Protocol for attending large party?
December 8, 2022 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I've been invited to a large party (upwards of 300 people in attendance at a private home) but have declined going due to Covid. However, I am curious about the... "logistics" of attending since I've never been to such a thing. Questions inside.

So, I've been to lots of parties with a few dozen or less people. You show up, you bring a bottle of whatever, the host usually greets you at the door and introduces you if need be. Commence mingling.

But what will happen at a house with 300 guests? I am assuming it will be catered (host mentioned Chef will be cooking nonstop). Does one still bring a bottle of whatever? What happens to it? Do 300 people show up with a bottle of whatever? I assume the host is not greeting everybody (she has indicated in past years not being familiar with all of the guests or even recognizing who attended when she runs into them at a later date).

Invite only says, "Annual Holiday Party" and has images of champagne on it.

Should one bring a gift instead of alcohol? In addition to it? What exactly is expected of guests? Invite indicates 7PM. What time would one show up without looking inconsiderate or crazy? What will happen with people's coats and boots and such (it's middle of winter in Toronto)?

I just can't wrap my head around any aspect of such a thing. It seems positively absurd but host says it's the 15th annual. Mind-boggling.
posted by dobbs to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Catered, you show up with your own sweet self and possible plus one and look around for your work/volunteer/hobby/family group.

I'm assuming the owner of said home is a business owner or is a high muckety muck in a business or organization?
posted by kingdead at 7:23 AM on December 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

Responses are US-based I suppose but I doubt the rules are THAT different in Toronto...

1) In general a party of that size doesn't require people to bring a bottle of something but some folks might. There's almost certainly catering staff and a bartender is part of that, but you probably wouldn't just give your bottle to the bartender. Odds on that there will be a staffer (party planner? similar) answering the door and they will tell you what to do about a bottle if you have one.

2) The large parties I've been to, there was no expectation of gifts. I would imagine there might be some parties where there is? In any case as a first-year invitee and one of 300, if you made a mistake about the gift aspect it would likely slide unnoticed.

3) For a large party I try to show up 2 hours after start time unless I have reason to believe there's a hard stop.

4) there will almost certainly be a coat check but you most likely will just keep your shoes on; a 300 person party with champagne etc., is likely to be a festive-fancy party and folks will be wearing dress shoes, not boots.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:26 AM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

It will be catered, no need to bring a bottle or other gift for the host (as you might in some cultures bring chocolates, or in The Netherlands - flowers).

7pm and reference to chef cooking "non-stop" says no sitting down for dinner but lots of snacks of various sorts.

I would come to a 7pm party of this kind at 8 or so?

(Based on my experiences in the UK, Netherlands, and Texas)
posted by atrazine at 7:30 AM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

If it’s not a professional party - if it’s Rosedale or King City you can bring a $30 bottle of wine, Forest Hill, Markham, Stoufville, Aurora, you can do $20+, but make sure you say to whoever takes it that it’s a family favourite. Most of those bottles will be disbursed to other events or to staff. It’s not required.

I wouldn’t personally do chocolates or flowers.

No gifts, but a snail mailed thank you (thank you for the lovely evening at your beautiful home, best wishes for the holidays) sent after the event is extra classy - get the Papyrus thank yous that just have “thank you” in silver or gold on good card stock; they used to have them at Indigo.

Get there 8-8:30 ish.

They’ll have coat check and usually I’ve worn shoes in the car and slipped around to get to the door but I’m a woman, so needed the heels.

Wow, my private education in TO just came in handy, thanks. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:34 AM on December 8, 2022 [11 favorites]

A trick i somewhat recently learned with larger parties is that you actually ask your closer (or more extroverted friends) to show up either right on time or a bit early so that there’s a sort of “buffer” or there isn’t the feeling of being the one person where you’re waiting for another 299 to show up.

