Entertaining - some etiquette and misc questions
I've gotten some great tips and ideas here, hoping for some feedback...TIA!
1. Would it be ok to hold a "holiday housewarming open house" from 3-7, inviting adults only and serving beer, wine and heavy apps (Sat after x-mas)?
We want to have it early as we live a long drive (1-1.5hrs) from most of our guests and don't like the idea of late night drunk driving...
No kids b/c, well we don't have kids ourselves, we'd like to have that cocktail party feel, one of our dogs is skitish around kids she doesn't know(yes we are working on that with a trainer)and one our guests (obligation invite - hubbies family) has the worst behaved kids ever and no one has gotten this through to her!!
2. If guests ask to bring something, is it ever okay to request a specific item you know they make well or that you need (i.e. chips/salsa/guac)?
3. I usually call or email my guests if they don't RSVP, a friend told me this was rude...is that true?
4. Do you ever worry about mixing groups/friends? We have some very different age groups, socieconomic backgrounds and political ideologies...I get nervous, am I being too uptight?
Finally, any ideas of suggestions to share?
Wow, I never expected such a response. I guess I was correct in assuming that these questions elicit some very strong feelings! Thank you all for your insight and input! Much appreciated...
We do adore most of the children in our lives and in fact are having several friends and their kids to the house in early Dec after Santa's arrival in town and the town tree lighting My SO's cousin's kids are horrible and as another poster said of poorly behaved kids they ruin the event. Don't invite the parents? I'm surprised I'm the only one with in-law issues... If I didn't invite her I'd have a major fight on my hands, no thanks! If people chose not to come b/c it's family time that's fine. I'll remember that the next time I'm invited to a toddler b-day party and sit politely through 3 hours of screaming, cake flinging and present opening after bringing several nice gifts and a lasagna. Friendship is about give and take!
Thank you for the helpful suggestions, I think from now on we'll say "your presence is our present" :-)
While it is an open house I will still state RSVP, we just bought a new house and while I adore entertaining my friends and family I cannot afford to buy food and drink for people who might or might not be there. I guess I'll continue to follow-up and if people think it's rude they can decline the invite. As some of you said, maybe they'll get the point and will RSVP in the future.
Again, sometimes you have to invite people (out of family obligation) that you'd really rather not. There's no sense in starting a family fight or hurting people's feelings. The friend with the obnoxious husband/wife, yes we don't invite them to group events, we see them one-on-one. We'll invite who we want and hope our friends don't mind some conversation management!
After reading all the replies and discussing them with my SO we decided to see some of our friends at the after-Santa event and then just have a few choice people over for apps, drinks and dinner - forget the open house! We'll do a mid-Feb pizza and wine party when said cousin doesn't leave her house and everyone can come sans-worrying.
Interesting post and responses. I'll add my own:
1) I was a bit split on this. Yes, adult parties are ok. But the 3-7 time frame (with a drive either end for most guests) on a Saturday during Holiday week when kids are home will certainly cut your attendance. The one thing I agreed with was NO EXCEPTIONS, or you will breed tremendous resentment. Then I reread and noted that a family member has kids from hell, so much of the purpose of the rule is to exclude the troublemakers.
I don't know the age range, but do the invites include "adult" children who might be home from college?
2. Also a tough call. You want the goodies from the friend that makes the killer dessert but really don't want to make space for the one who thinks bringing a bag of chips and jar of salsa makes the party. For me, that hour-plus drive answers this -- not only does it make dishes hard to transport, but it means prep in your overloaded kitchen and also food safety issues.
3. If you are concerned about exact or even inexact numbers, you can't call it an open house. A cocktail party, a holiday hors d'oerves (sic) afternoon, a housewarming light pre-dinner, all ok. Please don't call it an open house if it is not somewhat optional.
4. I've had the best times where the group is most disparate. Old and young, family and friends, single and married. You are not hosting a two or three-hour sitdown dinner where the seating chart dictates who talks with their neighbor. But notice that this requires your presence all the more -- hire help for clean-up, service, parking (if an issue), and a PROFESSIONAL bartending service if more than two-dozen people and a long drive back home.
