Contribution Is Really An Admission Fee

by admin on November 15, 2012

This is a question rather than a story.

I love hosting dinners and parties and usually buy and prepare all of the food and drink myself.  I’m now considering organizing a wine and cheese night for my foodie friends, but the cost of good wines and cheeses is a little prohibitive.  The options I’ve considered are either asking each guest to bring a specific wine or cheese, or just organising everything myself and then asking guests to contribute some money.  Requesting all the guests to go out to the gourmet food shops hunting for the right wines and cheeses is putting everyone out of the way, so I’m inclined towards the second option. Is it poor taste to ask guests to contribute for an event like this?  1112-12
I believe it is better to be hospitable and gracious and offer guests what you can afford as opposed to asking them to financially subsidize an overly expensive menu.  Essentially what you would be doing is charging your guests an admission fee to your wine and cheese tasting and that’s somewhat tacky in comparison to the upscale party you would prefer to host.     If you cannot afford the menu items, either scale back or wait and save for several months until you can afford to host in style.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

AussieFoodie November 15, 2012 at 3:32 am

This sounds like you would be doing more of a secret supper/popup than a normal dinner party – so I would hazard to say that if you advertised it your friends as such, it would be OK.

Secret Suppers here in the London are extremely popular – you go to an unknown persons home where they feed and entertain you for a donation (which is accepted by the guest as an acceptable amount when they book). Your party sounds more like this than a normal party so I so go for it.

Amongst foodies contributing so that you can try something out of the norm is quite acceptable (well here it is anyway!)

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Iris November 15, 2012 at 4:03 am

One option that I have had friends do is not to ‘host’ as such. I have known a group of friends who all wanted to experiment with champagnes – not easy to do on your own. One woman acted as ‘organiser’ for a group activity – she collected money, bought a variety of champagnes and set it up like a blind tasting, complete with notes. If you think your friends would be genuinely interested in trying unusual cheeses/wines you can suggest that as a joint activity. To me, that’s different from “I would like to invite you to my cheese and wine night – but you have to pay”

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Bint November 15, 2012 at 5:11 am

If all your friends are foodies then I would suggest holding a wine and cheese night together. Foodies are much more likely to understand this!

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Yasuragi November 15, 2012 at 5:49 am

I live in Japan and the custom here if for one person to arrange all food/drinks/location and then guests pay their share of the money upon arrival. It usually ends up up with the host all sorts of frazzled. This is probably the reason most Japanese people prefer to throw money at an izakaya* rather than host themselves.
I caused a bit of a stir the first time I was invited to a barbecue party and showed up with a couple steaks. The hosts didn’t know what to do in regards to how much money I owed. Should I pay, considering I brought food to share? Or should they pay me since the steaks were expensive? Did it worked out evenly? I insisted on paying my share but I was afraid they were about to whip out the calculator.
When I introduced my Japanese friend to the concept of a potluck barbecue I swear you could see the starshine in their eyes and the Hallelujah refrain from Messiah playing in the background.

*An izakaya is a type of restaurant bar where people have parties. You get a room, snacky foods like chicken wings, ginger tofu, chicken skewers, edamame etc and all you can drink for two hours. It can range from $30~almost $100 per person.

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Diana November 15, 2012 at 6:49 am

My husband and I host a wine and cheese party annually. We’ve found a good way to significantly decrease the cost though. Instead of purchasing all the wine at a fancy wine shop (or even the grocery store!), look for a DIY wine making place. We make a batch of red and a batch of white every year (this is usually about 60 bottles total) at a small fraction of what it would cost to buy them at retail prices. Our local place will help you mix it, ferment for you and then help you bottle it…so easy!

I do think that charging your guests is somewhat crass…and sending them on a search for specific cheese is only slightly less so. If you really want everyone to chip in, I’d bill it more as a potluck style, if that’s the norm with your friends. I know if I were asked to contribute money to a party as a “guest”, I’d decline to attend.

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Sharon November 15, 2012 at 7:35 am

I think if you put it to your friends as “Is anyone interested in having a wine and cheese tasting–we could do it really right if we all contribute $$??–I’d be willing to host it at my house” type of thing it would be fine. I would not find that greedy or a breach of etiquette. You could even approach it as a thing to do periodically at different people’s houses.

