Below are a few tricks and tips that I have learned along the way to help my Film Dining nights be more successful. If you plan to host your own parties, I suggest you look these over.
1. Never be afraid to ask for help.
When you have a house full of hungry people and a limited amount of time and money, no one expects you to do everything on your own. We can't all be Martha Stewart. When I send out the event invitations to people, I will describe the theme that I am going for and will ask if anyone would like to contribute a dish to help. It is very normal for me to have people help by making side dishes or dessert. I like to take on the main course myself when possible. By doing this, your guests will feel more connected to the event they helped contribute to.
If someone wants to contribute but is unable to make a dish, suggest something simple that they could pick up at the grocery store. For me, drinks are always needed as they tend to go quickly. Sometimes small items like chips or cookies can also be helpful. Lastly, a cash contribution is always acceptable. I like to set out a tip jar near the plates and utensils so that those who want to financially contribute can do so. I also have a cash app and PayPal account, which I share on the electronic invite or provide when asked. These leads to my next tip.
2. Never ask for money (if you can help it).
Hosting these movie nights can be expensive. Believe me, I know. For awhile, I was hosting them while in college and not even making a regular income. However, setting an expectation that guests need to pay you for dinner can change the mood of the night from one of a fun party to now you are a cheap restaurant. It can leave a bad taste in guests mouths and may very likely make them less likely to come to future events.
Here's how you work around that. While I said that you should avoid asking for money, it is perfectly okay to let guests know that financial help would be appreciated. At that point, whether or not they help you is up to them and will feel to them like a gift, rather than a requirement for entry into your home. I like using the tip jar approach that I mentioned above, because it is anonymous. I don't necessarily know who tipped me or how much. This allows them to be more discreet and it removes any temptation I might have to judge my guests for being cheap or stingy. Everyone's financial situation is different, and some simply cannot afford to help. That doesn't mean that you should not invite them to your parties.
Those who contribute food items as mentioned above are just as much a form of financial relief. I always ask that such individuals let me know a week before the party what they plan to contribute. This releases me of the burden of having to buy or prepare that dish and reduces the cost of my grocery shopping.
3. Weight your tip jar.
This may seem like a silly one, but believe me, it helps. If all you do is place an empty jar beside the plates or cups, no one is going to do anything with it. If you label it as a tip jar, you may get a little bit more help, but still not much. Before every night, I place about $7.50 in my tip jar; that is 1 five, 2 ones, and a couple quarters. The reason for this is that it makes it abundantly clear to everyone around the purpose of the jar. That means that I don't have to make an awkward announcement to everyone about it, which going back to Tip 1, sounds a bit like asking for money.
The second benefit of putting cash of differing values in the jar is that it allows tippers to me more discreet. If the jar is empty and someone puts in 2 dollars, anyone who see will know they only put in two dollars. For some people, that could be embarrassing and would lead them to not tipping anything at all. By already having cash in there, their donation is not going to be known or judged.
Lastly, the way that I shop and the type of food that I cook, the per person cost usually is around 5 to 7 dollars. By seeing that five dollar bill in there, guests get an idea of what a preferred tip would look like and that can guide them to contribute an appropriate amount. I know there's a bit of psychology here, and that may make you feel a little guilty if you are anything like me. What I will tell you is this. Even if you use all these tips, at no point are you profiting on your friends. Only once in my five years of doing this did I ever have contributions end up higher than the amount that I actually spent and that extra cash just helped me out with the next one. Your friends are there because they appreciate what you do. They would rather give you a couple bucks so that you can keep doing it, then for you to stop because you can't afford it.
4. Invite more people than you want to attend.
I referenced this on the Setup page. As adults, most of us have busy lives. It is going to be impossible for you to find a day when all of your friends can attend, so always invite more people than you plan to host. For me, I found that the sweet number seems to be 20%. About 20-25% of the people that I invite will actually attend. And believe me, it is not the same people every time. That means that if I want 10 to 12 people, which is pretty standard for me, I need to invite at least 45 or 50 people. I know that seems like a lot, but as I said, I have learned how my people tend to respond. You may want to start with a lower number, but believe me, if you invite 30 people, you will not have 30 guests. You'd be lucky to have 15.
You will be tempted at some point to say "This is my core group," and only invite those same people every time. Don't do this. Even they will have conflicts and nothing kills a party like not having enough people show up. Plus, other people who have not attended any event despite being invited for months may eventually get that day off. They won't be able to come if you have stopped sending them invitations.
5. Invite new people!
In the time that I have been doing this, I always have a core group of friends that show up almost every month. However, that core group has changed several times. People move. Sometimes they have babies. They change jobs. Any number of things can cause your old regulars to become extremely irregular. The best way to combat this and keep your group from shrinking every time someone's life changes is to constantly add fresh blood to the group. I always allow my friends to invite a plus one to the event, as long as they let me know ahead of time, so I know how many people to cook for. You would be surprised how many of these plus ones end up becoming regulars themselves and even close friends.
Also, don't be afraid to invite new people that you know or have met. I only got introduced to this whole concept because someone invited me to his dinner and movie night. He barely knew me at the time, but we bonded over an appreciation for classic Disney cartoons, so he invited me to his next movie night. I continued going, we became good friends, and now I am hosting nights of my own. My point is, don't be afraid to invite new people. You know the type of energy that your friends and your party has. If you get to know someone that you think shares that energy and might enjoy the event, invite them over. They may become a new regular.
6. It's okay to stop inviting someone.
On the opposite side of Tip 5, sometimes people's energy does not work well with your party. Some people are mood killers. Some people say or do something inappropriate that makes your other guests uncomfortable. It's okay to stop inviting these people. You don't have to be rude about it, just "forget" to send them an invitation to the next couple. I know that it may feel bad at first, but not doing this can actually cause your other guests to stop coming due to the discomfort that one guest causes. You know the energy that you want to have at your party. Limit your invitations to people who match that energy if you want your events to continue to be successful.
7. Plan, plan, plan!
I will often start thinking about the next event the day after a current event. What would be a good theme that ties to the film? What will we eat for dinner? Dessert? What music should I play as guests enter? Are there any props or things I can buy that would help to set the mood? If you do not know the film well that you will be watching, do some research. Read some film summaries. Watch some YouTube clips. Yes, you may get some things spoiled for you, but you will be better prepared to throw an awesome themed party. Don't watch the movie, though. That'll take away the fun of watching it with friends.
I can't tell you how many times I have Googled the name of a movie along with "food" or "dinner" or something similar just trying to figure out if there was an food in the film that I could feature in my meal. Preparation is the key word here. You don't want to be throwing something together at the last minute.
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