When should you show up to a party early?

by on June 12, 2006 at 8:25 am in Economics | Permalink

I like to be early.  I don’t enjoy parties per se, but they are an opportunity to latch on to a very small number of interesting people and hear their thoughts.  Or just see what they look like.  The chance of succeeding in this endeavor is highest if you are there from the start or nearly so.

Why is early focal?  First, the host is early, by definition, and if the host (or hostess) is not interesting the party probably is in trouble.  Plus early arrival appears to be focal for most others who prefer small-number interactions.

The more clearly defined is your external public reputation, the less you need fear looking bad.  Some people, if they show up early, might be thought as "having nothing better to do."  Those who know me, or know of me, probably won’t think this, so I can appear when I please.  This post will make that all the easier.

Some people appear late so their arrival causes a scene.  The President of the United States is an extreme example of this phenomenon.  But I would not value such a scene, even in the unlikely event that I were capable of causing it.

I wonder how a person’s number of Google hits correlates with party time of arrival, of course controlling for total time spent at the party.

Peter June 12, 2006 at 10:30 am

I guess the concept of “fashionably late” is dead.

C June 12, 2006 at 11:28 am

Interestingly, a solution to this inefficiency that isn’t utilized by our illustrious professors is blindingly obvious even to freshman humanities students. While you guys are tangled up in zero-sum status games that result in shorter parties for all, we students have found a solution: we determine the socially-optimal start time, and make no secret that the kegs will be opened then.

After a few hours, it’s hard to call the scene “socially optimal” without irony, but then I remind myself that it’s not my place to judge the preferences of others.

Perhaps the economics faculty should invest in a funnel and beer pong table. All in the interest of efficiency, clearly.

Smackfu June 12, 2006 at 1:02 pm

The interesting of the hosts is actually not a constant. They are often quite boring at the start of the party. Since there is only a few guests, they have no problem still doing prep work. This usual leave you as the guest to chill on the sofa with a drink. Or you can be proactive and stand around in the kitchen watching, or even help out.

It’s not what I go to a party for, so I wised up and show up late now.

Gareth June 12, 2006 at 2:24 pm

Surely another variable in determining when to arrive would be how well acquainted you are with the group of people at the party? (Not covered under the “Google hits” variable as that’s a global measure of fame rather than how well known you are within the group)

In a group where you know everyone, turning up late guarantees an “entrance” as you’re greeted by lots of your friends (providing Social Proof, if you’re familiar with Robert Cialdini’s excellent ‘Influence’ principles).

However a late arrival to a group of people where you don’t know anyone could see you lost in the throng when turning up early would provide a greater period of time in which to build a (temporary) network of acquaintances.

Tony June 12, 2006 at 3:52 pm

I am frankly depressed by how self-centered some of these comments are. Showing up at a reasonably early time is showing respect for the host by demonstrating enthusiasm for the event. That concerns about status or making an “arrival” trump this most basic courtesy is kind of sad.

As someone who throws a lot of parties, I know how nice it is to have people show up on time and be eager to participate, and how empty and anxiety-provoking it is to have to wait around for hours wondering if anyone is going to show up at all. Guests who obviously care only for their image in the eyes of other guests usually don’t get another invitation.

Steve Sailer June 12, 2006 at 4:15 pm

If the party is at a private home, the answer is:

Never.

Your hosts won’t be ready for guests yet.

Grant Barrett June 12, 2006 at 7:09 pm

I disagree with just about everything you have to say, Antonio.

1. adverse selection: at the very beggining parties are actually boring: if you are in when the party is not, you are selecting adversely your self as a dull

Parties are only boring at the beginning, as Tyler says, if the host is boring. If the host is boring, why are you going? Additionally, if the parties are boring at the beginning when you are there, then you are are also boring, and the party will be better without you. If you do not self-determine as boring but others make this determination about you strictly because you arrive at the party early, then you are encountering networkers and searchers who judge by different criteria than you do; therefore, their opinions should be ignored. Networkers and searchers are defined as attendees who only seek to come away with business cards or dream dates, rather than interesting conversation, useful facts, or good memories. Networkers and searchers are undesirable guests. They are leeches.

2. network effects and search costs: to fully enjoy the party’s aggregate utility you should go in when the party has reached a minimum scale of guests so as to enjoy network effects (minimize the time spent with dull people, and optimizing on search costs – if the party is crowded you can escape easily geek or inept persons and directly go to the most interesting);

This assumes that one is a networker or searcher. If you are content to chat with a relatively few great guests all night, then you do not have substantial search costs. In addition, if other networkers, searchers, and other late arrivals have already made their cohort selections for the evening when you arrive, then your options are reduced. Also, going directly to the most interesting people means that, as supplicant, you have reduced social status. If, however, you ally yourself with high-status guests when they arrive, you have a greater chance of keeping their company all evening–and the best way to find them when they arrive is to be at the party before them.

3. reputation effect: if you arrive late, everyone will notice you, you are the news, the surprise, and you will attract nice people who will substitute geek people to talk to you. moreover if you arrive late you can decide whether to stay or to go (can always say you are invited to another party and just arrive to say hello if the party is tremendously boring); moreover if you stay once arrived late, you can thus gain the reputation of being only in successful parties

If the party is large, your arrival will not be noticed at all. If the party is small, a group dynamic will already have formed to which you are an outsider. If it’s a dinner party, the meal will already have been served. It’s a barbecue, the football game will already be underway. If it’s a club, the couples will already be pairing off. If it’s simply drinks on the terrace with the publishing crowd, then you will have been the topic up until the point of your arrival and a group opinion will already have formed about you.

4. signalling effect:by arriving late you can signal to be a very important and busy person with constant binding outside options.