Either someone is taking coast for for a larger (but not 300!) sized party you’d likely throw coats in a specific room (often a bedroom on a bed) but for something if this size they would have thought of logistics and had those rolling coat hanger things
posted by raccoon409 at 7:37 AM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Bring no bottle or gift to a holiday party of that size. Plenty of people show up early and plenty late - I just hosted a 300 guest holiday party and there were 25 people there at 5 minutes after the starting time and 50 people lingering after the end time, and maybe 200 at the peak.
posted by MattD at 7:54 AM on December 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Usually for a house party that size they will use an event planner company who will contract in the catering as well as parking/directing traffic, front walk maintenance (so dirty shoes shouldn't even be a thing), either staffed coat check or at least coat racks, security, door staff, lights and sound system, seating/tables if applicable, and any arrangements that need to be made with the city/municipality (usually around parking and traffic).

My primary adult experience of this kind of party was in a business-relationship sense, in Texas, and in that case a gift would be sent/couriered to the host during the following week or so with a personal thank you note, though the gift itself was usually the same thing sent to every worthy business contact (usually cupcakes or whatever the trendy bakeries were offering at the moment, wine, liquor, fruit basket, flowers, or a product the company (or a partner company) makes if applicable) and they would have gotten one regardless of party status.

If I was going to this one, I'd probably arrive empty-handed and then figure out if I needed to provide a gift as follow-up. But these parties do not, as far as I've ever known, operate on any sort of Gift Math like weddings might, where you should provide a gift at least the value of your food and beverage consumption.

One of the tricks for these parties is that if you DO want to be remembered by the host, show up around 7:20. But it would be assumed that you were "making the rounds" and this was your first stop before moving on to another event, and if someone noticed you still there after 10 that would be a little weird, but if you got there after 8 (meaning this party was likely your preferred party for lingering) and were still there at 10 it wouldn't be. I don't make these rules, I've just been caught up on them by my couple of friends who have lived more fabulous lives at various points.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:04 AM on December 8, 2022 [12 favorites]

If this was an office/work party (say, being hosted at the boss's house) either for your work or a client, I'd show up closer to the start time. But if it is purely social, then I agree with the 8-ish suggestions above.

I wouldn't bring anything unless it was hinted at in the invite or ; you can usually assume that bringing a partner is fine but you'd need to look at the invite or ask around to know if bringing kids is allowed.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:14 AM on December 8, 2022

One other note about bringing a bottle that may or may not apply where you are:

In lots of US jurisdictions (no idea whether this is also true in Canada) if you have an event with a professional, licensed bartender serving drinks, they're actually not allowed to just open a random bottle some guest brought. The licensed bartender(s) have legal responsibilities around not over-serving people and therefore have to be the only ones controlling the flow of booze to guests, and if they don't they could be liable for fines or action against their license.

So I would strongly advise against bringing a bottle of anything alcoholic to a party like this unless you were up on your local bartending laws and were very certain you weren't going to create a regulatory and logistical headache for your host and their caterers by doing so.
posted by firechicago at 8:27 AM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

A private home with 300 people? That feels more like an estate. Wow.

I see several of the "show up fashionably late" responses and boy does that have my eye twitching. For three reasons:
  1. The planner in me doesn't like staring at an empty party for an hour
  2. If there is a door gift (and there likely is one), there might not be one for you when you show up
  3. Assuming you drive to this party, parking will very likely be an issue and more so the later you arrive. If they have no valet, it will be easier to park earlier, but may be harder to get out if parking is on site. If they have a valet, then it's someone else's challenge.

posted by plinth at 8:37 AM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

An event for 300 people is likely to have parking attendants, someone at the door, and caterers. i'm wondering if it's an open bar. Probable cost os something like 100/person.
posted by theora55 at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2022

(The fashionably late folks are almost always balanced out by the 7:15 "want to be seen and remembered by the host" folks as well as the "this ain't even my whole night" folks.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:52 AM on December 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oddly I have somewhat related experience - I have a former coworker who hosts a house party around the holidays, and I was shocked the first time I read the Evite guest list and saw about 200 people on it! The former coworker and his family live in a nice suburban house but it's not a mansion, and I couldn't figure out how logistics would work. Having gone last year, this is how it worked in my situation:

- The Evite RSVP allowed you to add plus-ones or even more, and I could see from responses that many people would be bringing their spouse and children.

- Most of the party was actually outdoors. Although it was in December, we're in southern California so we can get away with that. (Not so much in Toronto, perhaps!) Given it was 2021 COVID concerns were maybe a contributor to that setup but this was also an annual event and I got the feeling this had been the practice before COVID too.

