he ended up passing out into his food during some important thing, like a speech or something, and the caterer was sued because his company served an alcoholic. he won the case because in his contract the question “is there any specific food allergies or concerns we should know about” had “nothing” written under it.

        the legalities of food consumption are crazy.

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      • avatar

        Lisa December 6, 2012, 10:21 am

        In the state of PA the party thrower is financially obligated and is liable for lawsuits if someone does get sick from food at a party. I work in the food service industry and I can honestly say that after taking all of the health board certifications that I would never go to a potluck dinner unless I knew the people who were cooking personally. With 250+ people you don’t know the cooking methods they use or the cleanliness of their kitchens so to me it wouldn’t be worth the risk.

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      • honeybeegood

        honeybeegood December 7, 2012, 4:16 pm

        I’m the same way after a long stint in food service. I have a hard time eating food that isn’t professionally or self prepared unless I’ve seen how people operate in their kitchen. A month or two ago I was reading a health food/fitness blog and the blogger had a pic of her fridge open- with raw meat on top of her strawberries. Yum salmonella-ella-ella. Maybe she thinks of food poisoning as a free colon cleanse?

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    • KKZ

      KKZ December 6, 2012, 10:20 am

      I would think that if the venue is providing the alcohol/bartending, the legal issue of permits and such would be covered?

      Don’t know about the potluck thing but I’m just thinking of any other event that you book a banquet hall for, usually the legal aspects are covered by the venue.

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      • FireStar

        FireStar December 6, 2012, 10:49 am

        It depends on the contract with the venue. I know some rental halls just provide the hall itself – you arrange for whatever you want inside of it and they make you sign an indemnity protecting them. Actually the last two halls we rented for family events were set up like that.
        It just seems like a significant risk to take – providing liquor to strangers – even in your own home you have an obligation to ensure no one leaves your home and drives home drunk. How would you monitor that in a party open to the public?

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      • avatar

        lemongrass December 6, 2012, 4:22 pm

        For my wedding we rented a charter bus and driver for all the guests. It cost about $500 I think but it was non-negotiable morally, socially and legally. I’ve never been to a wedding that hasn’t had a DD for the guests.

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 7:44 pm

        Whoaaaaaa. I’ve never heard of that!

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      • avatar

        lemongrass December 6, 2012, 9:23 pm

        Really? It’s totally the norm here. Most people just get a sober friend or two who have a van to do it but none of my friends are sober! Plus I used a central town where I didn’t know anyone who could do it.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph December 7, 2012, 1:26 am

        We are at a venue only 5 minutes from the hotel for my wedding, but we are hiring a bus to transport the guests to and from the wedding. It would really put a damper on my wedding if one of my friends got a DUI.

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      • avatar

        GatorGirl December 7, 2012, 8:48 am

        I’ve heard of this, but we decided not to rent a bus for our wedding. #1 being that we do not have the budget for it and #2 we’re all adults. Arranging responsible transportation is part of being an adult and drinking.

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      • avatar

        GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 11:09 am

        It depends on the state a ton. Alcohol sales are regulated primarily on a state level, so there is not one answer that will be correct in every situation.

        I do know that there are insurance policies called “event liability” policies that cover the policy holder in the event of guest injury, damage by a guest and alcohol related injuries etc. Of course every policy is super specifc, I’m generalizing. The quotes I’ve gotten for my upcoming wedding are around $200 for a million or so in coverage. Not bad in my opinion.

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie December 6, 2012, 9:52 am

    Eew with a capital EWWWW! Please accept my regret that I have far too much self respect to fund your thinly veiled PROFIT CENTER. There oughta be a law and maybe there already is….

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  • Dear Wendy

    Wendy December 6, 2012, 9:53 am

    FYI, I did ask some follow-up questions to this LW (whom I believe is a man, btw). I didn’t get a clear answer on who the “we” is, but it’s not a company. I got the feeling it was a family or maybe a small group of friends. The guests are “anyone who wants to come” — mostly “friends and others.”

    Reply Link
    • katie

      katie December 6, 2012, 10:00 am

      i find it funny that we all assume its a woman. i always assume its a woman, actually… lol

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      • avatar

        csp December 6, 2012, 10:08 am

        I assumed this was a woman too!

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle December 6, 2012, 10:25 am

        Oops, yeah. I tend to always assume a woman is writing in, unless they preface it with “I’m a man, and…”

        And Wendy– that makes things clearer, even though it’s totally still vague (if that makes sense). The wording was making me think it had to be some kind of committee event, or something like that.

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 9:53 am

    I agree with Wendy to the extent this is something you’re doing for friends and family. If you’re organizing some community-wide shindig or a gathering for your church or school or alumni group or whatnot, then I don’t think sharing the cost is tacky; I think it’s silly to assume *you* should have to fork over all the money when it’s for everyone’s benefit. But in that latter case, you’d just be the one organizing, and I would imagine there would be a committee of sorts helping in some way. … I dunno, it just seems weird. But like Wendy I’m dying to know who all comes, if people come back year after year, … if you play strip poker and if people swap wives.