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Margo November 15, 2012 at 7:54 am

I think inviting people and then asking them to cintribute would be rude.

However saying to people “would you be interested in doing a cheese and wine tasting?” and offer people the option of either bringing a paired wine and cheese, or contributing a set amont towards the costs would be fine .

I think the key is that you have to be upfront about what you are suggesting, so that epople can decide whether they are interested or not .

The suggestion of askig guests to bring wine and cheese is no different to inviting people to a pot luck – there’s nothing inhospitable or ungracious about it as long as you are clear in the invitation what the event is. I do think however that if you ask people to bring wine you can’t dictate what type it is – so if the point is to taste unusual expensive wines I think you’d be better off doing it on the basis that you frame it as you arranging a joitn activity to which eveyone pays $x, rather than as you hosting a wine and cheese party.

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Lo November 15, 2012 at 8:02 am

I agree with Iris!

Definitely a big no-no to host a party that guests are obligated to contribute to. So you won’t be hosting you’ll be offering to organize an event that everyone is interested in and can contribute to if they want to enjoy a variety of wines and cheeses. Although what I would recommend is hosting your own scaled back version of this in your home as a pre- or post-dinner treat. I love good wine and cheese but my husband and I don’t have the money to throw at fine dining except on very special occasions. I compromise by seeking out budget deals on wine (never “cheap” wine, but wine that at a lower price tier than others of the same quality) and buying small amounts of very good cheese at our local italian supermarket. Even having 3 varieties of each is a nice way to start or finish an evening. If it turns out to be a hit then you can suggest that everyone might be interested in getting together to contribute to a larger scale version this that you’d be happy to organize. Your foodie friends will probably jump at the chance– I know I would!!

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The Elf November 15, 2012 at 8:05 am

I’d suggest that you scale back the party – a great wine & cheese (only a few pairings) would still be a delightful event for a bunch of foodies.

Or, you talk to your friends about co-hosting the party. I gather that the plans are already rolling, so it might be too late for that. Iris lays out a great way to do that.

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Lisa Marie November 15, 2012 at 9:09 am

Why not simply ask your friends if they are interested in forming a “Wine tasting club” which meets once a month/quarter/etc. and decide on an acceptable amount to spend on such an evening with you doing the hosting and shopping as a generosity on your part. They might surprise you.

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Jane November 15, 2012 at 9:54 am

I like Lisa’s idea of asking friends if they’d like to form a wine-tasting club. Other than that, I can’t really see a way to ask friend’s to contribute.

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Angel November 15, 2012 at 10:29 am

I agree with the admin. Have the party you can afford. Wait and save up for a great party! It’s one thing if one day you guys are all talking and a group of friends mutually agrees to have a wine and cheese party–then I’d say you have a little more wiggle room in the way of etiquette. But if the party is solely your idea and you ask people to pay, it could rub some the wrong way. The wine tasting club idea sounds good though :)

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sv November 15, 2012 at 10:47 am

It’s all how it’s phrased – arranging the party and then asking your guests to contribute might lead to A) Not many guests or B) Guests who don’t end up paying. And even if they do….how awkward, accepting cash from a guest! Imagine if you have to scrabble to find them change, or just any of the myriad of uncomfortable scenarios possible. Don’t do it!
However, phrasing it as a question – “If I offered up my house for a wine and cheese tasting, would you like to contribute to that? ” makes it much less of an event that you are hosting and more of a communal affair. Barring that, follow the admin’s advice – either save for the big splashout on your own or scale it down.

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starstruck November 15, 2012 at 10:49 am

to me this sounds very fun. but i think it would be better if everyone brought their own wine, or perhaps a bottle per couple. that way they could get what’s in their price range and honestly it just sounds more fun than showing up and putting money in a jar:)

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Elizabeth November 15, 2012 at 10:51 am

Yes, it is in very poor taste. See admin’s comments above.