- There was no full meal but tons of appetizers, snacks, cookies, chips, desserts, etc.; also big urns of spiced cider and mulled wine, and a fair number of wine bottles, and coolers with beers as well as plenty of sodas, water bottles, and other nonalcoholic drinks.

- I did not bring any food to the party because the invitation hadn't said it was a potluck, and instead said something like "please RSVP so we make sure we provide enough food!" On arrival, it seemed like a few people had brought small items like a six-pack or a plate of cookies, which were graciously accepted and added to the spread. Most like me didn't seem to bring anything and that was more than fine, no awkwardness at all.

- There were no gifts involved with this particular party - nothing from the host to attendees, nothing from attendees back to the host as far as I could see.

- The outside arrangement had large tables for holding food buffet-style, not to sit down and eat at. There were various forms of seating scattered around the lawn, the driveway, and even in the garage. Some people sat, many just stood. There was a little playset and some outdoor toys that were very popular with the small children attending. The house was also open and I think some people were inside for a while but most people just seemed to go in to use the bathroom and instead mingled outdoors.

- Very similar to what MattD said, it seemed like people came and went freely. I arrived about an hour and a half after start time due to my work schedule and as you'd expect there were already many people there, but also some guests had already left, and a fair number arrived after me. Lots of the families with small children came early and left early; I surprised myself by ending up sitting around the firepit with a dwindling group of apparently childless or well-equipped-with-a-babysitter adults to the end (maybe 10 pm?). There weren't ever actually all 200 RSVP'd guests on site at any one time.

- There was no valet of any kind, people just parked on the streets. This just kind of worked in the suburb in question, though I wonder what the neighbors thought. (It happens that this neighborhood has a street famous for going all out in decorating their houses with musically synced lights etc., so they are pretty used to having lots of random visitors during the holiday season, and maybe that made them less likely to be bothered.)

The party I attended seems to have been a more casual affair than some of the other responses have described - and maybe the champagne pictures on the invite point to yours being fancier. So the best course of action to figure out etiquette for your party if you did want to go would probably be to ask ahead of time! If you don't know the host very well or you feel your questions would be awkward to ask them directly, an alternate tactic is to ask a fellow guest who's been to previous iterations of this yearly party for the lowdown.
posted by sigmagalator at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Pre-Covid we hosted an annual holiday party with up to 70 guests. A few folks brought wine or something baked, but we certainly did not expect anything. Anyone hosting 300 expects even less.

DO send a thank you note or email. It's appreciated even if not expected.
posted by beagle at 10:37 AM on December 8, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks, all!

And, just to clarify: though I suspect she will invite some colleagues, this is a friend and not someone I work with or for. The dozen or so I know on the invite list are also just friends.
posted by dobbs at 11:14 AM on December 8, 2022

I would
- arrive 30 mins after the start time
- if I know them well bring a small wrapped box of nice chocolates and say “this is a little sweet treat for the end of your night, you can open it after everyone leaves”
- if I don’t know them well don’t bring anything
- mail a paper thank you card, larger size with metallic foil on the design or hand made (like a $7-10 card)
- make a public comment on their social media if they do a post about it. “What a beautiful event, you’re such a gracious host” type comment.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:22 AM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Don't bring a gift. Would you want 300 bottles of wine you don't like / sweat treats you won't eat?

I'd imagine it would be tiring to do the whole 'Oh, you shouldn't have' song-and-dance plus manage stowing each gift multiplied numerous times. The hosts have enough to worry about and manage at a practical level on top of just trying to make the full rounds of guests. Don't make them do more work!

If you just can't help yourself and do bring a gift, don't hand it to the host or even mention it to them. Ask a staffer or other guest where to put it.

But really, at a party of this size, I think the most thoughtful gift to the host is to simply hang out with them for a breezy minute or so, let them know how awesome their shindig is, thank them, and then melt back into the guests.
posted by Text TK at 1:59 PM on December 8, 2022

Not being someone invited to such large parties so im not sure on the etiquette, but you may want to bring cash to tip the bartenders and valets. You do at weddings where the host pays for the catering as well, would be my reasoning. (But i'd try and intuit it from what others are doing at the bar).
posted by TheAdamist at 5:39 PM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

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