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Getting Guests to Leave

September 1, 2010

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Dear Erica,
I love having people over. Sometimes we hang out and watch movies, sometimes I throw themed parties, and sometimes it’s just a gathering space. My friends are great. They bring snacks and we have a great time. Apparently, we have such a great time that … I can never get them to leave.

I don’t want to kick them out, but a girl needs her beauty rest. How do I reclaim my space without hurting anyone’s feelings?

-Furious Under The Overwhelming Nuisance

Dear FUTON,

I feel your pain. This is a tricky question, because it’s one of those “etiquette is a two-way street” things. You have certain responsibilites as a hostess, but your guests need to be cognizant of their own behavior as well. But, as my mom reminds me often, “there’s only so much you can control.” So, let’s focus on what you can do.

The method I don’t really recommend? My grandma Elaine’s. When my dad was a teenager, and had friends over in his “psychadelic room” (which is totally it’s own story), grandma would stand at the top of the stairs, and loudly wind up an alarm clock, letting the deadbeats know they had 5 minutes to get out of her house. Effective? Absolutely. Polite? Not so much.

The key to getting people the heck out of your house is thinking ahead. You sometimes have to prep people that it’s time to wrap it all up. You don’t want to make anyone feel unwelcome, just … giving them a message.  A few ideas:

  • If there’s music, turn it off. The TV is on, but no one is watching? Either lower the volume or shut it off. Essentially, kill any passive entertainment.
  • Offer to serve tea or coffee. The trick is not to do this when you decide you want them to leave (as it could be seen as an invitation to stay later) but more of a “coffee signifies the end of a meal/party, etc.”
  • Mention what a busy day you have the next day, or how early you have to wake up. This sometimes makes people think of their own responsibilities.
  • Start discussing how good it was to see the guests, and how you should plan to do this again soon. That also sounds like someone wrapping up a conversation, and bringing it to a logical conclusion.
  • For a larger party, ask a good friend (you know the kind) to leave a little early, and make a big show of it. This doesn’t work if that same really good friend is the same one to help you clean up afterward.
  • Offer doggie-bags/leftovers. As in “nothing more is being served. This is for you to take home. Home. You remember home, right? Go there.”
  • Start cleaning up. I like to leave this as an almost last-ditch effort because I feel it’s a little hostile. But it does tend to work. And even if they don’t leave, they usually feel bad and at least help clean.

And then, when all else fails – and your guests haven’t held up their end of the etiquette bargain? Go ahead and tell them it’s time to leave. “It’s really been a lot of fun, but I do have to call it a night. Let’s see one another again soon?” It may feel a little uncomfortable, but it’s better than putting on PJs and putting your guests out on the front porch. And lately, I notice when people are just hanging out, playing video games – they aren’t really paying attention to less than subtle cues, and need that verbal kick in the butt.

But the most important rule of ending a party? Making sure whomever is leaving your house is fit to drive or get home. /PSA

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