    Also, shit, am I tacky? Tell me: for 4 years in a row I’ve thrown a trolley party. A trolley for the night ends up costing close to $70. The evite says, “To help cover the trolley rental cost, $20-30 per person would be appreciated.” Most, if not everyone, contribute something. A friend does the collection and then hands over a bunch of cash which adds up to close to $500-600, so I’m only out $100-200 for the rest of the trolley. I pay for the food and booze we have at my place before the trolley takes off, and I make sure to buy extra booze so we have enough to drink on the trolley while we bar hop, which isn’t too expensive because I buy cheap beer and mini bottles of wine for that part. Tacky? To answer some of Wendy’s questions: I have repeat guests, many who fly in for the occasion, and those guys get on my case when I fail to organize a trolley party (like this year, when my work/living situation was too up in the air to plan). Ok, I’m concluding that I’m not tacky. But shit now I’m scared. There are probably friends who think I’m tacky for this. That’s it, next trolley party is ON ME.

    p.s. You know that feeling when you take a multi-vitamin but don’t eat anything with it? I did that, again, and I think I’m gonna throw up. I’m never going to learn.

    Reply Link
    • katie

      katie December 6, 2012, 9:59 am

      my general thought is that if it is something special with an added cost to it, its fine to ask guests to contribute. so, if you were just throwing a party at your house, yea, you should buy the food and drinks. however, your throwing a cool trolley into the mix, which is awesome for everyone, and so i wouldnt mind at all contributing to the cost of that.

      think about it like this: if you invite a friend over (to your home) for dinner, you wouldnt charge them for food, of course. but, if you invited a friend out to a trapeze class with you, they would probably pay for their share of the lessons, right? thats the difference to me.

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      • avatar

        MMcG December 6, 2012, 11:49 am

        Exactly – it’s all about the element of something special. If it’s something unique or different that is above and beyond “usual” food/drink than I think that’s a different situation entirely – and as long as you are clear about it, no problem to ask others to chip in. Whether it be for unique transportation, special rental of a venue (Halloween party at a Haunted House for example versus at your house), interactive entertainment (we are going to play paintball and then party… everyone has to chip in for the paintball), etc. etc.

        AP – You are not tacky, and the trolley party (aside from my motion sickness) sounds awesome!

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    • avatar

      Eagle Eye December 6, 2012, 10:00 am

      No, I don’t think that you’re tacky, I think that you could even argue that its a party for the regulars who come every year and its kind of their party too? Does that make sense? Also, you’re not trying to make money, and its not like you’re making money, but if the guests want a trolley party and you can’t afford one without their help, then I think that’s okay.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 10:02 am

      * Oops, meant to write “close to $700”

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    • avatar

      ktfran December 6, 2012, 10:04 am

      1. I don’t think it’s tacky. And 2. How can I get on the party list?

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      • katie

        katie December 6, 2012, 10:08 am

        seriously.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 10:15 am

        It’s easy, you give me $20-30, haha.

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      • avatar

        ktfran December 6, 2012, 10:23 am

        Done. Maybe even $40 if I’m feeling generous.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 10:37 am

        Then you get priority seating!

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      • avatar

        ktfran December 6, 2012, 2:28 pm

        Awesome!

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      • katie

        katie December 6, 2012, 10:39 am

        Sign me up! We go troll Chicago food and bars yea? I’m so there.

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl December 6, 2012, 10:47 am

        ill give you $20! Oh wait I already did… wHErE is my mug!! 😉

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 11:05 am

        f.uck. it’s at my house. L is coming over after work. you should come too. i will fill your mug with wine.

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl December 6, 2012, 11:22 am

        I actually will stop by!

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 5:35 pm

        Oh good. You can see Texty Von Texter too; he’ll be there. Isn’t he dreamy?

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle December 6, 2012, 11:54 am

        I am so jealous you guys apparently all live near each other & can do things like this! Ahh.

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      • avatar

        lemongrass December 6, 2012, 4:29 pm

        1. Take your vitamins at night when you brush your teeth. If you feel nauseous, you’ll be asleep and unaware.

        2. Is a trolley party like a party bus? It sounds like it and if it is they are so fun! My friend throws an annual one for her birthday and asks everyone to chip in a bit. I don’t think there is anything tacky about that- I don’t expect the person asking me to out on friday night to pay my cover charge.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 5:37 pm

        Move to Chicago already! All the cool kids are doin’ it (like Katie, Kmen) or moving close (like Rachel).

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    • Fabelle

      Fabelle December 6, 2012, 10:05 am

      I think for something awesome like a trolley party (seriously, this sounds so cool), this is totally fine. You’re just organizing it– not hosting. I guess it’s sort of like a limo situation? One time my friends & I wanted to get a limo (this never panned out) to go bar-hopping, & we planned to give one person (the organizer) a certain amount of money to help cover.

