the awkward, it never ends
September 14, 2010 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Please help minimize the potentially epic awkward of my husband's ten-year high school reunion this Friday. (the catch: he's the organizer.)

My husband, as former senior class president, has been tasked with organizing his class's ten-year HS reunion, which will take place this Friday evening. He and a couple others worked hard getting the word out through various means (we live in the same big CA city), renting a room at a bayfront hotel, and trying to come up with fun activities over a period of months. And yet, the event appears destined to be a painfully awkward fail.

Basically, they've now got a 50-minimum person contract with the hotel. Only 40 people (total, partners included) are attending out of a large graduating class. There might be a few late admits at the door, but don't count on it. Each person's paying $50. That's fifty dollars for.... being in the room, and some fruit, cheese, and an egg roll. Just one egg roll. That's it. No drinks -- it's a cash bar. They have access to a sound system & a projector, but nobody sent in HS photos for a slide show.

So it's looking like 40 sober people rattling around in a room that could easily fit 150-200 people, confronted with overpaying for drinks when they've already overpaid for pretty much nothing. My husband's contact at the hotel is going to try to get drink credits or something for the contracted money not spent, but she's not sure if she can.

Obviously, the event should have been held at a bar or restaurant, but classmates seemed to want the hotel early on, and now it's too late. All the organizers are discouraged and my husband is in a permanent state of cringe. It's like high school all over again. We're hoping to figure out some way to minimize the awkward, but we just can't put more of our own money into this thing. Well, maybe $50ish more. Any ideas? We're friends with about ten or so attendees, and overall it'll certainly be that dissonant mix of parents and bros, party kids and career kids and squares. Should he email classmates to forewarn them the turnout will be low? There is a karaoke machine accessible for $50 more, but might that make things more awkward? We have Halloween candy. And dominoes. Oh God.

posted by changeling to Human Relations (48 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can the hotel move you to a smaller room, and in exchange, offer more food or something? It's worth asking; it would save them the trouble of cleaning the bigger space.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:21 AM on September 14, 2010

See if you can back out of the contract.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:21 AM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: pretty sure he tried his hardest to get out of it/switch rooms, but they're locked in -- the room holds tons more people, so I think a minimum of 50 was them being generous. I'll ask again, but let's pretend they're stuck there/in the contract. ick.
posted by changeling at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2010

What if you and your husband just cower under a table someplace? That's what I would do.

As someone with an overly sensitive awkward-o-meter, I'd bail and lose the deposit, cancel the event.

How much is the deposit?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:30 AM on September 14, 2010

Eeeep. If you can't back out of the contract cost-free or switch to a smaller room, what kind of penalty will they impose? And how good are these 10 friends of your husbands?

If the hotel penalty is something like 50% of the contract price, maybe it'd be worth cancelling, and moving the venue to someone's home? (Assuming someone has a home large enough.) That way, the attendees pay $25 (to cover the penalty), and if those 10 friends are *really* nice people, you could all make some food, and ask the rest of the attendees to bring wine/booze.

A lot of assumptions in that suggestion, but just throwing out ideas at this point. Good luck!
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 9:30 AM on September 14, 2010

Flasks? Yearbooks? Definitely flasks.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:32 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, so they can't cancel at all without losing the full event-cost? If that's the case, ask if they have any room dividers / partitions you can use? At least it'll make the room seem more intimate.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 9:32 AM on September 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Do what they do for concerts these days, start cutting the price. You could simply give back all the new money to the original payers. This will not help the financing, but might help fill the room. Also, invite some favorite teachers (free to them) and maybe that will draw some alumni.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:33 AM on September 14, 2010

Yeah, ditch the deposit. E-mail the 40 people and tell them to meet at a bar.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:34 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Open it up, 50 people isn't a reunion. Contact everyone and tell them to invite a couple of fun friends. At least you will have people. Hook up wii-bowling or something to the video, and fix up some good playlists on some ipods.