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Enna November 15, 2012 at 11:09 am

I like the suggestions from posters about hosting a party where all the guests contribute provided it is done up front and in good spirit. It sounds quite fun becuase you never know what you are going to get. I also think Admin’s point is good advice too an admission fee would be tacky, only do what you can afford. Maybe set a budget? E.g. each person spends spend a max of £10. Not too sure what that would be in dollars but this way by setting a max on spending you won’t end with hangovers or living of cheese and toast for the next 5 months.

I would be careful about charging guests for wine – you don’t want to get on the wrong side of liscening laws.

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Elle November 15, 2012 at 11:25 am

Of course you can ask people to pitch in. Just don’t “invite them to a party.” Since they’re foodies, the next time you get together say something like “You know what would be fun? We should all get together to watch Game of Thrones on the big TV I’ve got. And we could each bring our favorite cheese or wine or something for everyone to try! I’ll give Suzanne and Mike a call and see if they want in on this too.”

Putting off parties is like only using the good china for special occasions.

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NicoleK November 15, 2012 at 11:56 am

Make it an activity. Don’t ask for a specific cheese, but let people go pick out a cheese themselves. Do it on an email list so people can say if they are coming and what they are bringing so you don’t get repeats. I would like to be invited to a party like that. Like a potluck, but wine and cheese.

I wouldn’t want to be charged, though.

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A November 15, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I considered doing something similar for a few close friends. My idea was to do it more potluck style and have people bring their favorite wine or cheese to share. That way we could get to know each other better through our choices.

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Elsie November 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I think it depends on your situation. For a group of college-age friends, we either bring something to eat/drink to share (most common for us, we love the pot-luck style parties haha), or just give the host a little money to cover their costs as a curtsey. If you are a self-supporting adult, however, it can get a bit tacky. If it’s really important, save up your money and plan it for a future date. My understanding is wine keeps pretty well if you know how to take care of it, so you could get it over time. Cheeses would prob be better getting very close to the date. :)

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Barbarian November 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Hospitality with a price tag is just too risky, even when it stated up front. I would not want to lose any friends who might be offended by this proposition, even it seems reasonable.

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June First November 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm

@Lisa Marie– You took the words out of my mouth!
You could meet monthly as a “wine club” and ask each participant to bring their favorite bottle of wine. Or, you could ask some people to bring wine and some people to bring fancy cheese.
Just advertise it as a potluck type event.

If you have a Trader Joe’s in your area, that could be a great resource for less expensive wines and cheese. Of course, I also live in a certain state known for its cheese, so most grocery stores near me have an extensive cheese section that goes far beyond cheddar and mozz.

If you simply must have cheese from a gourmet shop, try asking if the proprietors have any “ends”. Our favorite cheese shop has a “cheese orphanage” with the end-scraps of different cheese they sliced. It’s also a cost-effective way to try new cheese without spending a fortune.

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bloo November 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I agree with the admin about this particular thing.

However, I ‘d like to add that if she’s talking about the idea of doing it with a few friends and they all discuss pitching in money, I think that’s fine.

A group of friends we were very close to did something like that with lobsters. One of the gals said, “You know what I’d like to do that I think we’d all enjoy? A lobster boil! It’d be expensive, so everyone who wants to could just cover (pay for) their lobster and I’ll provide everything else and will prepare them at my house. How about it?”

We all excitedly agreed since, on our own, none of our families could afford to buy lobster for everybody in our social group. Everyone that wanted to participate just gave her the money by a certain date and she bought the lobsters fresh and it went off without a hitch.

They were delish!

Anyhoo, if it were brought up like, “Hey, I’ve got an idea…” and then if other people in the LW’s social circle jump on and in with ideas to support it, then it becomes a ‘group thing’ and the splitting of cost isn’t looked upon as rude – just a means to an end. But the LW can offer her house if she’d like.

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E November 15, 2012 at 2:10 pm

The easiest thing to do would be for each couple to bring a bottle to taste and a hunk of cheese (say 8oz, so everyone gets to try it). The host provides crackers, water, and glasses. You can ask people to bring a bottle within a certain price range $15-$20, or whatever people are comfortable with. You could assign varietals or regions, if you want to make it really specific – “we’re having a Spanish wine tasting party!” You can ask them to email you in advance what they bought/plan to buy, so you can put together tasting notes. Someone may show up with a bottle of Boones and a can of easy cheese, but that could be fun too. I would be far more comfortable with that then having to fork over cash when I arrived to a party.

