Friday, November 29, 2013

Hosting Sailors

(Picture from: http://www.ussalmaack.com/1945OfficerParty.JPG)

I've seen a very sad decline in the number of dinner parties, get togethers, and overall social functions that wardrooms and informal groups of officers put on.  It seems that as we become the most connected generation on the planet due to the proliferation of the internet, we have turned that around and hesitate to actually bring people over to our homes, preferring to keep them at a digital distance via Facebook and email.  The parties that do happen too often become frat parties: lots of alcohol, lots of music, and no opportunity to truly connect with other people.

Naval Officers were once required to call on their Commanding Officer, Executive Officer and Department Head upon arrival to the command.  It used to be quite a formal affair, even to the point there was a book outlining the proper procedure (you can still see sections of it here: http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/social_custom.htm).   Hosting Sailors, especially other officers, doesn't need to be a formal affair though.  It's more important to host them and enjoy their company than it is to attempt to follow social rules that aren't written down.



Having now hosted a myriad of events at my house for Sailors ranging from E-3 to O-7, I've learned quite a bit along the way.  I have asked others why they don't ever host, and the number one reason given is that they "don't know how."  So, here are some tips if you are hosting a party:

BEFORE THE PARTY

1. Pick a time for what food you want to provide.  Depending on when you host a party, food is expected. If your party falls between 1100-1300 or 1600-1800, you'll be expected to provide a plan for food.  If you don't want that, you need to say so.  I've purposely started parties after 1800 so that the guests had time to eat dinner before coming.  There is nothing wrong with this, since you may be constrained by space or budget for food.

2. Set expectations in the invite.  Children or no children?  Potluck or are you providing all the food?  Dress code?  Alcohol?  Stay until you're tired, or people need to leave by a certain time?  Think the party through and set that expectation in your invite.  I hate not knowing if I can bring my kids, because I have to plan out a babysitter in advance.  Set the rules early so your guests can prepare properly.  If you ask guests to bring food, be cognizant of the ones that can't necessarily cook (e.g. your single, unmarried junior officers) and assign them a dish that is easy to purchase (dessert, chips, wine, etc.).

3. Invite the right crowd.  Remember that not everyone gets along.  Your coworkers all know you, but they don't necessarily know each other.  Pay attention to rank: if you bring an E-3 over and he's the only enlisted person there, he might feel a bit uncomfortable.  Keeping a good mix of people and personalities keeps a party fun and enjoyable for everyone.

4. Get RSVPs a week out.  Nowadays nobody seems to reply to RSVPs, so simply call them a week before and get a yes or no.  You need a fairly accurate guest list to go shopping.  Running out of food or drink is embarrassing, and likely means you failed to plan properly.

5. If you're doing dinner, assign seating.  I purposely assign seating at a dinner party, especially if there are people that don't know each other.  Humans tend to cluster with people they know.  You want to break this, so stagger people so that they are sitting near others they haven't met or interacted with much.  Be cognizant of the male/female ratio at your table, and try to balance it if possible.  DON'T break apart couples...instead, stagger it so couples sit near single Sailors.  The goal is to ensure conversation with all parts of the table,

6. Prep food in advance.  Make dishes in advance that can be frozen, so that all you need to do is reheat the day of the party.  Make a chart of temperatures and times so that you plan out how you'll use the oven.  This is a big deal when hosting for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

7. Clean, but don't go overboard.  Your house should be clean, but don't go overboard.  Your guests will notice if the toilet has never been scrubbed in years, but are unlikely to run their fingers on your blinds looking for dust.

DAY OF PARTY

1. Prep your house.  Section off a part of your house that you won't have guests in and move valuables to that area.  Laptops, appliances...whatever you don't want guests playing with, put them away in the room and lock the door if you can.  This becomes an even bigger deal when you host families with children.

2. Plan food so you can greet people.  Your guests are coming to interact with you, but if all you're doing is cooking food and cleaning, you'll miss out on the conversation.  Plan it so that food prep doesn't interfere with conversation. 

3. Have a trash can plan.  Make sure you have a plan for trash.  Have extra trash bags on hand so you can quickly replace them when they fill up.  Make sure you have room in your curbside trash can to store trash.

4. Have a bathroom plan.  Make sure you have extra towels, soap, toilet paper, and a plunger in your bathroom.

5. Have a cleanup plan.  I keep an extra roll of paper towels in the kitchen, plus I have a few Sham Wows on hand.  I also keep Windex and furniture cleaner nearby.  Being able to quickly respond to spills keeps your house clean and helps keep your guests from feeling embarrassed.

6. Have a drink plan.  I put out two pitchers of water and glasses so that guests don't have to hover over the sink to get a glass of water.  I pop the cork on a bottle of wine right before arrival time, put a wine pourer in (like this one), and have wine glasses set out so I can quickly provide drinks.

7. When guests arrive: Meet, Greet, Coat, Drink.  Meet your guests at the door.  Greet them with a handshake or a hug.  Take their coat and hang it up.  Offer them a drink.  Then, get them out of the foyer (nobody wants to hang out near the door!) and into your home.

8. Let people know when to start eating.  Your guests will wait for you to make the first move.  If you want people to begin eating appetizers, then either offer or (as I prefer to do) take the first bite and then offer.  Same goes for plating food and actually eating once at the table.

9. Engage everyone in conversation.  You should talk to every guest at least once during their time at your house.  Not everyone is loquacious, but just because someone is a bit quieter doesn't mean they don't have anything to say.  You speaking to them makes them feel wanted and special.

10. Watch out for drunken problems.  If you have guests getting drunk, belligerent, too friendly, etc., don't wait for someone else to act.  Pull that person aside right away and stop the behavior.  If necessary, call a cab and send them home early.  The last thing you need is a DUI or sexual harassment coming from your party.

11. Signal when it's time to leave.  Especially if you have a lot of cleanup, signal when it's time to leave.  When the host says "Wow, it's a lot later than I thought," most guests take the hint and start packing up.  For those that don't, be a bit more forceful.  I had one lady that simply didn't get it, so I said "I'm really concerned that you have to drive in dark, so please send me a text when you get back."  She finally took the hint and left.

Above all, have fun!  Hosting Sailors is a blast. I've regularly hosted Sailors for Thanksgiving, Holiday parties, summer bonfires, dinner parties, and evening cigar nights.  I've brought Sailors I know well and ones that I don't know well over, and I've learned a lot every time.  Hosting can be a challenge at times, but the pieces we often stress about are likely to be overlooked by our guests if we simply focus on having a good time.  Hopefully the Facebook generation will spend a bit less time on the computer and a bit more time actually hosting people in person.

Feel free to leave additional tips in the comments section, I'm sure I didn't cover everything.

1 comment:

  1. Onboard my last ship, we revivied Wardroom social functions outside of duty hours. The first party we had was at my home and it went off well. I would add one suggestion:

    Let your neighbors know. We had a lot of people parking on the street, most occupants parked at least one car on the street too. As a courtesy we let our neighbors know what we had planned.

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