      And to your P.S. yes. I hate that feeling. I’ve started taking all my vitamins at night now, so there’s sure to be food in my stomach (this tactic has also rid me of that slight panic of “oh my god, do I have morning sickness? I’m pregnant! AH! Oh, wait…I just took my vitamins with coffee & didn’t eat anything :()

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle December 6, 2012, 10:06 am

        (also, the sad face is for feeling sick! I’m not sad that I’m not pregnant, I am happy! haha, just to be clear…)

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 10:43 am

        It really is a good time. The first year was particularly memorable with lots of puking and passing out and friends hooking up. The other years it was really tame. Everyone seems to enjoy themselves but not everyone likes my trolley playlist, which has a lot of Britney and Mile Cyrus – PARTY IN THE USA is genius!! I realize my music taste sucks so maybe I’ll let someone else do the playlist next time.

        I recommend everyone throw a trolley party. But I’ve learned if you have the trolley for 4 hours you should only make 3 stops b/c squeezing in 4 bars makes you feel rushed. And the trolley part is a lot of fun so make sure the bars are a good 25 minute ride apart from each other. And notify the bar ahead of time of your estimated arrival so they can have a server ready for you when you arrive, etc. etc.

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      • avatar

        EB December 6, 2012, 10:56 am

        Another pro-tip: DON’T wear white.

        I think I had more drinks poured on me than I poured down my throat- or maybe that’s just what I get for going with a bunch of Kellogg crazies who were like undergrads on steroids when it came to drinking 😉

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    • iwannatalktosampson

      iwannatalktosampson December 6, 2012, 10:07 am

      I took one of those before work one time and threw up in the court house parking lot in a suit and was terrified someone would see me and think I was hungover. I mean who would really believe it was from a multi-vitamin?!?

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 11:14 am

        Good news: Last night was my firm’s holiday party, in the office. When I got to work this am, there was a plate full of cookies! (So puking averted; a couple santa-shaped sugar cookies did the trick.) Last night when the party was shutting down I took a plate of cookies to eat later. I had forgotten. What a pleasant surprise this am! (Wendy’s list of things not to do at your work holiday party did NOT include stealing cookies.)

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      • avatar

        MMcG December 6, 2012, 11:43 am

        Me too!! And I hate breakfast so the taking of pills on an empty stomach is always an issue because morning is the best time for me to remember. Also, I noticed a difference between the way my stomach reacts to the generic CVS multivitamin as opposed to the actual One a Day… that was a sad lesson in the morning 🙁

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 11:15 am

      I dont think it is tacky. It’s more of planning a get together with friends than hosting a party. I think those two classifications so to speak have pretty different sets of “rules”.

      I have people over to watch sports stuff all the time and we always ask for people to bring a side dish or beer but provide the bulk of the food/beer. To me that is pre-planned get together. If it was say my fiance’s birthday and I was hosting people for cake and drinks then I would expect to foot the entire bill and not ask my invitees for anything.

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  • theattack

    theattack December 6, 2012, 9:59 am

    Wow, I was not expecting Wendy’s response. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. It says “community party,” so that could mean a lot of things. To me that sounds like it’s a party for the general public, and it’s completely appropriate to charge for that. It doesn’t sound like the LW is pressuring her friends and family members to pay to come to a small get-together of friends. It sounds like an enormous bash with huge expenses. Why would the LW be expected to cover the cost of everything for a whole community’s party? If people don’t want to go, they don’t have to.

    My advice: When people ask about it, just tell them. No big deal. If they don’t like it then they don’t have to attend, and there’s no reason for anyone to get grumpy with you about it.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 10:05 am

      “If people don’t want to go, they don’t have to.” <– I agree. I probably wouldn't go to this party. But what would bother me is if the host did pressure me. Here, the LW says no one is required to come, but I'm sure he says "Hey, you should come, it's fun!" or "Hope you'll come this year, you haven't been to one yet!" I mean, that's the type of "pressure" we are talking about. And I bet that is going on. And because I bet that's going on, and this party costs so much money, that's what makes the party tacky, imho.

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 10:10 am

        I don’t think of “hey you should come” as pressure. To me that’s more of a friendly invitation or reminder. I nod and grin at those sorts of comments all the time with no intention of doing the thing, but maybe that’s rude. I doubt that I would go to this party either, but not because it’s tacky. I just don’t like paying money to do things I could do at home for free.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 6, 2012, 10:18 am

        Well, it’s sometimes hard for me to say “no,” so the “hey, you really should come, you haven’t been yet!” makes me feel guilty and I go. Even though I don’t want to and I am later pissed that I didn’t just say NO at the risk of offending someone.

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    • avatar

      Kristen December 6, 2012, 10:47 am

      I agree. I think as long as you make it clear that any money leftover is going to a local food pantry/whatever, it’s fine. That way guests don’t wonder if the organizers are secretly pocketing the extra money (which I’m sure is in the back of people’s minds).

