So, you want to host a room party...!
We have often been asked for advice on hosting parties at sci-fi/fantasy/gaming conventions. Hosting a room party involves a lot of planning, and people who haven't done it before can be struck with mid-convention trauma when they realize that they forgot to take something into account. I have seen intrepid adults step into the gulf of insanity once they realize they had forgotten to take something into account.
But we are here to help! Below, we have penned our wisdom, all of which we have learned the hard way so you don't have to! Heed our advice only if you like, mortal, but remember, there's nothing like forgetting that critical extension cord at home.
One more thing... we would love to hear from you. If you find this guide helpful or interesting, and/or if you have a fabulous party because we have inspired you to do so, let us know and send us photos! Or, on the other hand, if you find our guide lacking in some way, please share your wisdom with us so we can correct our deviant ways!
You may either click the subject below to jump to that section, or just scroll down to read our hints.
Begin the Beguine! First, you need coffee, lots and lots of coffee. (You may substitute soda or alcohol of choice.) Then, you need friends (a few usually do the trick). Sit around and say, "Let's have a party!" until someone comes up with an idea of what kind of party to have. Then run with it.
Dream the Implausible Dream: Brainstorm... get a theme. Having a theme helps the whole process move along; it makes it easier to decorate and get a cohesive idea of what the party will turn into. Sometimes, the type of party dictates the theme: a Dr. Who fan party, well, can just have Dr. Who as a theme. Or, in our case, we have a group based on Mythos, but our party theme is a coffeehouse. ROG parties are hosted by a group of gamers, but each party has had a different theme each year: toga parties, tropical copacabanas, etc. I have seen flower-eating parties (Rake'hell -- nothing like watching Klingons eat roses), gambling rooms (Club Adventure), and a speakeasy (Club Adventure). Having a base idea to work on helps pull all the rest of the planning together. I highly recommend it.
Divide and Conquer: Have a team of people dedicated to helping the party run, and have someone designated to coordinate the effort. Then, divide and conquer. Specify who will bring the equipment, who will help set up the room, and who will be in the cabana at what times.
YOU WILL NEED SOMEONE FROM YOUR GROUP IN THE CABANA AT ALL TIMES THAT YOUR PARTY IS OPEN, otherwise things will disappear, security will get mad at you, and generally bad things happen. It also sucks to be stuck baby-sitting a cabana party because everyone else has disappeared and is off having a good time around the convention. Have a schedule up. Schedule people for 2 hour shifts of working in the room (if possible, pair people up, so if the party is slow, no one is stuck alone in the room while the rest of the convention parties on). Then somebody else comes in and takes over for the next two hours, and the first person or team runs out and does whatever they want.
Make sure you also know who is staying to help clean up. People like to ditch you before this part!
Location, Location, Location! Get a party room at the hotel as early as possible and coordinate with the parties committee, if the convention has one. Consider getting a separate room to sleep in, if the convention is a particularly busy one for parties (like CONvergence).
Try to get a cabana near the other parties. People who like to surf parties will usually gather near the highest concentration of parties. CONvergence parties should vie for the main floor cabanas... The main floor cabanas have more room for people (since they "bleed" into both poolside and back hallways). They also have a smoother flow of traffic, because people tend to surf around the main floor more than the second floor cabanas.
Shadow Out of Time: Carefully consider when your room party will be open. ROG for years has gone 24 hours throughout the convention, but it sucks because some poor person is sitting in the suite alone at 4:30 AM on Saturday night just because they have to stay open all the time. Consider giving a conservative timetable (Cthulhu Coffee goes from 6 PM to midnight each night), and if the party is going well and everyone is fine with hanging around, let it continue past the posted hours.
The Feature Presentation: Don't expect things to just happen at the party. Have something for people to do! Be creative. I have seen room parties give origami lessons (the CapriCon party at WindyCon), host costume contests (Club Adventure), have a pickle electrocution (thanks to Richard Caylor), host horror movies at 9 AM in the morning (Cthulhu Coffee's Saturday Morning Live-Action Cthulhu Cartoons) and I hear that there will be an "Iron Chef" event at one of the CONvergence parties this year. Of course, you can also show movies and TV shows in the room if you can't think of anything. Come up with something fun, set a time for it, and advertise it.
Unite and Conquer: Consider teaming up with other parties for your events, just because it's fun for everyone. Cthulhu Coffee and Starwood went head-to-head in a trivia match last year. Two years ago, Rake'hell hosted a "K'andyland" game, where partiers had to go to all the other parties, get a collectors card from each room, and return to the Rake'hell party to see where they could move on their giant game board (made with Crayola markers on a big sheet of butcher's paper).