A couple of solutions:
First, find out when hubbie's family with the worst-behaved kids have a cruise or ski trip and plan your party then so you can relax the no-kids rule. Hire a college kid who was a camp counselor and baby-sitter to help plan activities for kids in the basement or family room.
Second, if your party is billed as a housewarming, won't guests bring some sort of housewarming gift? Specify a house plant or a bottle of wine.
Re: #1 The problem is that there will be someone who thinks "They couldn't have meant my little darling. I'll go ahead and take him/her, because I know they'll want to see him/her."
Re: PIA's Maybe the answer is to invite all the PIA's you know to the same party once a year so they get to enjoy each other's company.
1. While I think it's a bit unusual to have an cocktail-party type open house at 3 PM, the fact is, it's your house, it's your party, do what you want, because I'm certainly not the be-all and end-all of party etiquette! I do agree, though, that if you ban the rugrats, you have to stick to it. You'll cause hurt feelings if you argue with me and tell me I can't bring Ubergeeklein, and then I go arrange babysitting and find out that three other of your friends brought their kids.
2. I have the same sitting-the-fence problem. I love to cook and bring my food over, but it doesn't always fit, and it might cause people to wonder if they were supposed to bring something. My solution, then, is that if someone offers, to be candid and say, "I would love for you to bring your guac, but could you bring it over a bit early?" or "You know I love your guac, but we're having a French theme and I don't know of any French recipes using guac."
3. If they're people you know well, absolutely, go ahead and call. If they're people you see on occasion (officemates, for example), a good trick is to bring up the party in conversation (only in front of invitees, obviously) so that it jogs their memory. Plan for more people than respond, especially at an open house.
4. This is YOUR party. Invite whomever you want to see. If you know that there's a person who will be disruptive (is there an English word for this? The French of my childhood wants to type "un cancre"), it might be best to skip them. If you feel badly about that, maybe arrange to meet "le cancre" for dinner one night instead.
5a. Try and have everything done by 1:30 or 2, so that you have time to relax a bit, shower, get dressed, and be the consummate host as people arrive.
5b. Totally agree about making it easy on yourself -- have someone to prepare food and wash dishes. I hire our cleaning lady and her daughter when we have big dinners.
5c. Limit the menu to a few really excellent nibbles, because otherwise you'll have too many balls in the air. This can be hard if you're a Home Cooking Chowhound, but it's imperative. Similarly, don't try and stock a full bar unless you're having it brought in -- concentrate on wine, beer and maybe two "signature" cocktails, or something easy to deal with like that.
5d. Eat something beforehand. I know it sounds weird, but you're going to have people in and out during an open house, and it's hard to shake hands, embrace, etc. when you have to set down a glass and a plate of food.
5e. I don't know where you live, but in my neighbourhood we get a couple of people to come and park "strategically" so we have enough parking. By "strategically" I mean parking 1 car so that it takes two spaces, or 2 cars so they take up 3. It's annoying, but the alternative where I live is to hire a valet service (a lot more expensive than you'd expect) or have guests park 4 and 5 blocks away.
Have a great party!
1 - Yes. Having adults only is fine. I am not in favor of serving alcohol around children. I am just as worried with someone driving at noon as at midnight after a few drinks, so the time doesn;t matter with making sure there is a desig driver, especially with the distance.
2 - Absolutely. Stroke the guests' ego they will bring double. "Oh Jane I love your XXX, could I please ask you to brng some so everyone can enjoy the best XXX"
3 - The R is RSVP is to respond and not rude. The guest not repsonding is more rude than a simple e-mail/call asking if they received the invite and can you count on them coming to enjoy their company
4 - You can lead a horse to water. Mix the groups and enjoy the conversation. I have been caught in some very interesting dialogue at gatherings such as this and these are some memories my DW and I still speak about.
Most important is to relax and enjoy the event yourself.
I never saw so many sensible replies in a Chowhound thread. If you could get the people who replied in one open house, you'd have a great crowd. The only real conflict is about the RSVP's. After reading this thread, I sorta side with the folks who say that it’s an open house, no RSVP's required. I think (not sure) that by it's nature an open house is not strictly formal. Maybe some informal calls and emails would give you a sense of how big this is going to be. I'd bet that most people who are coming would just show up and the only ones who would respond would be those who couldn't make it.