Hit facebook, search for every name from school, invite them, short notice, 20 bucks, reinburse the early-adopters .
posted by Iteki at 9:35 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

God 50 people not a reunion sounds horribly harsh suddenly, not intended! I meant more that it's sufficiently few that it doesn't need to be exclusively school-themed, it can just be a big good party where somewhat more of the people know each other since school.
posted by Iteki at 9:38 AM on September 14, 2010

I went through something eerily similar last year. I don't know that I have any practical advice, but I just want to let you know that although it looks bad, people are usually incredibly gracious when it comes to reunions. We were pleasantly surprised at how grateful people were that we had a reunion at all, even though the turn-out was really low and no one sent pictures in for the slideshow. It turns out that only ten years is enough time for even some of the most childish, rude people to grow up and become decent human beings.

As for the $50, it seems like it would be nice if you could give them anything of value for showing up. Do you have a friend that plays music that would be willing to come play for free? Do you know someone that has dreams of being a DJ and would jump at an opportunity to try out their skills? Could you get anything from the alma mater to give to the alumni? Buttons, pennants or magnetic sports schedules...anything???
posted by bristolcat at 9:39 AM on September 14, 2010

I think it's imperative that you somehow get a smaller room or get your existing room organized in a way to minimize the awkwardness -- table arrangements, lighting, curtains (if available), whatever it takes to lessen the feeling that you're meeting in the hall of the mountain king. The dance/karaoke thing is a tough call -- it really depends on the people who show up -- but you're fighting an uphill battle sans free alcohol.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:40 AM on September 14, 2010

Be sure the hotel restaurant menu is available if people want to purchase food ...
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 AM on September 14, 2010

Can you provide alcohol yourself? Have everyone bring some?
posted by thirteenkiller at 9:42 AM on September 14, 2010

Obviously, the event should have been held at a bar or restaurant,

The event hasn't happened yet. You can still save the future.

now it's too late.

Surely there event space has provisions for backing out of a booking.

There is a karaoke machine accessible for $50 more, but might that make things more awkward?

No, that won't work because you'll have to consider the outlay for a handgun and at least a single bullet to be handed out at the door and that will probably break your budget.

We have Halloween candy. And dominoes. Oh God.

Don't do this to good people!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:42 AM on September 14, 2010

the event space.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:44 AM on September 14, 2010

You've got a projector? Can you get some hilariously vintage school films to screen? Sex-ed, driver's ed, local-history, etc. The school/school librarian may be willing to help you with this. Or one of those ultra-hipster video-rental shops.
posted by K.P. at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: thanks so much! for advice plus collective cringing.

Just called him. The deposit is $450. So I guess technically, we could pay that out of the ticket money we've received, and try to move it somewhere else. But is it unethical to use that money to cover the deposit? I know he won't spring for it out of his own pocket just based on the principle of the thing, which I understand. He's already worked so hard on this.

They did try to open up the reunion to all alumni, regardless of year. No takers. Probably because $50 is expensive. They've had an active facebook recruitment group for months. Among the ten are a couple best friends, luckily. We're already making them come early.

Partitions are a great idea if we're stuck at the hotel. And we're totally bringing a wii/projector.
posted by changeling at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2010

Take the path of least resistance. Downsize to a different venue. Make it more cozy, clubby and comfortable. Enable members of the small gathering to interact with non-ex-high-schoolers if so desired. Give them an easy entrance and exit.
posted by zagyzebra at 9:52 AM on September 14, 2010

Honestly, he and the classmates he organized this with probably should spring for the deposit because this hotel thing was a terrible idea. $50 for admission to a conference room and one egg roll and some melon balls is preposterous. Just saying. You could ask for donations to help, I guess.
posted by thirteenkiller at 9:55 AM on September 14, 2010 [10 favorites]

Another activity you might consider is tables of poker or other card games.
posted by CathyG at 9:55 AM on September 14, 2010

You've lost me now, is or was the attention to turn a profit?

The tickets are no longer $50 a head, you have $500, the room is covered.
Make it open door now, ten dollar cover charge and then pay back your original fifty dollar ticket holders. You need bodies in the venue to stop the rattling.

If you go with vintage school films on a projector you can check out that has a lot of such old educational footage.
posted by Iteki at 9:56 AM on September 14, 2010

Does the hotel have a pool and/or hot tub? If so, maybe go that route. You can still set up the meeting room with a table with some goodies, etc. for people to enjoy. Also, set up the Wii in the meeting room for people to use while not swimming.

