I found I need a mixture of structure, charm, and pay-offs (to guests) to host a good party. Some of my friends joke that I am “tightly-wound” (a characterization I jovially dispute).
But much of what I do for parties comes from my applied understanding of formal social science theory to solve this key dilemma: How to host a party that is fun, while having fun myself.
The Three Problems of Guests
Problem 1: Guests, especially those are acquaintances and good, but not close, friends don't want to be at a party that's not popping.
This is what is known as a 'coordination problem’. Coordination problems from a social science point of view are those difficulties that arise when multiple actors are independently making decisions simultaneously under conditions of private information about their own different preferences and constraints. Everyone's enjoyment is dependent on everyone else's decision-making.
Problem 2: Non-formal parties (with dinner components) are not viewed as commitments in the same way that making a fitness class at the gym are viewed as commitments.
This is referred to as a "commitment problem." Commitment problems from a social science point of view are those difficulties that arise when multiple actors are not able to achieve their goals because they cannot credibly be expected to converge on the same standards. No one wants to be the first person to arrive, and everyone else would prefer that someone else arrive at the party before them. So it becomes a game of chicken about who is going to go to the party first.
Problem 3: Hosts ought to be present during the whole time of their parties, which represent very real loss of time if the party turns out to be bad.
Three Implications of the Framework
These three problems generate three empirical implications that arise from these dynamics that can ruin parties.
1. Everyone "knows" that showing up to a party "late" is expected.
-Hosts have to start parties earlier than they want the party to start to out-guess when guests will actually arrive. For example, if you want to start a part at 530, the latest the official start time can be is likely 415.
-There will almost always be dead time (usually at the beginning)
-People plan their days to arrive "some time" after the party starts, allowing for a variety of life happenings can get in the way of them showing up in a timely fashion. Folks, therefore, always show up later than they expected to show up.
2. Parties without a critical mass of guests reduce the perception of any attending guest that the event they are at is fun.
Why is that? Without critical mass, they are just hanging out with you at your house. While it is fun to spend time with your friends, it is the anticipointment of the loss novelty of a party scene that makes the otherwise cool hangout-Ki seem underwhelming.
-Non-fun parties are not a priority to show up at in the future. Hosting bad parties can give induce reputation costs for future invites.
-If the introverts show up early, your party is basically a silent disco, because they are happy to be near, but not with, other folks.
3. Day parties tend to become night parties, meaning that people are arriving at your house all hours of the night.
Four Solutions Made Possible By Applied Social Science
1. Coordination problems are solved through convergence of expectations, often by creating rules and/or institutions.
Parties are planned at least 14 days in advance via save-the-dates. This helps planners and non-planners alike. For planners, they know that there will be something fun happening that weekend and can build that into their weekend expectations. For non-planners, they are aware that there will be fun options available for them, if that's what they feel like doing.
2. Commitment problems are solved with norm or rule enforcement. Commitment problems are arise from non-self enforcing equilibrium.
For parties, guests are not admitted after a certain hour that is specified in both the invite and the save-the-date. Usually it's about 2.5 after start time, because that effectively means that people will begin arriving after about an hour. (I have found that an 90 minute window just made people un-happy.)
This deadline causes the critical mass to happen earlier, making it more likely the party will be fun and remembered as such. It also means that those people who feel that they need to be fashionably late can be quite late and still within the margin of error. This practice also reduces the amount of wasted time of the host, being present for a party that isn't happening.
Also, random aside: This is why you gotta have those friends who always show up on time. Married couples who don't like being out late are the best. Also people who wanna sleep with you, but aren't sure how, and feel they need to earn their loyalty.
3. Parties end on time. There’s a last call and goodbyes.
Nothing irks me, as a host, when the party starts at 4pm, but people arrive at 10pm ready to turn up. I may have run out of any combination of food, drink or energy to entertain over the course of 6 hours.
It's like "Gurl, you missed the party, and that's ok, but don't show up at 10pm unless we dating and you're coming over to help clean up."
4. I only host day parties, because day parties are the pre-game for folks who like to be out all night, and are the main event for folks who want to be home early. Every one wins.
It also reduces the likelihood that folks will come to your party after being at like 2 to 3 other places.
Finally, if a party ends at 8 or 9pm, I can clean up before going out/ to bed.
Am I Too Much? Or Are Other People Not Enough?
So there you have it, my little life template for hosting parties that aren’t sit down dinners. There’s a method to my madness, and it’s about making sure that everyone has a good time.
Let them eat cake?