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gramma dishes November 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Are these people genuine wine and cheese connoisseurs? Would they “know” a great wine from a so-so one? Would the point of the event be trying some really exceptional wines and cheeses and critiquing them? Or would the objective be more to try a few less expensive ones and just have fun?

We had a wine tasting party. We kept it small (about 20 people) and had a few various cheeses and cracker type things available. We bought a few reds and a few whites that were ‘mid priced range’ wines. Nothing really expensive at all. (In fact, a few “two buck Chuck’s” in there if I recall!)

Our guests differed greatly in what was their ‘favorite’ of the evening’s selections, but everyone had fun trying all the different ones.

Afterward, we put out bread, lunch meat, cheese slices, lettuce, condiments, etc. and everyone made themselves a hearty sandwich with plentiful soft drinks (or water) before they went home, but be assured that no one left drunk at all. We didn’t provide enough wine for anyone to have more than the EQUIVALENT of a couple of glasses or so, and it was spread out over a few hours — with food available.

My basic philosophy is that if you need to ask friends to supply the wine and cheese at a wine and cheese tasting, you’re not really hosting. If they’re the kind who expect “the best” of everything, I’d either keep your party very, very small, or wait until you have saved the money to do it on your own.

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Merri November 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Sharon: Yes, I think that would work. We have done this within our social circle for some occasions and people have been very happy with the result, wishing more similar happenings. We just announced our idea to a larger group of friends, anyone willing could participate, date was decided on some level of consensus and we provided location and the work. We originally thought that we would as people to bring stuff with them but because of the nature of event it would have been very hard to have fair distribution of costs by that way, and there is always possibility that something comes up and all cannot participate. That would be big problem if that person should bring something very relevant. So we ended up to basically have an admission fee and we would do the shopping. Our event was to sample different cocktails and we carefully picked different and interesting combinations /recipes beforehand so missing rum for example could have messed up lot of recipes.

As most of us are in the beginning of their work career or still studying, money is sometimes tight and does not allow to host big events for large groups. Group activity allows us to have bit more fancier gatherings than chips and dip, so I would certainly say that at least in some occasions this model will work very well. But as others mentioned before, it’s important to be upfront about it and allow some amount of input from all participants.

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Cat November 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

No, you don’t charge guests for what you are serving. Invite one couple at a time and serve one wine and one cheese you can afford.

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Allie November 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I think it would be okay to suggest to your friends that you’d like to plan a party where each guest brings a specific wine and cheese pairing and get their feedback. Whoever would like to participate can do so and it wouldn’t then be an imposition for them to select and purchase their contribution. This sounds like fun, actually. A friend of mine did something similar but it was a scotch tasting. We all chipped in and she organized everyone (including an Scotch expert who came to help us learn about the scotches) and provided the venue.

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Cat Whisperer November 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

You cannot invite people to an entertainment you are giving and then charge them admission for accepting your invitation.

If you want to organize a food-and-wine event which you do not want to pay for, then you need to be upfront about it: “I’m organizing a food-and-wine pairing event, which will be held at my house; tickets are “X” dollars, and you have to purchase tickets by [deadline]; I accept cash and checks only.”

Once you start charging people for your entertainment, think about the pitfalls that can lead to: what do you do about friends who want to come, but can’t pay you by your deadline or can’t afford what you want to charge? What about people who promise to pay, and then fail to do so after attending the “event”? What about someone who buys “tickets” to your event and then brings someone you don’t know, or someone you know and don’t like? What do you do about someone who wants to try the cheeses at your event, but doesn’t drink wine, and so doesn’t think he/she should pay the full price? Do you factor in the costs of cleaning your house for the event and then cleaning up after the event, and add that to the costs of wine and cheese? What if you don’t get enough people attending your event to cover your costs? What happens if someone eats something and gets sick, or has an accident in your home while the “event” is going on, and your insurance company decides that since you charged “admission,” it was a commercial event and you aren’t covered?