Just doing a little something to dress up the room makes a world of difference. This is where your theme comes in really handy. Maybe you pick up some tacky fake flowers and cheesy paper parrots and everyone wears bad Hawaiian shirts. Or everyone has a chef jacket, and the room is decorated with travel posters of places famous for their food. Or everyone is in their best tuxedos and Klingon makeup, and the walls are draped with festive streamers. Or something. Whatever it your decor is, remember that you have to stick it to the wall or ceiling with masking tape ONLY. Other types of tape tend to damage the walls, and that sort of thing winds up on your hotel bill.
Also consider your lighting. Lighting is probably the easiest way to dress up a room. Disco balls. Colored light bulbs for the existing hotel fixtures (available at Target for pretty cheap). Christmas lights. Be creative! Shop sale shelves at Walmart and Target for outdated holiday stuff, and you might find something cheap and cool that can be used in the room.
Remember ambient sound! All you really need is a boombox and a good selection of CDs that fit your theme. If you are willing to lug equipment and want to have a dance party, that's good, too. Just remember you have to lug it around, and that someone has to spin discs all night.
A Loaf of Bread, a Carton of Milk, and a Stick of Butter: Food draws people in. Nobody can turn down free food, especially after they've just spent their last $100 at the art show. Have something, ANYTHING to feed your guests.
Once you know what sort of food you want, sit down and make a clear list of EVERYTHING you will need for the weekend, because it sucks to have to leave the convention on Saturday morning (probably hung-over) to go grocery shopping because you are missing a half pound of cheese. Then, consider how you will keep it in the room. The hotel will have an ample supply of ice, so as long as you have enough coolers to hold everything that needs to be refrigerated, you should be good. (Avoid frozen foods, of course.) Also, make sure you have any cooking equipment you will need, as well as tables, chairs, power cords, powerstrips, extension cords, and enough paper plates, napkins, cups, and plastic utensils to equip an army. Remember, Paper Warehouse is your friend...
As for drinkables, consider the simple punchbowl. It's cheap and simple. Also consider anything that can be made "in bulk", like large dispensers of coffee or cider. Sodas by the can get expensive.
Now, a note or two on alcohol. A party that serves alcohol is VERY popular. But serving alcohol is a HEADACHE and a LIABILITY. If you want alcohol at your party, consider having a stash for you and your buddies, but not the general public.
If you do decide that you want to serve alcohol, keep in mind that:
Money Makes the World Go 'Round: Serving food and drink is EXPENSIVE. So are the convention fees and the hotel room for the weekend. Consider fundraising in order to help defer your costs. Keep in mind that you usually are not allowed to sell things out of your room; the dealers in the Dealers' Room pay money to get the exclusive rights to sell stuff at the convention.
Set Phasers on Stun: Most people set up their rooms on the first night of the convention. Check in as early as you can, even if you think it won't take long to set up. Things invariably happen. if you have an elaborate setup, or want the luxury of not worrying on the first night of the convention, consider getting the room for one night earlier and set it up then.
To Serve Man: Hosting etiquette is very easy. Generally, con-goers take care of themselves. They will float in and out, hand around the food, and chat with their friends no matter what you do. They hang out longer if there is something to eat or do. But really, they take care of themselves.
You will have at least one person from your group in the cabana at all times anyway, and it's nice if they say hi to people that come in, maybe introduce the yummy dishes of food. If you want to go the extra mile and you have lots of food or drink, it's nice to have someone to serve the food to the people who enter your party (that way, you can control portions and spills; it also gives your person/people a chance to engage with your partiers, tell them about the food, maybe point out that tip jar...).
A Word from the Elders! Don't let strangers use your bathroom if you can help it. Nothing sucks worse than to clean someone else's alcohol-laden puke out of the bathtub. Grab some "Police Line -- Do Not Cross" tape from Axman and reserve the bathroom for storage and your buddies.
Now, Go Clean Your Room: Food is messy. Parties are messy. Consider getting covering for the floor of the room. Carpet remnants work great, but so does a painter's cloth, a plastic tarp, or those plastic mats for office chairs. People will spill stuff all over, so be ready for it. Have a bottle of stain remover handy for quick cleanup of spills. (A quick note for the CONvergence people: the Bridge now has this nifty machine that actually shrink-wraps the floor in clear plastic. They used it on the first floor poolside carpeting in 2001. They will probably have it next year, and I heard that they will let the room parties borrow it.)
Make sure you have stuff for cleaning any dishes (soap and a scrubbie, maybe a drying rack). The bathtub is a great place for washing lots of dishes!
It is also helpful to bring some garbage bags with you so you don't have to bug the hotel staff for them. Consider also buying only expendable decorations (streamers and the like), so you don't have to lug them home with all your equipment.
After cleanup on the last day, have someone from the hotel go through the room with you to ensure that the room is clean and OK. You don't want to get charged for any stains or broken items that you can fix before you leave.
If you think your cleanup will go past the check-out time on the final day (noon or 11 AM, usually), call the hotel and see if they can extend your check-out time. Usually, it's no problem. Be good to your hotel.