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    • avatar

      csp December 6, 2012, 12:23 pm

      I think it is bring a dish and $10. If it was a $10 cover and you could purchase food and drinks inside, then that works. Like a community fair. Like, my husband is the head of a church organization. Any events they have that produce a profit, goes to charities and that is understood.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy December 6, 2012, 1:05 pm

      It’s not that the LW isn’t footing all of the expensive party, it’s that if he isn’t footing ANY of it and, in fact, is potentially netting $1500 while his guests have to not only pay an entrance fee, but bring their own food and pay for their own drinks on top of that. Yep, tacky.

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      • avatar

        csp December 6, 2012, 1:19 pm

        Actually, They could be making more than that. If 250 adults each bought 2.5 drinks = 625. And if there is a markup of $1-2 dollars per drink. It could end up being closer to 3k profit all in.

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 2:37 pm

        He is footing all of the work though, which I think is very substantial. I wish he had given you more details about the party. I think it’s very kind for someone to volunteer to organize a party for their community. That seems more like a contribution to the community than a hosting situation. If it’s just a small gathering of friends then I agree with you, because that seems more self-serving than anything. Basically, if he’s inviting his friends, he should be footing all or most of the bill. If he’s a volunteer trying to do something nice for the community, I don’t see why he should have to pay for it too.

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 2:40 pm

        Also, I’m confused. Did he say he was pocketing the extra money? I thought he was donating the rest to the food pantry. It definitely is wrong to make money off of the party if that’s what’s happening.

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      • Lili

        Lili December 6, 2012, 4:04 pm

        I think the problem is the excess money is donated as he sees fit–like to the food pantry or people who have family situations’ which is the problem. Its like saying I want to donate to a cause, but i’ll let someone else decide that. Which is tacky when the money is collected under false pretenses. Donations to help specific people out should be done by the individual giving the money or an organization established by ‘the community’ that decides w hat situations warrant the community’s help, best use of funds etc. That power should never be with just one person.

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      • theattack

        theattack December 6, 2012, 7:49 pm

        That’s a very interesting thought. To be fair, a lot of food pantries operate that way by distributing to the people most in need, but I do see your point that the party-goers didn’t decide to donate to that food pantry. I don’t think they should get a vote on it or anything, because that would be too much of a task for a Christmas party, but they should be informed of it for sure. So perhaps the LW should pick a good organization and just announce that that’s where the excess funds are going.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph December 7, 2012, 1:35 am

        It’s rather odd to me that it’s a potluck and cash bar but there’s all this surplus of money. If you’re not making it a fundraiser for charity, then why not roll some of those funds back in (catering, open bar, something like that) or decrease the entrance fee.
        If its a party for a party’s sake, why does it need to raise so much money? And if it’s a party for charity’s sake, why wouldn’t you advertise that loud and clear?

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  • lynn

    Lynn December 6, 2012, 10:01 am

    I personally wouldn’t charge anyone for a party – I’m one of those, “If you can’t afford it alone, then don’t do it.” Plus I find it tacky and would feel even more pressure to make it a great party if I’m spending other people’s money.

    But to me, this whole letter sounds like one big community thing, kind of like a block party of sort… and if people are asking about their money, then just tell them. I get that it can cost a family $55 for the whole thing, but again, if you can’t afford it, then don’t go. If you can, then don’t complain. It’s $10 — big deal. Again, I’m very much one of those, don’t go/do/buy/wear/eat anything you can’t afford.

    Otherwise, I think the LW should cover the costs herself if she genuinely wants to have this party and to just put a donation jar out. I’m sure lots of people would donate some money.

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  • avatar

    EricaSwagger December 6, 2012, 10:04 am

    I would never attend this party! A party with a cover… where I’d also have to pay for my own drinks and the money isn’t even going to charity! And on top of it all, I’d have to bring food?! Yikes!
    How you’ve gotten away with this for so long baffles me!

    At the VERY least, your party needs to be open bar. If you can’t afford it, change the venue, change the DJ, change the decorations. Something has to change if you don’t want to give up the party and want to keep not having to pay for ANYTHING. Which by the way, yeah, is really freaking tacky.

    DO you pay anything? I assume you don’t since you do all the planning and have the “leftover” money that you dole out to those who need it (at your discretion). But here’s something to think about: Most parties have a budget. Most parties (excluding charity events) aren’t free for the host to throw but cost the guest to attend!

    It’s YOUR party, whether or not you label it “Community Holiday Party” you’re still the host and it’s insane that the host of a party not pay for ANY of the party him/herself.

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    • avatar

      Lindsay December 6, 2012, 7:19 pm

      Good points. I helped plan some community events with an organization, and the budget was the first thing we figured out, so we’d know how much money to aim for. We got sponsors for most of the alcohol, grants for events related to the arts and then used the group funds from actual fundraisers to pay for the events. That way we could offer something classy without shaking people down for money. (Though we did raffle some stuff off.) I don’t know what kind of group the LW is a part of (so they may not have the resources we did), but if they regularly throw events for 250 or so people, it seems like they could be a little more organized in how they pay for it.

