“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Yes, there’s a way to get that message across politely and gracefully.
True confession: I’ve always wanted to say that exact phrase out loud. Thus far, this has not happened in real life. I suppose the slight exception would be everyone singing along to Closing Time by Semisonic as the final song at my wedding…
The need for a go-to phrase at the end of the night is so real though.
Events are great. People are great. Parties also need to end.
Why do so many of us in our culture find this process of concluding events to be awkward? This phenomenon includes me – I’m always secretly terrified of coming across as rude or bossy or like a buzzkill when rounding up a party.
I’m never offended when someone else wraps up a party. So why do I have this internal monologue when hosting my own events? Go figure. It’s unnecessarily hard on myself, but the inner hesitation to draw my own event to a close has always been there, and I know it’s common.
Good news for all us recovering people-pleasers though – I’ve figured out how to handle this. I have four tools in my party-conclusion toolbox, pulled together after years and years of awkwardness. Luckily you get to skip that awkwardness with this cheat sheet! Let’s dive in.
How To Kick People Out At The End Of Your Party
Four Methods of Shooing People Away with Class
The intensity of these methods will increase as we go along. I usually start with #1 and work my way through roughly in order.
1. Non-verbal & Indirect
2. Non-verbal & Direct
3. Verbal & Indirect
4. Verbal & Direct
One notable exception: If a guest is suuuuuuuper drunk, endangering other guests, violent, or otherwise needs to be escorted out, then it’s time for him or her to leave immediately, regardless of the rest of the party. That’s a topic for another post, though. This covers just run-of-the-mill, this-was-lovely-but-I-am-done exit strategies.
Non-Verbal & Indirect
Not all guests will be savvy or considerate enough to notice these hints, and that’s fine. I usually start with these since they’re gentle and I can keep a conversation going while subtly multi-tasking.
- Do a lap around the party area and take people’s empty glasses, plates, trash, what have you – without offering to refill their drink or get them more food.
- Clear away empty serving plates, empty pitchers, and the like from the buffet table. I usually will do this gradually throughout the event, and then do a big batch of buffet table cleanup near the end, while still leaving some refreshments.
- If the music or other entertainment is quietly going in the background, turn it down or turn it off.
- If anyone will be taking leftovers, start packing up leftovers, tupperware, doggie bags, etc.
Non-verbal & Direct
Some cleanup tasks are more obvious than others. These are the obvious ones. Again, not all guests will notice these, but some will take the hint or otherwise just notice the party vibe slowing down.
- Close the bar. Put away the alcohol.
Pro tip – don’t announce a “last call.” That usually just results in a rush to the booze table and people staying around longer to finish their last drink. Just close up the bar quietly.
Don’t feel one bit guilty about closing down the bar – you literally just hosted a party. Your guests have had their refreshments. They are refreshed. Parties need to end eventually.
- Load & start the dishwasher.
- Blow out candles.
- If the music or entertainment is prominent, turn off the music or end the show.
- Clear away the entire buffet table.
- Walk around with a trash bag to collect any garbage.
- If you collected coats, and the party is small enough, start handing out coats.
Verbal & Indirect
These are some of the go-to phrases I keep in my back pocket to deploy if I need to start winding up the party more quickly. Sometimes just one of these deployed in a strategic group quiet moment can clear the room smoothly. Once in a while, the old wives’ tale of the Seven Minute Pause actually happens during a party, and that’s a perfect time to say one of these slightly louder than usual.
- I am so pleased with how this party went! ( <—-emphasize past tense )
- This has been so much fun. Have you had a good time? ( <—-emphasize past tense )
- Have I told you about [an activity that you or your family or roommates participate in]? There’s [activity] tomorrow so it’s going to be a big day.
- Oh my gosh, it’s been such a long day. I’m starting to feel pretty tired out.
- Dinner was amazing! I’m stuffed. I am definitely going to sleep well tonight.
Verbal & Direct
It’s time. The big guns – still all very polite and reasonable. Deploy after using some combination of the other methods above.
- It’s been so wonderful to see you, but it’s time for me to call it a night.
- This has been so great, but I think it’s time to wind this up.
- It appears to be about that time. Thank you so much for coming!
- I’ve had so much fun with you today. Do you need me to grab your coat for you?
- I’ve had such a lovely time tonight. Do you know how to get out of the building / get home OK?
- Looks like you’ve had fun! Do you need me to call you a cab? ( <—–for drunk guests )
- I love you so much. Please leave. (<—-only for very close friends, and your mileage may vary )
And there you have it, my toolkit of tactics and phrases to end a party gracefully.
The easiest way to have a party that begins and ends smoothly is to put together a wonderful guest list. I cover how to do this in the free email course Three Keys To Sane Party Planning.
Hope that helps. Have fun being the kindest bouncer ever.