As far as question #4, mixed groups are most fun, and don't invite the guy who will be a PIA in those circumstances.
I hope that your party is a wonderful success. Here are my notes:
1. That's a great time of day for any open house and simple drinks and hearty hors d'oeuvres sound great. Before we have children, I typicallly hosted parties for adults only and of course it's your prerogative to do so. But the hour of your party makes it a bit awkward. When we're invited to a cocktail party, I wouldn't think anything of an invitation that doesn't include my child. But if we were invited to an open house during holiday week that took place at 3 in the afternoon I would be surprised that children are excluded. An afternoon open house is the kind of event that normally includes kids. I understand that you have other reasons for hosting a casual afternoon drop in event, but would it be so terrible to see your friends' kids over the holidays? Remember that since drinking and driving is a concern, a party that includes children typically involves far less alcohol consumption than a parties for adults only.
2. Many of your guests will ask if they can bring something. Think about whether you want to host the party or if you're more interested in potluck. I find a couple of problems when guests bring a dish and I really like them to attend the party without worrying about making a contribution. One of the most awkward things about accepting a guest's offer to bring a dish is that some of your guests will not offer and they will feel badly when they see that some people brought a dish and they did not. But when we are going to let people bring something, if they ask 'What can I bring?" I try to give them a general category. If your guests is going to cook for the party, allow them the opportunity to choose a dish. You might say that a dessert would be great or ask for a dip. There's no reason not to say, "oh maybe something like your delicious guacamole" I just would want you to avoid giving a really specific direction.
3. If is rude to follow up with guests who fail to R.S.V.P. because it highlights their bad manners. If someone has not responded to your invitation, assume that they will not attend. By providing abundant quantities of food and beverage, you never have to be particularly concerned about individual responses in case a few of them actually show up and your guests will feel welcomed.
4. This crosses my mind particularly because we've come to have several distinct social circles now that we're parents. Our holiday party includes people my husband has known since elementary school, colleagues, old and new neighbors, girlfriends of mine from college, and now familes we've met through swimming, TKD, schools, and other family activities. At first I worried because these list includes a lot of the kind of diversity you mentioned. But at the end of the day, everyone we invite is a nice, kind person with enough sense not to start a controversial discussion during a Holiday Party. If you know someone who is not going to able to manage that at a party, I would simply not include him. Seriously!
Oh, the one thing that I do still worry about is if we're inviting someone who doesn't know anyone at the party. As the hostess it is your express responsibility to make introductions and ensure that everyone is included in a conversation. This is a very easy job, so don't be intimidated - if you have nice friends they are going to strike up a conversation with anyone who seems betwixt and between. If I invite a friend who is really really shy, I'll actually just ask them for help and keep them with me until they've settled in. So please invite the guests who don't fit easily into one of your circles, but just take a couple of minutes to be sure that they feel welcome!
5. Here is my best holiday party tip. Serve punch! It is festive and easy and if you make a good one, it will go over amazingly well. For about a hundred people (many are kids though) I quadruple this and always run out before the end of the gathering.
1 cup Cointreau
1 cup brandy
1/2 cup Chambord
2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
1 quart chilled ginger ale
2 chilled 750-ml. bottles dry champagne
Combine the liquers and pineapple juice the night before your party and store all of the ingredients in the friger. mix everything together about an hour before your guests are due to arrive. I often make a decorative ice ring with raspberries and edible flowers inside. Just chose a mold, fill halfway with water, freeze, add fruit and flowers and a teeny bit of water, freeze, then fill with water and freeze. Start the ice thing two days ahead just to be sure you get it out of the way!
Have a great time!
1 - You're the host, you can plan any kind of party you like. If friends have children, you can issue a KIND AND CONSIDERATE but firm specification with the invitation. If that eliminates some who can't stash their kids somewhere for 3 or 4 hours, so be it.
2 - If they're asking what they can bring, you can tell 'em what you need. Every cookj with a specialty loves to be asked for it, and others are wondering what would be welcomed.
3 - "A friend told me this was rude." Your friend is wrong.
4 - Mix groups all you please - intelligent and gracious people will know how to get along and enjoy the company they find themselves in, others really aren't fit for the adult world.