      Reply Link
  • Diablo

    Diablo December 6, 2012, 10:05 am

    As someone who has worked in charity for 20 years, I would also comment that in my town, if you were really throwing a community party then you would be excluding a lot of people by charging a fee. Typically, when the city or local community associations throw a community event, they seek sponsors and donors so that the poorer folk are not excluded. There’s no way this is a charitable fundraiser or should be portrayed that way, especially since it has the potential to compete with and interfere with the missions of the many local charities who are no doubt doing their part at this time of year to raise funds for those in need, and who have community partners to make their operations viable.

    That actually bugs me more than someone asking me to pay to attend a potluck, which I would simply choose to decline.

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  • avatar

    MISS MJ December 6, 2012, 10:08 am

    Hmm. I think people are a little confused about what the party is. It isn’t billed as a private get together at the LW’s house, or even a party she is hosting and inviting select persons to attend. It’s a community/neighborhood event, open to anyone being held at a rental hall. In that case, why should the LW be responsible for paying for the venue and entertainment alone just because she’s the one who’s willing to organize the event? (Book the venue. Select the entertainment. Provide for the set ups. Set it up. Clean it up. That’s a lot of work, people.) And, since the LW isn’t making money off of the event, then charging $10 and having free food or drinks isn’t feasible. Maybe she could charge $20 or $25 and do that, but I bet people would complain even more. This sort of thing is common where I live (and I don’t live in the sticks or in a place where there are no social graces!) For example, we have a large neighborhood block party at Halloween each year, and one of my neighbors is always kind enough to organize it. It’s outside, so there’s no venue issue, but people bring food and donations of around $10-15 pererson are requested to cover the cost of the entertainment, keg and security officr. That goes on the invitation/announcement for the party. And no one thinks it is tacky because we all understand that my neighbor isn’t inviting us to her house for a private dinner or throwing a private bash for us, she is organizing an event for the neighborhood to enjoy. I don’t see why the LW cannot do the same thing. Put donations in the amount of $10/$5 (whatever) are suggested to cover the cost of X, Y and Z on the announcement for the party and be done with it.

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    • avatar

      bethany December 6, 2012, 10:35 am

      I totally agree with you!

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    • FireStar

      FireStar December 6, 2012, 10:53 am

      I’m a little sad you corrected “where I love” to “where I live”….I kind of liked the “where I love”

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      • Miss MJ

        MISS MJ December 6, 2012, 11:25 am

        One of my better typos. 🙂

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    • avatar

      Lucy December 6, 2012, 3:14 pm

      This. There is a holiday party like this in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and I don’t think they’re uncommon. It is paid for out of the neighborhood association fees instead of being structured like a cover, but we’re still paying for it. Plus we all bring a dish, or wine/beer/soda. It’s actually pretty lame but the old people love it. Lately I have taken to dropping off my dish and leaving asap. The block associations throw similar parties in the summer.

      LW, the only thing I would say is, I do think you should tell people up front what charity any excess funds go to. No way should you or anyone else be keeping one penny of extra money. I know throwing the party is work, but if you don’t want to do the work, then don’t throw the party. You can’t pocket people’s money.

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  • avatar

    muffy December 6, 2012, 10:09 am

    I don’t see the big deal. Clearly people are willing to pay and there is enough money to cover the party expenses and then some. If people ask just tell them – why would you hide it from them? Of course you should tell them where the expenses go. And for the following years just have a sign on the door that explains it.

    I wouldn’t go to a party where I had to bring food, buy drinks, and pay but clearly others are going so whatever floats your boat.

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    • avatar

      muffy December 6, 2012, 10:18 am

      Oh and if you are selling liquor obviously a liquor license etc. And then there’s the whole people with allergies thing or not cooked properly. I would probably just change it into a more expensive event but get someone else to deal with the problems

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest December 6, 2012, 11:05 am

      I guess I agree with you. Its still tacky as hell if you ask me, but apparently people don’t mind.

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  • avatar

    SuzyQ December 6, 2012, 10:17 am

    Strange. Very. Soubds like maybe a holiday party at her homeowners community ie in her subdivision). But then why di they have to pay for the hall?

    If its just a party at the local VA hall or bowling alley, sure I’d pay that. If it’s a cou ple hosting a party for friends, then hell no.

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    • Miss MJ

      MISS MJ December 6, 2012, 11:27 am

      Maybe there isn’t a hall there? Where I live, there are lots of older neighborhoods with “Neighborhood Associations” that aren’t formal, pre-planned subdivisions.

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      • avatar

        SuzyQ December 6, 2012, 1:05 pm

        Maybe that’s it. As Wendy said, though, it’s expensive for that. And why not have it BYOB as well? You can bring a dish and a bottle of wine and then maybe pay $5 for the entertainment (even $10 if it really costs that much). That sounds pretty reasonable.

        But again, if my friends were hosting a party with costs that steep, not a chance.

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  • avatar

    bethany December 6, 2012, 10:29 am

    My neighborhood has a block party every year, which is thrown by the “Neighborhood Association” or whatever, which is really just a couple of people who are in charge of stuff.

