5 Strategies for Shutting Down the Party

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Have you ever been a bartender or waited tables? Were you ever forced to stay at work much longer than expected because some lovebirds were too busy staring deeply into each other’s eyes or, let’s be honest, practically making out on your bar? They were impervious to your passive-aggressive encouragement as you cleared every item from their table, stopped offering refills 20 minutes ago, and took out the broom.

So what do you do? Put on Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” of course. It will either inspire or embarrass them, or both, and they’ll leave. But you can’t very well do that at home. Here’s what to do instead.

I’m a little bit worried about sharing my techniques because I don’t want any of my guests to think I want them to leave. I don’t! It’s just that I occasionally feel the need to go to bed by 3 a.m., or 10 p.m. if I have to work the next day. I love y’all, but I just can’t hang like I used to.

So when bedtime is nigh, here’s what I do.

1. Finis origine pendet.

That’s Latin for, “The end depends on the beginning.” I don’t speak Latin, but that was my high school motto; one of the best ways to make people leave on time is making the end time clear from the beginning.

The beginning of any party or gathering is an invitation, whether it’s written, emailed, or verbal. In a written or email invitation, just include the hours. But if you’re inviting someone for dinner, on the phone or in person, try something like, “We’d love to have you and Tamra for supper on Thursday, and we’ll start right after work, so I don’t keep you too late and we can all make it to work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Friday.”

2. Make like a bartender and stop offering refills.

As a frequent and enthusiastic host, it can be hard for me to stop offering more snacks, another glass of bubbly, another game of pool. But if you want to make it to bed before dawn, it has to happen.

You can also turn up the lights a bit and turn off the music (or don’t hit play again when it stops). When there’s nothing left to eat, drink, or do, people usually head home. Because those Law and Order reruns aren’t going to watch themselves.

3. Give your guest a “leave bag.”

When my children were little, I went to a lot of birthday parties, and party favors were a sign that it was time to pack up and get ready to head home. The children knew it, too. Near the end of a party, I overheard one ask, “When do we get the Leave Bags?” Leave bags, indeed, because that’s exactly the message they’re meant to convey.

When you’re ready to do the dishes so you can get to bed, jump up from your seat and say, “Oh, Martin, don’t let me forget to lend you my copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. I know I promised!” Alternately, jump up and express your need not to forget to give them a jar of that chutney you promised, or some of your favorite seasoning salt. This is the equivalent of a child’s party favor and will usually inspire exodus. Resist the urge to sit back down once you hand it over, though.

4. Sometimes honesty is the best policy.

Tell your guests exactly how much you love them, that you look forward to their visits every time, and that you can’t imagine any friends who would be more entertaining — but that you have to let them go. You know you’ve kept them too long already, but every party has to end. I find this usually works: “Oh, my! Look at the time. I hate to push y’all out the door, but if I don’t get to bed soon, I’ll never make it to my meeting in the morning.”

This approach has the benefit of being truthful and your guests won’t ask themselves, “Did they want us to leave?” on the way home. They’ll just know. You invited these people, so you’re probably enjoying their company, and you’d love to stay up until the crack of dawn eating cookies and talking about everything under the sun, but you can’t.

5. Blame it on the kids.

It’s the kids; or my partner’s killer schedule this week; or the neighbors; or the dog, who just can’t settle down when guests linger. I can’t blame my dog, who will gladly curl up to anyone who lets him, but you get the picture.

And as your guests (finally) walk out the door? Don’t forget to thank them for coming and let them know you can’t wait to do it again.

Aside from singing a round of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” how do you let people know the party’s over?