We always used to do a New Years Day open house. We clearly stated "no children please". Wouldn't you know someone who didn't bother to RSVP came and brought their baby. They let their baby climb on the stairs where people, including servers, were popping up and down to get to the upstairs den which housed the TV for the games! No it is definitely NOT rude to specify no children and please please as the OP said, don't make one exception. This party was over 20 years ago and I still remember and shake my head.
re: Linda VH
I'm getting to be more and more curious about this. In my reply I mentioned that it is not usual to host a day time open house style event and exclude children. Maybe it is becoming more common? From my perspective, you have to include families when you host a family event and you should not include families when you host a non family event. Family type events are basically anything in the daytime, particularly open houses without a set arrival and departure time or a formal meal. Non family events are things like formal dinners or cocktail parties where one should not include children and guests should know that children are not a part of the mix. Basically, if I'm making a buffet and having people drop in it would be considered quite rude to exclude their family but if I'm hosting a chi chi cocktail party or dinner party it would be quite rude for my guest to even wonder if their rugrats are included.
Am I the only person who is accustomed to doing things this way?
Well I'm with you Kater, but it appears we're a minority. I certainly wouldn't appreciate an invitation from 3-7 that didn't include kids, especially if its such a far drive from home. You want me to drive all that way, and pay a babysitter for most of the day, and miss spending a day with my child? Having said that, if I received that type of invitation I would just decline, but I would feel that perhaps you didn't really want me (or any of your other friends with families) there, which is why you set up the party the way you did. A dinner or cocktail evening party with no kids I would have no problem with. 3pm? That's family time.
I actually think some people don't include children for reasons much more practical. My in-laws, for example, specified "no children" for a large party recently. They did so because their house is not child-proof and they didn't want the worry of little ones (who are often not really well supervised when parents are socializing) running around and getting hurt or breaking things. At a smaller gathering having kids included could actually be easier. Sounds like the OP was trying to be pretty considerate of the timing-- to be sure parents could get home for bedtime. And it wouldn't really be a "day" without one's child but a half-day, right? (say, 1-8:30) And I definitely don't think a daytime event must de facto include kids.
I had friends who took their 2 children everywhere from the newborn stage to early adolescence. I dreaded their coming to my home because the parents assumed the children were the responsibility of everyone there and made no attempt to control them. The kids were very badly behaved, smearing food on drapes and upholstery, terrorizing the cats who were locked into a bedroom, having temper tantrums and generally making the social event a complete downer.
I know this is an extreme example, but I fall into the "no kids" camp unless the event is specifically aimed at families with children.
That's a separate issue to me. Are you going to exclude all adults because of a couple who are rude, smelley, antisocial, mean drunks, etc etc etc? Those people should have been politely asked to please control their children, and if they couldn't or wouldn't then they certainly shouldn't expect any future invitations. Most children we invite over are very well behaved and a pleasure to be around, and why wouldn't we want to enjoy our friends' kids as well as our friends?
I count no adults among my friends who fit your description. I know many parents with children I do not "enjoy". The OP wanted to have the open house for adults only. I think anyone is entitled to set the ground rules for their invitations any way they want. Parents who find this objectionable are free to refuse the invitation.
I agree as well... There are going to be dogs running around, but no kids allowed? And during the day? A "cocktail party feel" w/o kids is appropiate during the cocktail hour, but not at three o'clock in the afternoon!
Make the party later in the evening, and I don't think anyone would have any objections to the no-kid thing. But an afternoon open house and a cocktail party are two very different types of gatherings.
We always tell guests to "hire a sitter" on the invitation, and come to the party. When our son was young we hired a sitter to entertain him and the dog. We still hire a dogsitter.
I hire teenagers to get the door, hang up coats, pick up cups and plates,and to plate the food through the evening.
Yes, call if they don't RSVP. How else will you know how many to prepare for? Open House means come during that time period, not just maybe show up.
I try to keep friends from bringing food. They are the guest, and I have a plan for the food, and for where it fits on the table.
Sometimes I do worry about mixing some friends. My homophobic neighbors and my gay friends did OK together. Everyone remembered their manners.
