1. UNIVERSAL PARTY ESSENTIALS
a box of black plastic trashbags three or four rolls of paper towels, minimumAn extremely good idea:
a sponge with a scrubby side
small paper napkins
very small, shallow, insecure paper plates
plastic serving utensils
a cheese and veggie knife
a bottle opener
cash on your person, preferably in small bills
a bottle of Ibuprofen
While you’re out shopping, buy one or more cheap electric fans. If you only have one and you have a suite to cool, put it in a doorway facing outward.
A few packages of folding paper fans (sold by novelty companies, usually in packets of twelve) can do a lot to civilize things. A convention party that isn’t too loud and too hot isn’t half trying.
Less hyperthermia and less dehydration means more good conversations.
2. ROOM PREP
Get in as early as possible. Turn the thermostats to “Lunar nightside” and the AC to “Siberian blizzard”. You’re going to have a lot of radiant bodies in the room. Start laying down a basal layer of cold now.
Give yourself prep time: order dinner from room service.
You have a moral obligation to feed your party prep minions, if you have them.
If you’re in a very nice suite, remove any fragile ornaments to the top shelf of a closet. Remove all the phones (except for one, if you’re sure you’ll need it) to a dresser drawer or closet shelf. If you’re staying in the room, secure your possessions.
Optional: rearrange the furniture. If you’re using the big conference table for refreshments, move the chairs away. They’ll do more good over by the sofa and easy chairs, and removing them will keep social maladroits from sitting there and chowing down on your munchies.
Fragile little antique side tables. No good can come of them. Put them somewhere safe, where drunks can’t sit on them.
If your suite features some attractive nuisance like an oversized jacuzzi, easy access to the swimming pool, a microwave with a large viewing port, or [fill in here], do your best to block it off. Otherwise you’ll spend the rest of the evening trying to keep your guest from drowning, tracking water through the suite, slipping on wet floors, generating amusing lighting bolts, generating disgraceful anecdotes, monopolizing the bathroom, et cetera.
Pianos are a particularly attractive nuisance. If you have one, close it up, put on its cover, and turn it so the keyboard’s up against a wall. Spare your guests the embarrassment of having to be told to STOP PLAYING CHOPSTICKS NOW, or possibly GET YOUR STICKY-HANDED CHILD AND HER ALL-DAY SUCKER AWAY FROM THAT MUSICAL INSTRUMENT, or even IF THOSE ARE YOUR PEANUT SHELLS IN AMONGST THE STRINGS, YOUR AGONIZING DEATH IS IMMINENT; but mostly NO MORE CHOPSTICKS STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT AAAAARGH.
If you want to make sure you get everything back into its original position at the end of the evening, take a photo before you start.
If you have a really big suite and can spare the space, designate one small bedroom as prep, storage, and party staff decompression space.
See whether the windows open. You’ll want to know later on. Even a couple of inches can make a huge difference in a room’s livability.
Have a designated lost & found box or drawer. People leave the damnedest things behind at parties.
Check with the committee before taping stuff to walls and doors. You don’t want to have to replace their woven grass wallpaper. If the hotel has a no-stickum policy but you’re desperate to put up a few bits, stick them to the mirrors. Masking tape is always better than cellophane tape. (If you’re using Duct Tape, you’re with General Technics, and don’t need my advice.)
By report, 3M now makes a soft plastic sheet that will cling to just about anything, and can have signage or decorations taped to it. These supposedly come in pads, and can be had from any large office-supply outlet. They still shouldn’t be stuck on woven grass wallpaper.
Most hotels have strict smoking policies. Follow them. (You too, Norman.) If you’re not in a nonsmoking zone but you don’t want smoking anyway, put up signs to that effect. If you can spare a room for a smoking area, put up a sign for that too. Don’t send asthmatic minions to clean or restock the smoking room.
Go ahead and ask the hotel for more and bigger wastebaskets. Lord knows you’re going to need them. Line them with black plastic trashbags before the party starts. If you’re rich in closet space, lay trashbags down on the floor of one closet and stage your bags of garbage there as they accumulate.
If you need a protective covering for the floor, you’re holding the wrong sort of party, and you’re going to scare the hotel just by asking for it.