If you are confined to the room - see if you can get some couches/soft chairs (from the hotel hallway or something or something you can rent?) and make little sitting areas in that big room. Maybe bring an area rug or two to cozy the sitting spaces up and a few lamps. Perhaps designate different seating areas for different activities - one area is a board game area, another is for the wii, another is for eating, etc.

Good luck. I cringe with you!
posted by Sassyfras at 9:57 AM on September 14, 2010

The space is the real issue here. I understand the hotel will not let you back out and that's fine but for $450 they should ABSOLUTELY let you move to a smaller room - a suite upstairs would be perfect, but a smaller function room or conference room downstairs would also be fine.

Put on the Greatest Hits of 1996 - 2000, scan in all the yearbook photos and project them, and treat it like a cocktail party - no reunion shenanigans, no games, just a meetup.

I have done multiple cocktail parties for 40 people in hotel rooms on exactly this sort of line and as long as its standing up, mingling and the room errs on the side of crowded rather than cavernous it really goes far, far better.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:57 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Love K.P.'s vintage film idea both because it takes up some time and gives people something to talk about. You might also check the "events" section of your local craigslist to see if there are any budding DJs willing to work on the cheap in exchange for a recommendation from you or a new comedian or improv group or magician or caricature artist or hypnotist or something. And if even that will be cheesy, set it up like it's a school assembly...those were always cheesy.

Or use some of the hotel tables to set up some poker or blackjack (especially if he had these at a prom or other event in high school). Even if it's not real money, it might keep some people interested. And cards are cheap.
posted by BlooPen at 9:57 AM on September 14, 2010

But is it unethical to use that money to cover the deposit? I know he won't spring for it out of his own pocket just based on the principle of the thing

If he won't spring for it out of it out of his own pocket (which I too understand), then using the ticket money to cover the deposit has to remain on the table, right?

Assuming you've got $2k to work with, you could pay the $450 deposit and still have $32+20% tip per person to spend at a restaurant, which should get you better food and a more appropriately sized space anyhow. It's hard to see how his classmates would complain about this unless they own stock in the hotel.

Another possibility is that the hotel suddenly becomes willing to negotiate when you tell them you're canceling. After all, they're going to be out $2050 of expected revenue, and have little time to re-book the room.
posted by jon1270 at 9:58 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would take the $50 that you got from everyone and set up a short but fun scavenger hunt aroung your hometown. Have it start at the hotel, where everyone is given directions, a goody bag with clues, whatever, and then get them the hell away from that place. Maybe have funny pictures from high-school at each of the correct scav-hunt locations to tie in to the reunion. Then have it end up at a bar.

Just don't stay at the hotel. The thought of playing dominoes and signing karaoke in a giant room with expensive booze and people I graduated with 10 years ago makes me want to break out in hives.
posted by tryniti at 10:04 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're bringing a Wii and a projector, bring a screen, a power strip, and an extension cord, because conference hotels will charge you a 'technology fee' for all of those things. It's also likely not to be cheap, especially if it's a union hotel.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:05 AM on September 14, 2010

Right, so, to summarize: Assuming you stay in the current location, there are two tactics to be used in tandem to make this work:

1) Increase the number of people at the event:

- Tell people to bring their friends, their families, whoever. Tell people who have paid the $50 that they can bring extra people for $5 each, or for free. Make it as much a party as a reunion.

2) Decrease the space available:

- Get some partitions, walls, dividers, screens, curtains, whatever - and just lop off half the room if you can.

- Or use light and accessories to create a room-within-a-room. Group all the tables close-together, surround them with large potted plants (ferns, trees, palms, venus flytraps) to give a sense of enclosure. Turn out the room lights and use floor lighting instead, so the unused parts of the room fade into the dark.