I’m 100% with Admin on this one: you’re either a commercial event organizer, or you’re a hostess inviting friends to your home in the spirit of friendship and hospitality. There isn’t any “in-between” here that you can negotiate gracefully.

You could possibly do a wine-and-cheese tasting as a “potluck,” but if you do that, then I think you have to downgrade your expectations and prepare to be happy with whatever wines or cheeses your friends choose to bring. (Just my opinion, but a potluck where the “hostess” decides who is going to bring what really rubs me the wrong way: it’s one thing for guests to sign up to bring something of their own choice, but it’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, IMO, for the “hostess” to hand out assignments to the “guests” specifying what they should bring.)

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Another Alice November 15, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I agree with those who have said that if you make wine/cheese tasting the “activity,” it isn’t crass to ask for contributions. If that’s the entire point, to try different cheese and wine, I think everyone would be happy to contribute and bring their favorites. And as host maybe just make a couple of other simple appetizers or have a few other refreshments available (all of that wine may mean some sparkling water and some bread!). In my circle of friends, it sort of goes without saying that when someone hosts something, they provide the majority of food, and guests bring a bottle of wine or an appetizer. It’s sort of become a, “Oooh, look at the wine I found!” event just through circumstance.

Money, I don’t think that’s ever appropriate. I feel like all that brings is trouble; first off, as admin said, it’s like guests are paying a fee to attend your party. Secondly, all you need is one person to get irritated that you didn’t get the cheese/wine THEY like, and pout about it. Thirdly, as others have pointed out, there will be those that will show up and not give you anything at all anyway.

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Katia November 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Personally, the OP’s train of thought is a bit selfish. I’ve organized a wine & cheese Sunday, but instead of requiring my friends to give me money for it or buy specific foods, I pretty much said “It’d be great to see everyone for a wine and cheese afternoon. Please bring either a wine or cheese that you like for the rest of us to try, or bring both.” I then then noted that I’ll bring a type of wine and a type of cheese. That way, it’s inexpensive, and all the friends will get even closer.

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Leighanna November 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I skimmed the responses so forgive me if what I say has been repeated.

Here is what I would find acceptable from a good friend. An invite to a wine and cheese tasting evening with a small group of acquaintances/friends. Each guest bring a bottle or two (depending on the size of the crowd) of their favorite wine priced between $10 to $15 dollars and a huge chunk of their favorite cheese, chopped up in small cubes and ready to sample. The “host” would provide sandwiches, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. And the little sample cups that can be found at most liquor stores. The evening would consist of relaxing, adult conversation and no kids. Maybe some games, movies, or just sitting on the patio relaxing.

I would jump on that invite like a duck on a junebug. And everyone I know would too. The economy is tough and money is tight. I would never expect a friend of mine to take on that much of an expense. I would not find an invite like that rude at all. As a matter of fact, I am now thinking of getting with my friends and neighbors to see if they would like to do something like this.

I like the idea of everyone bringing their favorite wine and cheese instead of taking up a collection. Because it is almost a hobby of most of my friends to find a good wine, with a good flavor in the $10-$15 dollar range. This is a great idea OP!

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Twik November 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

“The economy is tough” is not an excuse to charge your guests for what should be open hospitality.

Either tell your friends, “I think a wine and cheese tasting would be fun. We can use my place, if everyone brings something to sample,” or else check for recommendations for inexpensive but good wines and cheeses, and serve those on your own dime.

I really dislike the trend where people want to be seen as “caviar and champagne” type hosts, but expect their guests to pay for the goodies. It’s a bait and switch.

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Leighanna November 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm

‘“The economy is tough” is not an excuse to charge your guests for what should be open hospitality.’

But it is an excuse and a darn good one. Every single one of my close friends has had to make some cutbacks in their budgets due to the economy but we still like to get together and have fun and this is a great idea. As long as the guests know about it up front and agree to it wouldn’t be considered a bait and switch. I didn’t say charge good friends for what should be open hospitality. I suggested that the host provide snacks and non-alcoholic drinks while each guest brings their favorite inexpensive wine to sample. To me, that’s no different than inviting friends over to watch a football game and everyone bring a dish.