Prepare as much the day before,so you can enjoy the party.
My major piece of advice would be to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, whether this means foregoing foods that take last-minute prep or hiring help. Nothing is worse than failing to be the host/ess of your own party. I have a family member who routinely holes up in the kitchen every time she entertains and, while the food is always good, she tends to seem kind of stressed and anti-social, which is odd since it's her party. Just remember that the host/ess sets the tone for the whole evening-- if you're uptight and nervous your guests won't be comfortable, and their comfort is your first priority, ahead of food, etc. (to a point... if the food is terrible, that's bad too, but spending time on fussy food that takes you away from your guests for too long can be worse). As for the calling to follow-up RSVP, this one caught me off-guard. I must say that I have certainly checked in with people who haven't RSVPed for a luncheon and a shower I recently hosted. I do see the logic of this "outing" their own rudeness and therefore being rude in it's own right; on the other hand, it can be done in such a way that this is avoided (an email along the lines of "We're looking forward to seeing you all this weekend! Please do let me know if you need directions [or what have you]" sent to everyone who is invited, that way it's a subtle reminder to the non-respondents). Good luck! I'm sure it will be great.
About the "no kids" thing...don't know how this fits in with traditional etiquette
This is how we dealt with it last year when we had a big formal dinner buffet for the holidays. We don't have kids ourselves but are the only ones in our suburban social circles who don't. We weren't sure how to get this message out without making a big deal about it since kids are often at the parties our friends hold.
I decided, since the holidays are so busy for everyone anyhow, to send out a "save the date" email about a month before I sent out invitations. In it I cheerfully announced my party, date and time and threw out that I was sending out the emails before the formal invitations came(which were formal and printed) so everyone could book their babysitters before their calendars got full for the holiday babysitting season. Worked perfectly...turns out everyone was really excited abotu the idea of a formal adult party without the kids, booked their babysitter right away and the anticipation up til the party was hilarious!
And yes, do hire help! I always hire help so I can enjoy myself and my guests...and when the guests see help they don't feel they need to be pitching in and helping out either.
I also hired someone to hold my dog on a leash. If I lock him in a bedroom he howls like a banshee...so hiring my dogsitter to hold him on a leash and mingle politely(He has good manners just hates being away from people) worked great). She took him for several walks that night as well, mingled a bit with guests who wanted to visit with him, kept him away from guests who didn't want to be near him,kept him away from the buffet tables(hey even good manners can be temtped with tables of food unsupervised everywhere they look!) , sat in a backroom and watched tv wtih him a bit. he wasn't a bother to any guests, i didn't have to worry about him slipping out an open door or screaming his lungs out and being a nuiasance.
Such interesting replies.
1. Time/kids. 3-7 is a perfect party and sets an end time (important for those who think parties last until 2 am no matter what). It also allows people to get together, yet still do something later with their families. The lady who said stick to your guns and make no exceptions... best advice yet. Good idea to put it in writing.
2. Guests bringing food. Unless everyone is bringing food, I would discourage it. If people who did not bring food see other showing up with covered dishes it could make them uncomfortable. If your best friend is helping you with the party, have her show up early with the goods. Save the doling out of dish requests for informal friends getting together during non holiday times. During the holidays it is nice to show up to party without having to cook something up. Plus, you are sending invites... this is your gig.
3. RSVP. I am sorta still laughing about your friend telling you it was rude to call back on RSVP. I wonder if she thought it rude to make you feel bad for calling those folks. My thinking is - actual close friends that do not RSVP... you bet your little booty you can call and ask them what gives. Neighbors you are not close with - you can mention that they will be missed if you see them out in the neighborhood. No calling people you are loosely acquainted with. RSVP should have a date certain for reply.
4. Mixing guests. If you have a loud-mouthed jerk who delights in offending and considers making people uncomfortable or upset high entertainment WHY invite him? All else makes for interesting chat. I have a girl friend whose husband is the man I describe above. I adore her, but I never invite her to group gatherings at my house. He finds a way to upset the most reserved and pleasant guest.
OTHER STUFF - I love the idea of hiring some students (of age) to help out especially if the crowd will be large. Why bother having a bash if you are a stressed host.