Remember that 40 people is plenty for a good party; just because you rented a big-ass room doesn't mean you have to use all of it. Think of it as trying to increase the pressure of a gas. Get rid of the excess volume, pump in some more vibrating molecules, and fun will be had by all!
posted by bicyclefish at 10:06 AM on September 14, 2010

Love the idea of moving to the suite upstairs. Otherwise partition the room as others have suggested.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:08 AM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: I so totally agree on the crappiness of charging $50 for what they're getting. the hotel claimed it was a low price for reunions they've held before (must've been richer schools...) I'm feeling really bad for him, please don't send him any more shamewaves. Trust me that he & the two others worked crazy hard, canvassing opinions, trying to make his classmates happy who wanted more than just a bar. They all thought it'd be a much bigger group. They do have to pay per head, by the way -- the deposit is just a deposit, so no shady profiteering is going on.

thanks to everyone, I am totally leaning toward paying the deposit, and either
1) finding a venue with a minimum $25 per person for food etc (to guarantee the space) and give back $10 a person
2) finding a venue with no minimum and giving back $20ish and ordering bar food with the remainder, like lalex said.

problems being this is a friday night in a popular beach area of San Diego, so options/space might be limited. however, at this point, I don't think it matters how great the venue is -- as long as there's food and it's not a yawning space of doom like the hotel.
posted by changeling at 10:09 AM on September 14, 2010

The hotel should at the very least be helping mitigate the awkward. The most basic thing they can do is break up the empty space with dividers, such as curtains or sliding panels. Furniture can help, as can lighting. This way you can herd people into a smaller space even though the room is big.

However, I would just pay the deposit, bugger off, and go to a bar.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: 3) moving to a suite. another great idea, if the hotel is open to it.
and of course
4) making the big space seem as small as possible. I haven't seen it personally. I'll run everything by my husband asap and share what he thinks.

it's this hotel, by the way. I'll assume it's not that giant room in the lower picture.

but what if it is
posted by changeling at 10:17 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, dear. The Catamaran is right on the beach (IIRC from my Bat Mitzvah 10+ years ago). You could do a venue swap and make it a beach bonfire with only a bit of advance planning. Spend a few hundred bucks on food for everyone, refund most of everyone's money but hold on to a bit for the deposit cost, and leave the itinerary open to moving to a bar later in the evening if anyone wants to (since you can't drink on the beach anymore).
posted by booknerd at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2010

it's this hotel, by the way. I'll assume it's not that giant room in the lower picture.

but what if it is

I am assuming it is - for an event the size of which your husband was banking on, the Rousseau Suite appears to be the hotel's primary venue.

In your case, just call the hotel and clarify. If you are indeed signed up for the whole ballroom, tell them you understand you are in for the whole $450 but you will only be using Rousseau East and that they should set up in there with no access to the main ballroom.

Alternatively can they set you up in the Gazebo or on the beach if there's no wedding, or one or two adjoining suites?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:43 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If all else fails, try this psychological trick: play uptempo music a bit louder than necessary. If the music's too loud, people have to talk a bit louder. If people have to talk a bit louder, they think they're having a good time. I've used this to kickstart more than one boring office party I had to organize.

Also - get a few bags of balloons (in the school colors if possible), and hang each one from the ceiling by a length of curly ribbon, and hang more curly ribbon from the ceiling when you run out of balloons.

If you could beg, borrow or steal one of those chocolate fountains from someone, that might help, too.

And as someone else suggested - flasks. Bring extras for people who didn't think to bring their own.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2010

You've gotten good suggestions -- I don't have anything else to add, but maybe perspective.

At my 10-year reunion (10 years ago) we wound up paying about $30/head for celery sticks and dip and bad music at a hotel (someone had already eaten my allotted eggroll by the time I got there).

The organizers were chagrined but upfront about what happened, we made the best of of it, had a cheap picnic the next day, and it became an amusing anecdote over the years..."Remember the $30 celery sticks? bwahaha!"

This too, will pass.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: everyone, thank you so, so much. and pantarei, in particular, thanks for the perspective. I'm sorry someone ate your eggroll.

I'll make sure to update after the fact and let you all know what happened, unless the awkward overcomes us all.

will keep checking back of course in case anyone has more ideas.
posted by changeling at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2010

Here's what I would do:

1) Cancel the reservation at the hotel. Suck up the loss of the deposit. This leaves a budget of $1550 ($38.75 per person).

2) Find a local bar that will either a) do a buffet spread of appetizers for about $15 per person, or b) allow you to bring in food and set up a buffet (Costco, budget a few hundred bucks, this would be cheaper). Let's assume this leaves you $900 in your budget, more if you can go Costco.