Twik, if you read my response again, you will see that I clearly stated that I don’t like the idea of taking up a collection. But in my circle of friends, “caviar and champagne” parties are thing of the past and are slowly being replaced with beer and beanie weenies. And I like the new trend of friends getting together, having fun in a stressful time and everyone helping each other out by sharing the cost.

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JeanLouiseFinch November 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm

You would be better off asking your friends to each bring a cheese and wine pairing and presenting this as a cooperative party of tasting club. Enna is right – charging people for wine could get you into a world of trouble, if not with the licensing authority, surely with your homeowner’s insurance, which would probably deny coverage for any liability associated with such an event. Think of the risk of someone having an accident on the way home and the other party involved suing you under your jurisdiction’s Dramshop Act. You might think, no big deal because you could not be guilty, but keep this in mind, the big benefit of insurance is that the insurer pays for your defense attorney.

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mojo November 17, 2012 at 4:55 am

I’d ask everyone to bring some of their personal favourite wine and cheese. Everyone feels involved, explaining why they like that particular combination. You may get some duplicates, but it’s still a fun evening.

Or do what we do, hold a cocktail party instead! I provide the mixers and cheap nibbles like french bread, pate, crisps and salted peanuts. Everyone else dresses up to the nines, brings a (random!) bottle, and we see what we can make out of them. It’s a brilliant evening, but slightly foggy the next morning!

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CollegeGirl November 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm

I like Mojo’s idea. While it seems tacky to me to host a party and expect the guests to pay, there is also something to be said about creating a group effort to have an experience that would be difficult for a single not-very-wealthy person to manage.
In my particular group of friends, most of us wouldn’t be able to afford a tasting-type party with a lot of variety, but we’d be open to the option of everybody bringing something different, and then everyone wins in the end!
Just yesterday I went to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by some work friends – it was all vegetarian and they called it Save The Turkeys Day (cute!) and each guest was assigned ingredients to bring a couple days before so that they could afford to make a truly delicious meal for all of us. It seemed worth it to me – I would never have been able to make the food they concocted by myself!
It seems to me that while asking for money seems tacky, making it a group experience is somehow more fun.

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Me November 22, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Group events can work – a wine and cheese night where one person provides the venue, and everyone brings a bottle of wine and a type of cheese, for example. But you need to be in a group of friends where this sort of event is normal. If a BYOM barbecue would be considered normal in your crowd, then a BYOW&C wine and cheese party could go over well, too. If your social circle is one where events are normally fully hosted, then it’s not going to go over well.

If can take some tact to arrange, too. Sending out an invitation to your usual guests announcing a party, and that they have been assigned to bring a specific nice bottle of wine and a specific nice cheese with them, is going to come across as crass, because it’s so different from your usual style.

An email suggesting the event, and asking anyone who is interested to email you is better – you’re looking for people interested in a shared event, not sending out invitations to a party. Organizing a smaller event with some foodie friends, similarly, will come across differently – you’re arranging a hobby-like event with friends who share that interest (more like arranging to go out to a sports game or theatre event with a group).

It strikes me, though, that a *good* wine and cheese event is badly suited to a general potluck. You can either control the choice of wines and cheeses, *or* you can get people to contribute, not both. If you’re sending out exact assignments, it’s the same as charging admission. Buying good wine can be expensive (as you’ve noticed), and requires knowledge. Buying good cheese, the same, on a smaller scale. Both need to be properly served – people will show up with un chilled white wines, and chilled cheese that will take an hour to warm up to serving temperature. It’s also alienating to non drinkers, and potentially very expensive for moderate drinkers. I can’t drink a full bottle of wine in an evening, so if I bring that as my contribution to a wine and cheese party, I’m subsidizing other people’s drinking, or providing a lot of extras for the ‘host’.

Another thing to consider is that many of your guests likely come for socializing, not for the specific food. So they would be just as happy with midrange wine and cheese, or a totally different type of party, as with higher end versions of the products. These people aren’t going to participate in a $50 wine and cheese night in the first place.

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