I have attended numerous cocktail and dinner parties on the Vineyard this summer (as a caterer, that is) and have noticed a troubling trend. On several occasions, guests have chosen to linger long past their welcome. Catering etiquette dictates that the host determines when the party is over, and as such, when the caterers start making moves to “wrap things up.” It is awkward, as a server/bartender, to collect glasses, pack up the bar, blow out candles, and remove tablecloths while guests are seemingly oblivious to the fact that their host is ready for them to leave. Can you offer some suggestions as to how hosts might conclude their parties in a timely but gracious manner?
I’d love to focus on all the ways a host can signal to their guests that it’s time to wrap it up, but first, I’m not sure I have the subtext straight. Are you saying the host wants the party to be over because the host is tired of having guests in their home? Or are you saying that the host needs the party to be over because there is no overtime arrangement set up for the catering staff?
If there is an overtime arrangement, then — as thoughtful as you are for worrying about your client — it isn’t your problem. Keep working (and earning overtime) until the hosts figures out how to stand up for themselves and manage their own party. If they’re assertive enough about their needs to snag good caterers in summer here, they’re assertive enough to figure out how to say goodnight to their friends. If they’re shocked when they get your bill, they’ll be motivated to end things earlier next time. It’s tough love, but they will come out stronger for it. Trust me: They’ll be fine.
Of course, if there is no overtime arrangement, that’s a different matter. In that case, you and the host are a team — you are both invested in the party ending on time — and the lingering guests are the opponents. In that case, of course you want to help the host sort out how to end the evening.
I am mortified to confess that at least once this summer, I was probably a lingering guest (if you consider “the last three attendees besides the caterers, who are washing the dishes” lingering). So I can speak with authority to what a lingering guest would respond well to. Here are some suggestions, labeled according to theme:
Honesty: If there is music playing, turn it off. If there is atmospheric lighting, or fountains, or carnival rides, or electric beer kegs, ditto. The host can make an announcement, and simply inform everyone that it is time for them to go. “I love you but get out of here” is one way to phrase it, and will go over just fine if the host is smiling. No need to give a reason, or an apology. The lingering guests will feel deeply honored because they, and only they, will have seen this crack in the host’s otherwise flawless Hosting Façade.
A medical condition: Depending on how dramatic they are feeling, the host might either keel over into a dead faint in front of as many people as possible; stagger toward the couch and sit down, gasping for breath; or, wander through the remaining guests asking them all, with wan cheerfulness, if they could possibly open this medicine bottle which they themselves can’t do because of their “condition.” If the lingering guest is a jerk, they will leave immediately so as not to feel responsible for the host’s fragile humanity. If the lingering guest is not a jerk, they will attempt to help the host, and then leave quickly, feeling warmhearted for their good Samaritan tendencies, and grateful that they themselves are in good health.
An exotic other life: The host can exclaim “Goodness, look at the time!” and then insist they must close up shop quickly because they have a late-evening conference call to business associates in Bhutan, or a commitment to sing at a secret karaoke club in Aquinnah, or an incoming helicopter drop-off of unspecified “research materials,” and so they have to close up shop. The lingering guest will feel warmhearted and flattered to have been befriended by somebody so fascinating.
That’s my take.
Bemused readers ask bestselling novelist and Shakespeare for the Masses co-creator Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to onIsland@mvtimes.com.