3) Pick up cheap decorations (photocopies of yearbook photos, streamers, balloons) to decorate. This'll cost in the realm of $50, maybe.

4) Prepay a bar tab, and give every attendee coupons for a certain number of well drinks (using up the remainder of your budget). That $850 should get you 2 to 3 drink tickets per attendee, plus cover the tip for the bartender(s).

5) Advertise an open mic. See if the majorette still has her batons and is willing to do a show, or if any of the kids that had bands want to sing, or that guy who started doing stand up wants to do something. Something along the lines of a Cringe night where the audience will just happen to remember the context. Let folks know about this ahead of time so they can prepare themselves.

It's a 10th reunion, yes? Folks in their late twenties will be perfectly happy with dips and beer. If you can wrangle up a projector and screen, make a slideshow of yearbook photos and incorporate the awesome idea above of vintage filmstrips.

That sounds like *way* more fun to me than the gawdawful ballroom 10th reunion my high school organized, to be honest.

Also, spend all the money you've got, and don't worry about reimbursing folks. If people are going to be petty about this, when they were willing to shell out $50 for an eggroll and an ugly room, then they can take on the challenge of organizing the 20th reunion. And if you set up drink tickets like this, folks who decide to come at the last minute can just buy their drink tickets at the door, for the same $50 contribution everyone else made. Any leftover cash just goes into a fund for the next reunion.
posted by amelioration at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2010

Update. You must update. We want to know what happens!
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:48 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

What we did at my reunion was have a formal reunion on Friday like what you described And a get together on Saturday at pool hall which was free to which many many more people came. Have you thought about inviting folks to a bar or something so that thosewho can't afford the forty bucks can still come?
posted by bananafish at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: okay, so a crappy update:

it IS too late to cancel. they're responsible for 100% because they'd be canceling less than 30 days beforehand. that means they have to pay for all 50 people (even though there probably won't be 50), not just the deposit.

And so they're stuck in the room. Luckily, he thinks it's not the big ballroom DarlingBri pointed out -- it's a smaller one. It also has a balcony or some sort of outdoor patio space.

SO, looks like: no karaoke because Civil Disobedient is so right; partitions if possible; yearbook scanning; school vids; balloons; wii games; smuggling in as much booze as possible... they've also got a poker table and beer pong supplies. Late nineties music played overloud. Eventual open mic for whoever wants it. I'm going to see if he can't beg this woman to let us bring in outside food/apps, or at least to provide more since we're overpaying. And maybe we can get a drink ticket per person out of it.

also, we're in san diego bar central, so I'm sure those who haven't fled in humiliation will go out afterward.
posted by changeling at 12:01 PM on September 14, 2010

This sounds much more reassuring. I hope it's a fun night.
posted by cyndigo at 10:23 AM on September 15, 2010

Me too!

...but you're not off the hook for an after-the-fact update!
posted by bicyclefish at 8:09 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

How did it go???
posted by cyndigo at 12:45 PM on September 20, 2010

Response by poster: oops, forgot an update!!

it turned out okay. not so bad. really! about 50 people showed up. the room wasn't the gigantor room. at best, it felt about half-full, and the balloons really set the scene. money from at-the-door admits was used toward drinks -- mostly, beers for beer pong and flip cup, which was probably the main savior of the event, since tons can play at once. one projector endlessly looped an admittedly pathetic 10 minutes of yearbook scans, and a second broadcast (lopsidedly) the wii nobody ever played. the halloween candy was eaten. the dominoes wilted in a corner. but most people had fun. toward the end there was even a dance circle, at which time I plotted a timely call to my sister. oh, and there was more than enough appetizers. I ate THREE (!!) entire egg rolls.

as an outsider (wife, not a classmate), it was interesting to watch -- the most jovial party folk were definitely the social kids from high school. most of the other folk cleared out early. I wonder whether, if the event was twice as large, it would have felt more or less segregated.

moral: don't underestimate the power of balloons. also, limoncello flasks.
posted by changeling at 10:10 PM on September 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

So glad to hear this; sounds like y'all saved the day!
posted by cyndigo at 8:28 AM on September 22, 2010

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