    To attend the block party is $25/family or something like that to cover the cost of paper products, decorations and stuff. Everyone is asked to bring some sort of food, and I think it’s BYO. I think it’s totally reasonable to ask people to pay to attend a gathering like this. I got the feeling that this was the type of part the LW was talking about. I think their fees are a little high, as Wendy pointed out, but if they were only charging $25/family or $10/couple, I think it’s reasonable.

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    • avatar

      jlyfsh December 6, 2012, 11:47 am

      yeah i’ve been to parties like this too. i too think they should change their fee structure. but, really it doesn’t seem weird to charge for a neighborhood/community party.

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  • avatar

    Sheryl December 6, 2012, 10:30 am

    After reading this letter, this didn’t seem like a normal social event where hospitality rules Wendy cited apply. Regardless if this is large family or a town, it seems like it is meant to be something like a reunion, where there is not one ‘host’ but just an opportunity to get a large group of people together.

    I do agree that the $55+ a pot luck contribution for 4 people seems a bit pricey and weird for a casual party. I think you should pick one… either start assigning people to specific things to bring, and don’t charge (Jones family bring cups, Smith family brings plates, Claus family brings decorations, etc.), OR supply everything that is needed for the ‘experience’, so you have the breakdown of the cost (and can provide it if you are questioned), and ask people to pay per person that amount. If each person is bringing something, and paying for drinks, and then paying additional cost on top, that seems weird. Pick one, and go with it.

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    Desiree December 6, 2012, 10:34 am

    So, this is definitely not something I would do, but I could definitely see it happening. My mom’s from a very small Italian settlement in the South, and this kind of event once established could easily be supported by the community for years. But I only really see this working in a small town where there is peer pressure to attend.

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  • avatar

    Lindsay December 6, 2012, 10:48 am

    I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t bring food, pay for drinks AND pay a fee to get in. But whatever. I’m not sure why you’d go to all the trouble to write in to ask an advice columnist if you have to tell people where the money goes. Why is that a problem? What do you tell them when they ask right now?

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  • Just Max

    Just Max December 6, 2012, 10:51 am

    I am of the camp that if you can’t afford it, don’t throw a party/gathering/anything. I’d never ask my guests to give money, or bring anything, if I’m the one hosting the party. When I’ve been invited to gatherings (at someone’s home) that are not pot luck, I always bring at least a bottle of wine or a home baked something.

    That said, I am a ‘guest’ at a wedding for which I have to pay, up front, for my plate. **face palm**

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      Desiree December 6, 2012, 11:03 am

      You have to pay for your plate at a wedding?????? That may be the single tackiest thing I have ever heard. I am planning my April wedding right now, and sure there are moments I wished everything was less expensive, but I care about my guests. I think you should buy the couple an Emily Post book for their wedding present.

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      • Just Max

        Just Max December 6, 2012, 11:16 am

        OMG! I love this idea! I wonder if she’d get it, though.
        I wouldn’t have minded if she had gone the route of a pot luck type of get together, to celebrate the date, or something. But, to have an actual wedding, with dress, hall, drinks, and DJ, AND ask for people to “help” by paying for their plate?!?!?! No words.

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      • FireStar

        FireStar December 6, 2012, 11:22 am

        Not just paying for their plates – PRE-paying for them!!!! Does she reimburse you if you have an emergency and can’t attend? So outrageous.

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        MMcG December 6, 2012, 12:01 pm

        How do you know how much to pay? I just finished with my wedding this past fall… and while there were moments of wanting my in-laws to pay for the folks that RSVP’d yes and didn’t come, I didn’t even go there because it would just be too crazy,

        Pre payment!?! HA! I vote not for an emily post book on etiquette but a suzy orman book on budgeting for the future since they are starting out on the wrong financial foot 🙂

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      EB December 6, 2012, 11:05 am

      I hope you ask them to pay, up front, for their gift.

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      lets_be_honest December 6, 2012, 11:07 am

      I will find you and slap you if you get them a gift.

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      • Just Max

        Just Max December 6, 2012, 11:17 am

        No worries, there won’t be any, since I’ll be broke after paying for that dinner.

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      Amanda December 6, 2012, 11:16 am

      I think that you should give the happy couple an anonymous wedding gift of a stocking full of coal. Seriously, this is an egregious etiquette offense. These people should be ashamed of themselves.

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      GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 11:22 am

      I would not go. That is way way way to big of a slap in the face to me. I’d send a card and a VERY small gift wishing them well.

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      • avatar

        MMcG December 6, 2012, 12:01 pm

        Don’t go – and send them emily post and suzy orman! All bases covered!!

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      bethany December 6, 2012, 12:41 pm

      I think you should post their address online so we can all send them etiquette books 🙂

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    • avatar

      Caris December 6, 2012, 8:51 pm

      tacky.

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  • avatar

    Amber December 6, 2012, 11:17 am

    Okay I’m sure I understand Wendy’s advice OR the responses here.

    Regarding the “throw the party you can afford” thing – this does not sound like a regular party, it’s not like the LW is hosting it in her living room. It sounds more like a block party or something.