At successful parties, people don’t tend to move a lot. If it’s crowded, they can’t move. If it isn’t crowded, they’ll get into absorbing conversations, and they still won’t move. It is thus important to not feed them stuff that requires them to dispose of the remains. Only an exceptionally tidy fan will step away from an intense conversation to dispose of cherry stones, citrus peels, apple cores, cheese rinds, candy wrappers, paper collars, little toothpicks, or other detritus. It is likewise important to locate dips or salsas immediately adjacent to the snacky bits that are meant to be dipped in them.
If you have a multi-roomed suite, distribute your munchies throughout the rooms, so that people don’t have to abandon their conversations to go in search of sustenance.
Don’t put everything out at once. It’ll be messy and excessive, and encourage raiding.
Oversized portions will be absentmindedly consumed by your cheerfully distracted guests. Do everyone a favor: buy smaller sizes.
Never serve anything you wouldn’t eat yourself. It shows a lack of respect for your guests. You want to make them feel special, and welcome, and at the same time keep them just a bit on their toes. If you cheap out with indestructible cookies, off-brand sodas, and canoe beer, it’ll take the sparkle out of the evening. Buy less of better stuff, if your budget’s tight. If you run out, people will either leave or they won’t. Either way, you’ll have a nice party.
If there’s no corkage waiver, think twice before sneaking a bunch of party supplies past the hotel staff. That trick worked a lot better in bygone days when rooms weren’t put on credit cards the minute you checked in. If a decent party is impossible, pass the word around that on a specific night, you and yours are going to be holding down a corner of the bar. On the night, bribe the bartender to turn the TV down.
How to bribe a bartender: First, make sure no one else is within earshot. Then, say “How much would I have to bribe you to turn down the music?” Be cheerful and ingenuous. Have the money ready. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to use a credit card.
You’re not feeding people. You’re amusing them.
If it melts or goes limp in a warm room, perhaps you shouldn’t serve it.
When you’re dealing with non-fans, the purpose of fancy exotic fruits is to decorate fruit-and-cheese platters so people can feel swankier while eating the same seedless green grapes they always eat. If you lay on the same spread for fans, the exotic stuff will get eaten. And discussed.
Meat-based munchies are expensive, greasy, and not really necessary. You can maybe put out a few slices of hard sausage, stuff like that. You don’t have to serve lox to the teeming hordes.
Remember to pick up serving dishes when you’re buying party snacks. If naught else availeth, get disposable aluminum roasting pans.
For pete’s sake, go ahead and buy the made-up fruit platters, carrot sticks, celery sticks, and broccoli and cauliflower bits. You’re at the worldcon. Don’t waste half a day of it doing finicky food prep, unless it’s the only way you can make your budget stretch.
Costco is your friend.
If you want to make your crudites last longer, don’t put a container of ranch dip next to them. Do the crudites-and-ranch-dip thing if you want to use them as a buffer for your sliced summer sausage, chocolate-dipped strawberries, miniature cream puffs, and other fast-moving goodies.
I have never seen a convention party eat an entire wheel of Brie. I have likewise never seen a party leave more than a scraped rind of Mimolette. I’m just sayin’.
If you put out smaller dishes of mixed salted nuts, people will be quicker to finish picking out the cashews, almonds, and pecans, and will actually get some of the peanuts eaten before you come around to refresh the bowl.
A few bags of inexpensive seasonal candies (jellybeans, conversation hearts, whatever) and small hard cookies (ginger snaps are always good for this) will make a good show, and will greatly lessen your chances of running out of refreshments. If they wind up having to be thrown out afterward, it’s no great loss. Note: small hard candies are okay; larger ones are not. You can’t talk around them.
Very small insecure paper plates will enable your guests to load up a handful of cookies or veggie bits and carry them off to wherever they’re conversing, but won’t encourage malfeasants to carry off a half-pound of chocolates when they leave.
Don’t mix haploid and diploid M&Ms. In general, don’t mix snacks. Every time you mix two snacks together, you increase the chances that the entire combination is now untouchable for some people.
If some snacks are kosher, low-sugar, low-salt, or otherwise a special concession to difficult diets, label them so that everyone else will leave them alone.
