The holiday party season is upon us, which means now is as good of a time as any to discuss a classic hosting conundrum: When the party is dying down ― or you’re just ready to hit the sheets ― how do you politely signal to your guests that you’d really like them to go home?
When I asked around recently, I found that everyone has their preferred tactics.
Corey Townsend, an audience editor here at HuffPost, told me that when he’s ready to call it a night, he simply starts cleaning up. (Most guests get the hint and leave ― ugh, cleaning on a Saturday night? Any party-lingerers are welcome to grab a broom and help.)
When I posed this question on Twitter, Greg Johnson of Washington state said he does something similar.
“I just start putting away food and pull out a big trash bag,” he shared. “Most get the signal, some help clean, others get ‘the glance’ when engaging in conversation. Afterwards, [I say], ‘I’ll come out to see you all off, it’s been so good to see you!’ Then they’re encouraged out the door.”
Others are fond of a wardrobe change to signal the end of the evening. One of Townsend’s close friends, for instance, has a coded system that always does the trick.
“I know it’s time to leave his apartment when he puts on this specific red pair of basketball shorts lol,” he wrote over Slack.
TV sports producer Lawrence Benedetto vouches for the wardrobe change, too.
“When you want everyone to leave, come out wearing your robe,” he tweeted “Robe O’Clock means GTFO in this household.”
If you’re a parent, by all means, use that to your advantage here.
“Have a kid and then always use them as an excuse,” joked Cassie Haynes, the co-founder of a nonprofit.
@kimmie__kakes on Twitter said she simply invites guests to stay sans host.
“I say, ‘I’m going to bed, guys. If you need to crash there’s blankets in the hamper. Stay as long as you like.’”
In the Midwest, slapping your knee, saying “welp” and then standing up usually gets the process going, at least if your guests are fellow Midwesterners.
If “welp” isn’t your thing, this store-bought sign should get the job done:
We all really do have our preferred strategies ― some more elegant than others.
It’s understandable why we go to all this trouble, too; after all, no host worth their salt wants to appear outwardly rude to their guests, said Thomas P. Farley, the nationally syndicated etiquette columnist behind Mister Manners.
“Hosts never want to appear as though they are pulling the plug on an event that everyone is thoroughly enjoying,” he said. “Nor does a host want to make guests feel that they have overstayed their welcome; one of the prime directives for any host is seeing to the comfort and enjoyment of all guests.”
Flicking the lights on abruptly ― or playing Semisonic’s “Closing Time” over a loudspeaker ― runs fairly contrary to that goal.
Ideally, guests check the time and sense that the party is over without you having to nudge them. As a guest, the rule of thumb is that you don’t want to be the first to leave and you certainly don’t want to be the last, said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas.
But when people are having fun at a party, they tend to lose track of time. (And after almost two years of very little socialization because of COVID-19, many of us are extra eager to put in face time with the people we care about.)
Still, Gottsman said, if you’re the last one there, “it’s an indicator that you were not reading the social cues.”
When Gottsman throws her own party and wants to call it a night, she’s politely transparent with her guests. (Would you expect anything less from an etiquette expert?)
“You really can just say, ’It’s been really nice to have all of you here together tonight. I am getting a bit sleepy from the exciting evening and I am going to have to call it a night very soon. I hope you have enjoyed yourself and I look forward to seeing you again soon,” Gottsman said.
If it’s a fairly big get-together, Jodi R. R. Smith, the founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, recommends sending out an old school invite ― or email or text one ― indicating the start and end time of the party.
“Honestly, one of the lovely things about British invitations is that they include the phrase ‘carriages at’ along with the time so that it is clear in advance when the party will be over,” she said. (For instance, “carriages at midnight” means “be on your merry way by midnight, thanks.”)
But in the moment, at the actual party, I think the best strategy someone shared came from @twoohkate on Twitter. She relies on an end-of-the-night group picture to subtly encourage her friends to scram.
“Turn all the lights on, you make everybody stop talking, make them get into a big awkward group picture and then you just start saying goodbye!”
Still want other ideas? Below, read more “please leave” strategies from the Twitter ask.
This might be South American thing but, I generally tell people “I’m going to bed, if you stay please do the dishes and make breakfast tomorrow.”— Jasmine Garsd Garcia (@JasGarsd) November 24, 2021
When I was a kid, a relative wouldn't leave a gathering that started in the early afternoon, so at 11:30 PM, my dad just turned to him and said, "Well, I'm going to bed now," and walked upstairs. It was efficient if nothing else.— Lauren Jonik (@laurenjonik) November 23, 2021
My dad used to leave a piece of paper prominently on the kitchen table w/ cooking times ... something else.— Stefanie Dazio (@steffdaz) November 23, 2021
1 p.m. stuffed breads + cheeses
2 p.m. grilled vegetables
3 p.m. mussels
4 p.m. meats
5 p.m. desserts
6 p.m. cleanup
7 p.m. GTFO
(we liked to go to sleep early in my house) https://t.co/TShLjDpAPH
"the evening went very well, didn't it," I usually ask, hoping the stragglers note my use of the past tense.— malcolm beith (@mbeith) November 24, 2021
Announce: "I'm going to slip into something more comfortable--like bed."— Stuart Buck (@stuartbuck1) November 23, 2021
Tell your partner loudly, "Honey, let's go to bed so that all these good people can go home."
I do this for friends all the time (when they ask)- stand up on a chair and loudly say, "Friends, we're winding now for the night, but I just want to thank [HOST NAME(S)] for having us all over!" Then everyone thanks the host and the exiting slowly happens— Kathryn Minshew (@kmin) November 23, 2021
I grew up in the Midwest, the land of long goodbyes.— Trillion Byter (@TrillionB) November 23, 2021
- Putting away dishes & cleaning up is a good start
- But there will be the "well, we should be going" goodbye
- Then the kitchen chat & goodbye
- Then the doorway chat & goodbye
- And more if you're unlucky
"Oh where did the time go, can you help me carry these *gestures* to the kitchen?"— ScienceMermaid, (Ed.M) (@ScienceMermaid1) November 23, 2021
When you start tidying up and asking for help people generally get the hint.
If they really don't get it, a blunt: "Well, I hate to kick you out, it's been such a nice time..."
My late mom used to invite people in shifts because our home was so small. She would send out three different invitations. One from 4-6, the second from 5-7 and the third from 6-8 PM. It was genius!— Susan Spector McPherson (@susanmcp1) November 23, 2021