    Secondly, lawyers? This is a private community event from the sounds of it, and I’m pretty sure it’s not mandatory for people to go. And unless she is advertising it as a not for profit charity event, I don’t see what the big deal is.

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    • avatar

      Amber December 6, 2012, 11:18 am

      *NOT sure I understand

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    • Miss MJ

      MISS MJ December 6, 2012, 11:32 am

      I don’t understand the comments about lawyers, either. I think people are misunderstanding the nature of the party.

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    • katie

      katie December 6, 2012, 11:49 am

      As a general rule, if money changes hands on a large scale, lawyers might want to be consulted.

      As a very real rule, if money is being exchanged for alcohol, you should always consult with a lawyer, or at the very least make sure you are following local laws.

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      • avatar

        MMcG December 6, 2012, 12:09 pm

        You as host and your venue will need to be very clear on liability insurance, and what is covered and not. Hosting a party this large could inevitably result in some sort of injury or accident and given the litigiousness of America… better safe than sorry

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      csp December 6, 2012, 1:14 pm

      So here is where it can get sticky. If this is a Private event and people are making a donation for the venue, it is one thing. If it is a “community” event then it is public. They said they are charging for alcohol and if they are doing that then they need a liquor license. This is the equivalent of running a speakeasy. If this is an open event, then they are essentially running a bar.

      If this was an event like a wedding, the venue itself or the bartender you bring in would need to have a license. That is often why carnivals will have beer gardens.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 December 6, 2012, 11:34 am

    I think you guests would appreciate it much more if you charged $5 – $10 more, and cover everything, I’m sure they are spending more than that on the food they are making anyways, but why not just ask them, or leave some sort of survey at the dooring asking if they like how it is run, or if they would feel comfortable changing it next year to include everything. I also assume most of them think that all of the money is going to pay for the function hall, and if they did find out you were potentiall pocketing $1,000 + dollars while they are paying to eat their own food they may hate you after, but right now I’m guessing the wool is pulled over all of their eyes.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 December 6, 2012, 11:36 am

    I think your guests would appreciate it much more if you charged $5 – $10 more, and cover everything, I’m sure they are spending more than that on the food they are making anyways, but why not just ask them, or leave some sort of survey at the dooring asking if they like how it is run, or if they would feel comfortable changing it next year to include everything. I also assume most of them think that all of the money is going to pay for the function hall, and if they did find out you were potentiall pocketing $1,000 + dollars while they are paying to eat their own food they may hate you after, but right now I’m guessing the wool is pulled over all of their eyes.

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    • bagge72

      bagge72 December 6, 2012, 11:41 am

      double post!

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  • avatar

    SherBear December 6, 2012, 11:40 am

    Two years ago my buddy and I throw a NYE party, had it catered and provided all the drinks. On the invite we asked for $20 donations to help cover the costs and said all extra funds would be donated to the Chicago Food Bank. Our friends loved this idea since most bars here charge anywhere from $60-$100 for NYE parties. I didn’t sit at the door asking for money, but pretty much everyone pulled me aside to give me cash and many gave more than $20. My buddy then refunded me for all the catering costs (I have a good friend who is a caterer so I pretty much got the food at cost) and gave the rest to the food bank and added the catering costs back in from his own pocket. Basically you CAN ask for $$ to throw a party, but you really need to make it a special affair and expect to come out of your own pocket more than others! I throw a couple parties every year, some fully catered and liquor stocked – others potluck style (depending on how my bank account is feeling!) and I’d consider asking for donations again, but with the intention of most of the funds going to a charity.

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    • Fabelle

      Fabelle December 6, 2012, 12:03 pm

      See, this sounds fine! But one time, I was invited to a friend-of-a-friend’s Halloween party, which the guy held at his house. He provided a keg, but otherwise people brought their own food and drink. I made a dish & brought a mini-bottle of rum (or something like that).

      Halfway through the party, the host corners the friend I came with & myself, asking us to give over $5 “for the keg”. I wasn’t even drinking out of the keg! I can spare a $5, but I thought it was tacky as hell (& was tipsy already, so I pretty much was like “Um..wtf” to his face). Later on, the host wound up going up to my OTHER friend to complain that I didn’t pay (& that friend wound up paying for me due to the pressure). So I mean, I was kind of an asshole about it, but holyyyy shit. That’s so tacky, right??

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    • Fabelle

      Fabelle December 6, 2012, 12:04 pm

      And I realize that^ situation is far from the one in the letter, but I feel like this whole comment thread has become a general etiquette discussion, haha.

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    jlyfsh December 6, 2012, 11:45 am

    If it’s a neighborhood/community party I don’t see what’s wrong with this. Let people know what their money is going towards and what happens to the extra funds. If they put up a fight stop hosting and let someone else. The issue is no one actually wants to host parties like this because of the expenses and time involved. But, everyone likes to complain about ways they would do it different. If you were charging me to come to your home for a Christmas party I would be irked, but it’s not your home it’s a community event. If they think they can do better, let them.

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    • theattack

      theattack December 6, 2012, 12:22 pm

      For real.