Get plain, basic crackers. At a good party, nobody’s paying attention to the crackers.
Go light on the excessively smelly foods.
People who have fragile teeth, and who aren’t familiar with the interesting properties of Corn Nuts, Jolly Rancher candies, or other dental hazards, can get themselves into a world of trouble. Best not to put that stuff out.
Consider labeling blazingly spicy snacks like wasabi peas.
This probably won’t come up, but something alchemically awful happens when you combine those glossy little Japanese rice cracker snacks with Clamato juice. It’s not unhealthy; it just makes you want to scrub your tongue off with a Brillo pad.
As you know, Bob, one of the most distinctive features of fannish convention parties is the bathtub full of ice, sodas, and beer.
Some people hold that if you have two bathrooms, you should put the beer in one bathtub and the soda in the other. I’ve come to disagree with this view, as it can be difficult to reach one bathroom, much less get to two so you can bring back the other sort of drink for your sweetie.
Mid-afternoon is not too early to make arrangements for ice for the bathtubs. Make sure you know how big your hotel’s ice tubs are before agreeing on a number and price. Make very sure you specify delivery times.
Consider lining the bathtub with a cheap plastic shower curtain or some black plastic garbage bags to prevent scratching and other damage.
If you have plenty of ice and then some, open the bathtub stopper. If what you have is no more than you need, or perhaps a bit less than that, close the stopper. Your guests will have to do some fishing around in cold water, but at least the drinks will be chilled.
If you’re late getting your drinks into the ice, adding some water to the mix will make them get cold faster.
Dumping ice in a bathtub is fast. Laying down a proper assortment of soda and beer takes longer.
Restock often. Stack the extra six-packs under the bathroom sink to make restocking easier. Save the cardboard sixpack containers. You’re going to need them to hold the empties.
Single-serving cans and bottles of soda, beer, and cider are just about perfect. If you’re serving other beverages, have someone from the home team do the pouring. It keeps everyone out of trouble.
If you’re pouring beverages from larger containers, you’re going to need A LOT of glasses. Get the little ones that are about the size of an old-fashioned glass.
Do not serve alcohol to minors. Ever.
Hard liquor isn’t a good idea unless (1.) you’re holding a relatively quiet party for people you already know; or (2.) you’re doing the pouring and serving yourself. The aforementioned tendency of partygoers to become immobile means that people who are near the hootch can wind up having way too much to drink. Particularly dangerous: that state where you’re overheated and thirsty, but a bit too drunk and distracted to realize that drinking what’s in your glass will not help.
Very dark, heavy beers sound like a good idea when you’re buying supplies, but lighter brews like bitter, ale, pale ale, and Corona-with-a-lime will go over better when the party heats up. Cider’s increasingly popular, and always disappears fast. Don’t forget to pick up a couple of sixers of non-alcoholic beer, even if you don’t know who’s going to be drinking it.
It never hurts to have a bit of string to tie the bottle opener to some handy projection.
You’re allowed to smack anyone you catch using a drawer pull to open a bottle.Soda proportions:
4-6 parts Coke or Pepsi4. THE PROPER CONDUCT OF PARTIES
2 parts Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi
2 parts lemon-lime soda
2 parts flavored unsweetened selzer, if avail.
1-2 parts orange, root beer, ginger ale
If you don’t want the whole convention showing up, don’t announce your party in the daily newsletter. If you don’t want strangers knocking on your door, don’t put a party sign on it.
If you’re giving your party for a specific group, be courteous to confused fans who show up thinking it’s a general occasion. It costs you nothing to be polite, it’ll spare them a great deal of painful embarrassment, and you won’t have to hear about what awful elitists y’all are for the rest of your days in the SF community.
How to issue a semi-general invitation without putting it in the daily newsletter: As soon as you know your date, place, and time, start telling it people and asking them to pass it on. If you’re terribly terribly organized, you can have it printed on a bunch of little paper squares to press into people’s hands as you pass them in the hallways.
You never know for sure how many people are going to show up.
A useful formula for occasions when you need to seriously ingratiate yourself with the hotel staff: “We know that your people will be going to a lot of extra effort for this convention, and believe me, we’ll be properly appreciative when they do; but right now we’d just like to show some of our appreciation in advance.” Optionally: “We’d just like to show some of our appreciation in advance. What would be a good amount?”