ICE ICE ICE ICE ICE. Chill bottles in your tub in iced water. Did I mention ice?
Make as much ahead as you can and save the finishing touches for the day of. Tell your husband to mow the lawn the day before and to not get any big ideas he will be lounging about watching college football the day of or on Fri. Enlist friends' help. Drink nothing the night before even if your friend is over helping and brings champagne. Keep the cleaning supplies nearby in case someone has a spill, but do not make a big tadoo of it if someone dumps a giant glass of red wine on your carpeting. Dogs go in another room. Not everyone loves them and dogs sense it.
1. Lovely idea. I do it myself often. And if you don't want kids, then let your guests know. I don't see anything rude with that at all. One party I went to, the hosts themselves hired a babysitter for their children and whisked them away to the babysitter's before the party began.
2. Interesting replies on this. Perhaps it's a cultural thing, but in my culture, it's actually somewhat rude not to bring a little something to a party. If my guests ask, I've always been upfront with them. There are two things I don't really do: dessert and alcoholic beverages. I will supply wine and fruit, but if my friends want anything more, they should bring. But this is only if my guests ask. I would never bring this up first.
3. This is nicely taken care of and a nonissue for me. In my building, I have to give the concierge a list of people who will be coming to a gathering. If your name is not on the list, the concierge will not let you in. So if my guests don't RSVP, they don't get in. Believe me, after a couple of rounds of being turned away at the door and having to call me for "permission," my friends get the point and always make it a point to RSVP, especially since I always mention this policy on an invite.
4. Yes, I do worry a little. My friends are not carbon copies of one another--thank goodness. Whenever this has happened, either one of the parties realized things were getting too heated and would make a joke or effort to cease the conversation, or someone else would. What can you do--you can't censor your friends' thoughts, etc., and can only hope that they are adult enough to know when to stop.
I'll give my two cents on #2:
If they say, "Can I bring that guacamole you like?" and that's what you were hoping for, of course say yes if that's what you want. But I wouldn't request something unless they ask. It is an "open house" so it seems like your house should have everything they need. Also, what if they forget/don't have time/can't come and you were counting on that specific item? If you really want them to bring stuff, make it a potluck. But I think it sounds like you want a little more control over what comes, and it's not seemly to order dishes from your friends as if they were your chefs.
1. I am in agreement about the 3-7pm time frame. It is a perfect way to see friends, family, etc. without the pressure of a formal meal. Be sure, as it sounds like you will be, to serve enough food to insure people will have plenty to fill their stomachs along with the alcohol (this last part might be better situated at the end when you ask for ideas and suggestions). Additionally, it is a busy time of year for lots of people so it fills in a "free" block of time between meals when people may already be locked in to other plans.
2. I like the idea of "just bring your self..." and if they bring something (there are always those that do - I do), great...it will usually be wine or the like and that is always a good thing during an open house.
3. Not sure how I feel about this. If you sent out formal invites, I agree it is rude not to respond, so in this case, yes, I would reach out to them. You will need some sort of head count for prep, no? If it is a casual invite, you may not want to bother, especially if you plan on having a buffet type service with plenty of food to go around. Karl makes a good point but I do not think certain rules of etiquette hold as much weight nowadays, unfortunately.
4. There was something about this in last Sunday's NY Times, style section, I believe. (I need to double check). It basically talked about how politics have turned so volatile that it is no longer acceptable to talk about it in social situations. Not that is ever was formally, but for the last some-odd (I forget the number used) years, politics became a topic of discussion in social settings. Now, people are avoiding it and those that disagree with them in order to keep the peace.
Wow, some of you take this stuff way too seriously.
1. If we don't want kids, and we know the people well and they are those who usually bring their kids we tell them so. No hurt feelings among friends. Not fair to let some bring kids and not others, unless there's huge age differences. Our teenagers are usually invited to places where toddlers would not be appropriate.
2. In our circle, everyone usually brings an app or dessert to share. In your case, if someone you know makes a killer guac for example, let them bring it. It makes them feel good and everyone get to enjoy their cooking. If their offer is for something out of character for the party, tell them so.
