Host responsibilities at a function

Host responsibilities at a function

This is certainly a major discussion topic at the moment. My interest, as such, is as a professional organiser and manager of various functions and hospitality, and also as a parent of teenagers – my wife and I have “hosted” parties at our home and our daughter has attended a number of school balls.

ebook160x240The first question is whether there is always some need for host responsibility, and why?

Part of the answer is the feeling in this country that there is a binge drinking culture in this country. Next question - does it permeate most generations or just younger people.

I’m not going to enter into a major debate on this particular question, as the purpose of this article is certainly to openly reference some of the challenges relating to drinking alcohol and hence leading onto drinking at actual functions, and then set out some basic host responsibilities which, if we don’t already do so, we should adopt and implement.

Certainly there is a drinking culture which exists and which affects the behaviour of a number of people, both adults and teenagers and which consequently does affect the functions and parties that they are attending, others who are present and of course themselves.

I have been present at many hundreds of functions where alcohol is served, and been in a position to observe mostly adults and to a lesser extent, teenagers drinking. On nearly all such occasions I have been totally “dry” -as such hopefully in a position to observe in an objective manner.

It’s the old adage – over 95% of the people present and over 95% of the functions are devoid of any issues, but a few don’t neatly fit into this category, and these are the ones that make the news and can result in tragic consequences, not to forget that some attendees make absolute idiots of themselves.

So, do we have certain responsibilities as a host of a function? Indeed, even for

a function where adults are the guests, there are some basic responsibilities that

should be taken.

Starting off with adult functions, do some attendees drink to excess? Yes, clearly some do. I can well recall some corporate functions, mainly corporate hospitality, where, because beverage is supplied and “free”, some arrive at the function “hell bent” on consuming as much alcohol as they can as quickly as they can during the pre match hospitality, then going to the game or event, quite often buying some further alcohol during the game, and then returning to the hospitality event for more drinking! Not smart behaviour to say the least.

Corporate functions at race meetings where people arrive late in the morning and drink solidly until late afternoon/ early evening are not always pretty sights especially when the alcohol is flowing and paid for by someone else! I remember being fortunate enough to go to the Melbourne Cup one year and admiring the glamour of especially women arriving and drinking their first champagne….six or seven hours later, some of those same women could be seen sprawling on the ground and were in a far from elegant state I can assure you!

Yes, adults do not always behave in an “adult” manner at functions.

And yes, there is a binge drinking culture prevalent within our society and it’s not just with our teenagers. Is it going to change? What can we do to change or maybe influence this?

Influence, maybe, change…unlikely certainly in the short term!

Host responsibility is something that we can do to assist with influencing behaviour at certainly functions and parties, and most of this is simple common sense and taking of some responsibility for guests, friends and clients attending your function.

Well, this has been quite a lengthy introduction! What are some obvious host

responsibilities that we can take on board and incorporate when we are involved with a function, private or corporate, party or gathering

Typical function – host responsibilities

Below are some basic and very standard guidelines which would apply to a corporate function/ corporate hospitality….or in fact a private party/ function:

  • Provide lots of food throughout the duration of the function – the middle/ main part of the function or menu is generally well catered. Focus on having food available on guest arrival as some may be hungry and in need of food before they start drinking. Also the final hour, as quite often, some people will suddenly realise that they haven’t eaten enough and may have had one drink too many, so go looking for food – unfortunately, at some functions it has all gone. This is not good host responsibility.
  • Ensure that there is a plentiful supply of non- alcoholic beverages which are well displayed, and encourage serving and drinking of them
  • Security – certainly for corporate hospitality security presence is essential with simple, core responsibilities – checking accreditation/ whether the correct invited guests are entering (there are often others wanting to “gate-crash” either to have a drink with their colleagues or mates or simply because free drinks are being served). This service is required throughout the duration of the function. The other role which, fortunately, is rarely required, is to assist with any people who are intoxicated and if necessary, assist in getting them to depart either with a friend or calling a taxi if necessary.

With corporate hospitality there are always liquor license requirements with the license generally held by the caterer or entity serving the drinks – they should take the lead.

With a private function, host responsibility is key. So…a combination of some simple common sense measures and some awareness/ responsibility from the host.

Teenage party or “gathering!”

If you have teenage children, it is quite likely that at some stage of their later secondary school years, you will be asked if your son or daughter can have a small “gathering” or party.

Unless you are really hard nosed, it is difficult not to say “yes”, particularly if your teenager is regularly being invited to other parties!

It is not necessarily going to be a nightmare (!), provided you put in place some agreed stipulations and parameters.