If you’re having a really big party that’s open to all, you have to have someone at the door at all times. People who’ve been looked at and greeted are far less likely to misbehave.
Chances are you’ll also have to have someone periodically go up and down the corridor outside, clearing a path and telling people to keep the noise down. Noise in the corridor is likelier to get a party shut down than whatever’s happening inside.
Circulate, tidy up, refresh, refill, consolidate. Then do it again. Bus the party as you go. If you wanted to sit still and have a good time, you should have gone to someone else’s party.
A guest who has prematurely gone to sleep on a prime piece of couch real estate should be gently wakened, and if possible offered an escort to their room.
You can allow or discourage children. It’s your choice. What you can’t allow is parents leaving their children unattended at your party while they slip off elsewhere.
Do not agree to take responsibility for parcels, art, mysterious brown paper bags, etc., which belong to people you don’t know well.
Public lewdness, illegal drugs, foul language, zero tolerance. It doesn’t matter whether they still have their clothes on. If what they’re doing reads as sex, they have to leave.
Living organisms may not be brought in on a leash. Pets are right out, too.
Be a little wary of partygoers who aren’t wearing convention badges, especially if they don’t look like convention attendees. They may be perfectly all right, but you need to know who they are, and let them know they’ve been noticed. Shaking hands and asking their names will usually do it.
If you didn’t intend to hold a gaming party or music party, you’re not obliged to give space to displaced musicians or gamers, unless you like the idea. In general, unless you’re hosting a music party, don’t play music.
Never allow anyone to turn on a TV unless there’s something specific and limited you all want to watch, or there’s an emergency blowing up, or something epochally historical is happening. When the show or the news cycle is over, turn it off.
Don’t hesitate to quietly and good-humoredly shush a conversation group that’s getting raucous.Loud drunks, combative arguers, unpleasant acting-out, impromptu huckstering, people who Need To Get A Room, etc., can all be handled the same way: a light hand on the shoulder, a pleasant half-smile, and the words “Not here.” If they look confused, or disinclined to admit that they understand what you’re saying, add a specification and repeat the message:
“You’re getting a bit loud. Not the place for it.”If someone makes you uncomfortable, go with your gut.
“Argument. Take it somewhere else.”
“This is not the Dealers’ Room.”
“You need to find a room. This isn’t it.”
Agree beforehand about when you’re going to close up shop, bearing in mind that if 0300 comes and you’re stuck fast in a discussion of Kirkegaard’s recipe for chocolate chip banana bread, you and the minions might want to renegotiate.
Work out in advance who’s responsible for shutting down and cleaning up after the party. If you don’t realize that you’ve all gotten exhausted before you start shutting down the party, you’ll hate each other before you’re finished with cleanup.
If party guests offer to help clean up, smile and say, “Why, thank you!” and give them a task. There’s no such thing as too many helpers.
It’s fairly effective to make a cheerful announcement that anyone who’s still around after the cutoff time is volunteering for the cleanup crew. If they go, that’s good. If they stay, that’s even better.
If you have a lot of leftovers, offer them to your minions. If they don’t want them, give the leftovers to the convention for the consuite, or for redistribution to other parties. If you’re far from home, “leftovers” includes the electric fan.
If you just have the suite for one night, don’t count on being able to get in and reclaim stuff next morning unless you’ve made specific arrangements to do so. Otherwise, pack it out or kiss it goodbye.
Put the furniture back where you found it. Same goes for the ornaments and phones. It spares the hotel a few minutes’ panic before they find all that stuff you stashed on the closet shelf.
You don’t have to recycle your bottles. It’s enough to leave them tidily stacked in their cardboard six-packs. Let the hotel or the staff have the bottle deposit.TIP THE STAFF. No matter how tidy you are, the aftermath of a big party is still going to be a chore for the chambermaids.
(Thanks for additional observations and suggestions to Madeleine Robins, Don Fitch, Bruce Adelsohn, CHip Hitchcock, Christopher Hatton, and P J Evans.)Note: Two years ago, we posted assorted bits of advice for writers attending their first SF convention. It’s as useful now as it was then.