“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 $15 for Adults and $10 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. The total usually comes to near $1500 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 $15 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 $7 (and that’s a conservative estimate) and the kids each have a soda at $3 a pop. That’s $70 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 a lawyer and don’t know the rules where you live anyway, so can’t say for sure. It seems to me that if your party can potentially net over $2000 ($15 per adult at a max of 250, minus the $1500 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 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.


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  1. 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.

  2. 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 $15 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.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. totally agree

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

  4. 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.

    1. kerrycontrary says:

      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.

      1. You also have to consider the liability. Like what if someone gets injured during the event. You may be liable unless you have coverage for that venue on that evening. Your homeowner’s sure won’t cover it…

  5. 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

    1. 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…

  6. 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?

  7. Eagle Eye says:

    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 $15, 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 $30 or so per person.

    1. 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.

    2. Eagle Eye says:

      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!

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

    3. 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.

  8. SweetPeaG says:

    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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. temperance says:

    I don’t think I’d pay $15 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.

    1. ”Decorations are included but must be replaced as they wear out.”

      It says that the decorations are included – in the fee for the rental hall, is my interpretation – but that they as renters have to replace decorations if some have been broken during the party or just been worn out. Doesn’t seem more strange than renting a local for the party.

  12. 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.”

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

      1. I assumed this was a woman too!

  13. 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…

    1. theattack says:

      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.

      1. Eagle Eye says:

        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.

      2. theattack says:

        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.

      3. 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..

      4. temperance says:

        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.

      5. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        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…)

      6. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. Avatar photo honeybeegood says:

        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?

  14. 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.

    1. 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!

  15. theattack says:

    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.

    1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

      “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.

      1. theattack says:

        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.

      2. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        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.

      3. @Addie Pray

        You’re making some pretty big assumptions here. There’s a fine line between being enthusiastic about many people in the community showing up, assuring people who don’t already belong to the regulars that they’re genuinely welcome and will not be left hanging just because they’re new to the Christmas party, and really pressuring people. If you personally find “Hope you’ll come this year, you haven’t been to one yet!”, maybe it’s more about you having difficulties saying no in perfectly reasonable situations, then about them actually putting some undue pressure on people? Maybe it would benefit you examining that part of yourself in life in general, as people who have great difficulties saying no — at work or in private — are running the risk of being taken advantage of or feting burned out. I’m not a native speaker, so I really hope this isn’t coming off in a patronising way. It’s just that I have some experience in this field, and being able to say no without feeling guilty or stressed about it, is a really important skill to have all around, and it can actually be acquired. If nothing else, in this specific example, people actually know it’s probably coming this year again, and can prepare an excuse in advance. And as long as people haven’t payed, there is always time to change their answer.

    2. 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).

    3. 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.

    4. theattack says:

      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.

      1. 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.

    5. Anonymous says:

      I agree. I go to a Friendsgiving every year. We all pay a fee for the rental and drinks. And also bring food for a potluck. No one is forced to go. But it’s so fun, I fly in from another state for it! It’s a specific event only for ladies that are part of a specific group. Not “tacky” at all.

    6. This is my interpretation as well. So here we have people who are putting in a lot of their free time and energy to organise this thing, on a totally voluntary basis as I understand. I have organised New Year Eve parties for about 30 friends (for a small fee, but then food and some limited drink was included, people could bring more drink if they wanted of course) together with 3-4 other friends, and it was no joke. The planning, the making a theme, the making of a three course meal for thirty people, the 3-4 new year’s cakes, the bringing all of the stuff to the friend who jade room to host it, tha rearranging of furniture, the bringing together of enough plates and cutlery, the setup of the dj equipment (as one of us organisers was a part time dj with his own equipment), the service through the evening, the clean up afterwards … We did spend all money on the food etc, the only thing was that if there was food left that wouldn’t expire and maybe a bottle or two of bubbly, then soon afterwards we had a small, very informal get together for those who helped us serve the food, clear the tables, take up trash, and stayed to help us clean up afterwards, as a thank you. Everybody loved it. Those who couldn’t old didn’t want to work for it, got a very good price for a really nice meal, professional dj and lots of fun. Those who contributed a bit got an extra get together with the leftovers, and we … well, the core handful of us had lots of fun, but it was also exhausting.

      So I can’t even imagine the work to be put in for up to 250 people. No guaranties of how many would actually turn up. And even though they aren’t making all the food, I’m guessing they still have to organise about not everyone bringing the same thing, and decorate the rented hall, hire the dj, be available to the guests for questions, solving problems if someone gets unruly etc … it’s a massive amount of work.

      I’m shocked that people are saying that if you can’t afford to host a party for up to 250 people, most of who may not be closer than acquaintances, or perfect strangers (to mind = community party), you shouldn’t be trying to do a nice thing for your community. How many people don’t have family to celebrate with, or can’t afford to throw a big party – here they can attend a big affair at a relatively reasonable cost, their kids will be playing with other kids etc.

      And these organisers aren’t even pocketing the surplus for themselves, but giving to those in need. No, this is not tacky.

      However, there should be transparency. They can say that we are giving of our own free time, we have no guaranties that enough people will attend for this to break even, and if there is a surplus, we will give to pantry or people in need at our own discretion. The people in need should not be outed – that, if anything, would be tacky. But maybe, if there’s an accountant to be advised or just kind of supervise, so that an external party could assure the guests that the money has been spent in a responsible way.

      I don’t know if anyone has knowledge about how big the surplus actually is, but giving people money back could be quite a chore if it’s just a small amount per person. Maybe say that everyone can check av box, so if there’s a surplus of more than $3 per person, they want a refund of the surplus, and if checking the other box, they trust the organisers to do something good with the money.

      I don’t know how these things work, I would have guessed that a part of the rent fee for the locale is for insurance in case of accidents or such, but the advice to talk to a lawyer is good advice.

  16. Eagle Eye says:

    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.

  17. 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.

  18. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

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

  19. 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.

    1. 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.

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

      1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

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

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

      3. Awesome!

      4. Avatar photo MaterialsGirl says:

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

      5. Avatar photo MaterialsGirl says:

        I actually will stop by!

      6. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        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.

  21. EricaSwagger says:

    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.

    1. 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.

    2. How do you know whether LW is paying his $15 or not? I find a lot of the assuming in this thread is biased against the LW.

  22. 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 :()

  23. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

    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?!?

    1. 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 🙁

  24. 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.

    1. I totally agree with you!

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

      1. One of my better typos. 🙂

    3. 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.

    4. Yes! If this has been happening for years then clearly people are appreciating the chance to gather as a community, and there is no reason to expect the organizer to pay for things as the host of a private party would.

  25. 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.

    1. 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

      1. Was thinking also of liability, for drinking and driving accidents on the way home. Who is in charge of Alcohol cut off for a individual.

  26. 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.

    1. 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.

  27. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        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.

      2. Avatar photo theattack says:

        Whoaaaaaa. I’ve never heard of that!

      3. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        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.

  28. 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.

    1. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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?

  33. 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**

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

      3. 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 🙂

    2. 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.

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

    4. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

      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.

  34. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

    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.

  35. 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.

    1. *NOT sure I understand

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

    3. 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.

      1. 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

    4. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. bittergaymark says:

    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.

    1. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

      Oh that sounds so fun.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. I would be more worried about the serving of alcohol! The legality and liability around this is enormous.

  45. Rosacoletti says:

    Sounds amazing, I’d come. Communities need someone like you. On the invite you could add (cover charge includes hall hire, entertainment etc).
    Heck I wouldn’t even care if you did make a small profit out of it. What’s the big deal?

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