Here are some ideas:

  • In my view, make sure that you are at home, otherwise potentially you are inviting problems! Hopefully you have a room that you can spend the evening “relaxing” as much as possible.
  • Without wanting to appear intrusive, keep an eye on what is happening as this is a key part of host responsibility. If you are looking after the catering, this is an ideal way to be involved
  • Have an agreed number of guests to be invited, a number that you are reasonably comfortable looking after, managing and being in control of. This number may take a bit of negotiating with your teenager!
  • Ensure that there is an invitation list which is printed out for you or your teenager to take responsibility to check off (or a security person). This doesn’t mean that there is no flexibility but at least it sets parameters/ expectations
  • Have an agreed finish time and that your teenager makes guests aware of the time well before the actual evening
  • Security person – we haven’t had more than 40 guests which is our limit for both space and management reasons, but if you had, say 50 or more guests, engaging the services of a security person would be a good idea as it provides you with that extra feeling of comfort and control – the security person would take care of the invitation list, amount of alcohol being brought, potential gatecrashers and assist with any issues that might arise….hopefully none!
  • Food – make sure that there is lots of food served during the evening. The good old “blotting paper” need never changes! Food can be simple and inexpensive but needs to be readily available. Try also to gauge when the food is mostly needed and certainly save sufficient for the final hour
  • Soft drinks – ensure you have and that its availability is easily visible / advise guests of this when serving food
  • I would strongly recommend that you do not allow any “drinking games” to take place – you don’t want to appear a “spoiler of fun”, but all these games achieve is to unnecessarily hasten for some, early intoxication, so no reason to encourage this
  • Be aware of and discourage any “egging on”/ encouragement of getting a particular teenager drunk – no it’s not actually funny, and we are all well too aware of potential dire consequences of this behaviour
  • If you notice any of the guests appearing intoxicated, immediately call their parents to come and pick them up

Once again, there is nothing amazing or novel in this advice, just some practical

common sense – you want your teenagers to have a good time with their friends, but important to have some agreed parameters and expectations in place, and also provide some base hospitality as part of your host responsibility.

School balls/ pre balls

School balls are currently very much in the spotlight mainly for all the wrong or

sensational reasons.

I read with interest and with understanding, both as a parent and also as a professional hospitality industry person, the recent article in the NZ Herald by Brendan Schollum, a former school principal of fifteen years. Indeed schools face a very challenging situation and decision with their school balls and how they mitigate challenges due to alcohol and drugs, especially with the media attention and focus that prevails these days.

Schools are in a “dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t “ position with regard to holding school balls, this situation made all the more challenging with the intense media focus on them, especially in the case of private or high decile schools. Having a photographer(s) present outside of the Eden Park Function Centre taking photographs of people leaving the recent King’s College ball is a typical example of the media spotlight on these balls and schools.

It is quite understandable that a number of schools would like to delete the traditional school ball from their calendar, and to be fair, who could blame them – school balls used to be an event that pupils would remember for all the right reasons. These days, unfortunately for many teenagers, the focus and feature is not actually the ball but the pre and post ball parties, and for some, the opportunity to get “tanked up” prior to the actual ball.

If the teenage student demand is to have pre and, if they can arrange them, post ball parties, it is going to be very difficult for schools to want to continue holding balls with all the corresponding stress and attention from the media. All they can do is to provide very strong advice to parents and guidelines regarding smaller number, acceptable gatherings where the likelihood of drinking and drug taking are hopefully minimised.

Host responsibility should follow the guidelines for the Teenage Party but with the following specific and stringent action points:

  • Restricting numbers eg max 40-60
  • Strong parental presence and management
  • Strictly defined duration
  • Restricting the amount of alcohol served
  • Providing a suitable amount of food
  • Providing non- alcoholic beverages including the likes of an attractive punch
  • “Security” if the party has more than 30 odd, to check guests arriving (invited

         guests only and no alcohol brought); bags of those departing

Legal drinking age

I must admit that I’m an advocate for raising the legal drinking age to even nineteen or at least excluding teenagers who are still at school – there is then a level playing field and we avoid some year 13 children being able to legally go to bars, whilst others use fake ID and others simply do not feel comfortable in breaking the law.

I’m not sure of the best workable change to the law, but I would certainly exclude teenagers who are still at school. Could, for example, legislation be drafted so that teenagers became legally allowed to drink when they leave school after year 13, or for those who have left earlier, seven years after they commence their secondary school?

Too many problems to me are caused by the expectation of drinking and having school children legally able to drink is part of the issue.

In Conclusion, No “rocket science” required with host responsibility, and a tad of pastoral care and responsibility will assist with mitigating unnecessary drinking and subsequent problems.

This article was written by
Ian Fraser of Hospitality Solutions Ltd

Ian Fraser has worked in corporate hospitality and
event management for over sixteen years. In this
time, he has organised over 800 functions and
events and project directed some very large
hospitality projects/ events.
In recent years, he has also been approached by
organisations to assist them in a consultancy role.


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