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      Amber December 6, 2012, 6:50 pm

      Exactly.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. December 6, 2012, 12:21 pm

    In my dance community, we have an event every few months in which a bunch of us get together and dance. We bring our own food and drink. We also supply our own music, since there are many musicians available. However, the hall rental is paid for by one person, or sometimes two. It is clearly stated at the door and in all emails referencing this event that donations to help defray the cost of the hall are appreciated. The difference is, the hall rental is paid for by someone who can afford it. Any money that is collected is a bonus for them, and no one is turned away if they cannot pay. So, the party the LW is describing seems a bit tacky to me. People have a right to know what they are paying for. Quite honestly, if I am asked to pay to attend an event, I would at least expect to be fed food prepared by someone else, i.e., a hired professional, not me. So, I suggest scaling back the party to something you can afford or making it known that it is for profit.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark December 6, 2012, 1:11 pm

    Just odd.

    The closest I have ever come to doing this was when I finally decided to throw my first Tiki party for a small group of close friends. Everybody had been bugging me to do it for a while as we all liked to go out to the Tiki Ti and I had been collecting vintage ceramic Tiki mugs for a few years… Anyway, if you know much about Tiki drinks, they have all kinds of strange and special — but not overly-expensive liquors. Just odd ones though. Like Banana Liquor or Creme de Cacao. Not stuff one just happens to usually have on hand. Sadly, I’d just been laid off from Sony along with my entire department and so money was tight… But everybody kept bugging and bugging me to to do it.

    Finally, I floated the suggestion one night at the Tiki Ti that I throw a “Stock the Tiki Bar!” party. I explained how I required the usual exotic list of unusual firewaters… And suggested that if everybody brought just one bottle, we’d “stock” the bar could then have a slew of Tiki drink nights moving forward — as so many of these ingredients would last and last as it was like 1/4 shot of this and yadda yadda yadda. Meaning for future parties we’d just need, say, a bottle or two of cheap rum and vodka…

    Anyway, the response was HUGE and Instantaneous… EVERYBODY was gung ho and wanted to do it ASAP. Someone suggested that I simply randomly assign everyone a bottle to bring. So I did via email the very next day. The party was the very next weekend. Naturally, I provided a slew of campy retro hor dourves and the party was a smashing success and we did have a monthly Tiki gathering at my place for a good long time.

    It was all VERY Mad Men even though this was in the late 1990s. Yeah, I was ahead of my time.

    People still talk about those parties. In fact, I’m supposed to throw one post holidays come January. It’s been a while.

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    • avatar

      csp December 6, 2012, 1:22 pm

      Right. But then say you had a stock the bar party and told people to give you $10 too. Because the lights cost money.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark December 6, 2012, 1:25 pm

        Oh, no. I’d never do that… No way. No day.

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        lets_be_honest December 6, 2012, 1:27 pm

        No way. No day?
        Way to age yourself Mark!
        Stock the bar parties are a great idea I think. Way better than a housewarming party.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark December 6, 2012, 2:06 pm

        HEATHERS rules all teen movies…

        It’s simply basic Algebra. You know…

        A (HEATHERS) is to Teen Movies = what B is to Female Singers…

        Now… solve for B.

        Answer: (backwards like in the newspaper puzzles) ANNODAM

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      GatorGirl December 6, 2012, 2:33 pm

      Oh that sounds so fun.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark December 7, 2012, 12:17 am

        It is! I highly recommend it! 🙂

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      lemongrass December 7, 2012, 1:54 am

      I have 2 half empty bottles of banana liquor in my liquor cupboard as we speak. Old roommate leftovers and I’ve never known what to do with.

      PS. that party sounds awesome!

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  • avatar

    Libby December 6, 2012, 2:28 pm

    My in-laws actually participate in an event like this every Christmas and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a big group of friends that pay to be the “hosts”, so they each pay something like $100 – $200 a couple to be hosts and then they get a set number of invites, to invite their friends (they cross check their guest lists, so there aren’t double invites from more than one host). I think this works a little better, because the money is collected from the group before they have expenses, and there isn’t any cash collection worries on the night of the event. The money goes towards appetizer type food, mixers/sodas, decorations, rental fee for the hall and a band. They do their event BYOB (or alcohol if you’re mixing drinks), so that gets around any alcoholic beverage commission type laws that might require licensed servers.

    I also did something similar when I was in junior high and high school for our annual Christmas time parties, aptly named the Peppermint ball or the Snowflake ball. It was like winter prom, same premise where the hosts (actually their parents) put in money and got a certain number of invites. There just wasn’t any alcohol.

    I think a party like this can work, but I could see the participants being weary of having to pay to enter, bring their own food and pay for drinks. Maybe cut one of those things, or at least make it BYOB/Alocohol or provide appetizers or something.

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie December 7, 2012, 10:51 am

    This thread is overloaded with criticism, but if the “guests” keep coming it must be worth the price. It would make an easier sell if the host knocked the price up and donated half the gate to a charity. Make it the local animal shelter and I’d love to come.

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