3. Generally, an "open house" dosn't require an RSVP because...it's an open house.
4. Mixed groups make for more interesting parties.
Just my opinion
I agree about the mixed group thing. It's a must in my book...although I wouldn't invite a loudmouthed drunk to my house..nor would I be friends with one.
I think it is just fine to put (Adult Open House). My sister had a huge wedding and expensive reception for her daughter and the invitation read something to the effect that the reception was being held at a location that was not safe for younger children. (Lots of stairs, etc.)
I agree, nobody RSVP's to an Open House.
1. The only people who can correctly attend are those to whom invitations are made. If the invitation is not extended to family, one is forbidden to bring family. That's why it's rude to formally state "no kids" in an invite because it implies that the guests are ignorant of basic courtesy. Now, it seems that too many people have, uh, gotten hazy about this basic courtesy, so the normal polite way to deal with it is informally to explain that you can understand if a putative couple cannot attend because they cannot get a babysitter during the holidays.
2. Yes, but only if you make clear it's not necessary. (Conversely, the guest may not bring food to be served at the event unless you give prior permission or, I will concede, if you are in a circle where that permission is universally understood).
3. It's arguably rude because it points out the rudeness of your erstwhile friends. A friend who shows up at an event where an affirmative RSVP has been requested by the host is a friend who will find him or herself not getting invited to events requiring an RSVP, sooner rather than later. Real friends are not rude to each other like that.
4. That's why guests are traditionally forbidden to discuss sex, politics and religion and are limited to topics of no consequence. (It does help to have guests with sufficient commonality of some interest to ensure there are enough inconsequential topics for them to enjoy discussing. And, if they are at table, the host(s) should model good behavior by turning the table of conversation from time to time.) Of course, guests who transgress this rule reap what they sow. And many do so happily. Transgressors who get upset again don't get invited back. Innocent victims of said transgressors get comforted by the host and invited back.
* * *
Now, I wrote this rather archly, and realize it seems rather stiff and what not. But...there's actually a great deal of practical wisdom behind that starchiness.
Disclaimer: this is all In My Humble Opinion.
1. Love the 'between the meals" open houses - it will keep you from tearing your hair out planning a dinner buffet. Sound reasoning on the drink-and-drive issue, too. As for kids? I think it's always okay for someone to specify adults only. I have lots of kids in my life, but it doesn't mean my gathering needs to look like Romper Room - there are other times for gatherings with children. BUT! Be careful of making "one exception" for someone - you could end up with hurt feelings elsewhere on your guest roster. Stick to your guns - you'll be happier for it.
2. If I have a guest who is a really close pal or close family member, I could see this. Otherwise, I would never make it a practice. Make sure you have what you need already - any offering a guest then brings can simply be accepted graciously. I usually opt for the ol' "bring yourselves - we'll be happy to see you."
3. Well, it's sort of rude not to RSVP, too, isn't it? I'm not sure what the etiquette is - I would say, consider if the bulk of your crowd is casual or formal? We're casual around here, so I have no problem with a followup call.
4. If I know that there are those who seriously clash, I will adjust a list accordingly (although this is not always possible in family gatherings!!). Otherwise, most people will be well behaved in a social setting (beware over-imbibers, though). A friend who hosts large and incredibly diverse parties has great success NOT worrying about it, and almost everyone has a better time than if they were in a narrow demographic.
Finally, organize yourself with good master lists for prep and have convenient waste receptacles. Be well rested, and don't drink too much wine out of nervousness.
1. Yes. Although since it's just before New Year's, you might have people on vacation and unable to attend.
2. You're hosting the Open House. Tell them nothing is needed.
3. If they're rude enough to *not* RSVP, I can't see how calling them to find out if they're coming or not can be construed as rude. Go ahead and do it!
4. No, I wouldn't worry. Hopefully, your guests are adult enough to not get into a heated political discussion at a party. Having different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds makes for an interesting gathering, IMO.
5. Enjoy the party YOURSELF. If you can afford to have a few local college kids who are on holiday break be the servers for the afternoon fete, do so (both food and a "bartender", provided they're of age to serve alcohol). That way, you're not doing everything without enjoying the party yourself. You'd only have to write out notes for them as to when to put in such-and-such appetizer in the oven for serving, when to put out the roast beast for carving, etc.