This only works if all guests judge by the same criteria. They do not. In many circles, late arrivers are seen as lazy, irreponsible, disorganized, rude, or to posers or strivers who try to cram as many parties as possible into a single evening.

5. increasing returns: if you arrive late and the party is nice, people have already started being easy and creating a nice environment, you would not spend any useless time in creating a nice environment, just take it and enjoy

This, again, means that you are self-identifying as boring. If you cannot be instrumental in creating the fun at a party, then you are not a desirable guest. You are a known bad guest who others will try to avoid. A good early arriver makes the fun–they help the host, freeing the host up for socializing; they introduce new arrivals to other guests; they get the early gossip or good news for the evening and thereby become a nexus for opinion and spirit.

6. Stardome effect: if the party is boring and you arrive late and you have the skills to change the nature of the party everyone will notice that it is you who contributed to a successful party, you will be the star and being invited in all the future parties (in which you will arrive late!)

This is counter to experience. Late arrivals are never seen as the life of the party. They are not seen as reponsible. They are seen as greedy takers who arrive only to skim from the good vibes and leave nothing behind. See my previous points.

7. Scarcity of arguments: if you have only a given scarce amount of arguments it is easier to repeat them to different people at the same if the party is crowded and the probability that the party will be crowded is higher the later you arrive.

This is similar to your previous point, but the scarcity assumes that one is the single contributor to arguments. If, in fact, one is early, then one gathers arguments and there is a compounding effect. For example, at a party a month ago, there were two novice opera singers who did not know each other. I found it out, put them together, and they were happier for it. That’s three arguments: she’s an opera singer, so is she, and hey, they’re both opera singers. Then they each have I’m an opera singer, she’s an opera singer, funny thing, we’re both opera singers, and he just introduced us as both being opera singers. That’s three arguments for me, four for each them. It compounds. Early arrivers know that this is a way to get others talking to and about them all night. Again, this requires that oneself is a good guest rather than a party leech.

Most importantly, is that arriving early means that if the party is a hot one, you maximize your total exposure to good times.

Peanut June 12, 2006 at 7:47 pm

Doesn’t it really just depend on who you are? Party-goers are divided by people who care too much about what people think and those who just don’t care. People have mentioned they like to show up late while others early. I think you’re on top of things when you just don’t care. If there’s a party, you’ll go if you can, when you can, not when you WANT to in order to look good.

If you’re early, do what a pro-early commenter suggested, help the host in preping, keep up conversation, etc… Obviously, if you’re a “just don’t care” person, you’d do so because you’re cool with that.

On the other hand, if you go late, you’re late because you REALLY were busy, not because you wanted to seem busy. Isn’t that just fake?

If you’re true to yourself and others, you automatically bring the party with you, no matter what time you drop in. Just be yourself.

-Dr. Phil

mickslam June 12, 2006 at 8:49 pm

I haven’t been to a party in so long its tragic. Kids! Those darn kids!! Thats what having a 2 and 4 year old does to party life. I think in 2 years we’re going to be more party productive.

Anyway, when I used to go to and throw parties and have an overall ‘famous’ life, I attempted to go to parties of my close friends early and those of not as close friends a little later. Additionally, I would arrive occasionally very late. Arriving when everyone else arrives is no fun.

1. Get to spend up close time with good friends and assured them people were going to be there and it was all going to be great. Its a great comfort to see a familiar face early in the evening. Accordingly, was able to help with prep if needed in a fully comfortable manner.
2. Allowed people who I don’t really know time for them to feel comfortable at their own party.

Early arrivers signal to me they want to be my close friend.

Timothy June 12, 2006 at 10:21 pm

I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of the party. Some parties have a very firm start time, such as a dinner party or some more formal event. Some parties, like most of the ones we all went to in college, start at roughly Party O’Clock (which is what my group of friends always said and is anywhere between 8:30pm and 10pm).

There’s also the distribution of other guest arrivals, and as Jacqueline suggested party arrival time may have a lot to do with not wanting to appear “weird”. I think most of the time it is probably best to shoot for within one standard deviation of the mean arrival time, based on your estimation of the other attendees. This will vary by group and event, and can be hard to estimate reliably, so you end up having to guess.

Gobo June 13, 2006 at 1:04 am

Antonio: the converse of your arguments is that if someone shows up late, and the party grinds to a halt and becomes an awkward get-together where everyone starts realizing how late it’s getting, that person is seen as poison to all gathered there, whether it’s their fault or not.

To most comments here: the sheer amount of self-centered ugliness I’m reading is exactly why I dread most parties anymore. I loathe being judged by the time I arrive at a party and the time I leave.

agm June 13, 2006 at 2:00 am

Sarah, re dancing: not if I’m around. The dancing starts when I get there, if it hasn’t already. Or as soon as I find some salsa to play…

Tom June 13, 2006 at 9:41 am

“you will invariably catch me in the shower”

Now THAT’s a party !!!

Barkley Rosser June 13, 2006 at 11:39 am

Anon,

You don’t realize what a wild and crazy guy Professor Cowen is.
They have so many insane parties at the Mercatus Center that they
have a special drunk room just for all the rowdy late arrivals
to carry on in. I hear it has a black light and (sounds of glass
breaking)…

stephen June 14, 2006 at 7:37 am

You people have analysed this to death, and far too much. Just be thankful you got an invite – and go already!
If you are late: don’t apologise nor scrutinize. Just let it be. No one really cares. If you are late enough, they’ll be too toasted to know.
If you are early: Help set up the party. There’s only one sure way to get re-invited: Do something to help make sure the party-people are well fed. It’s also a sure way to network into those cliques that always form at parties.
If you are dead on time: Dude, seriously, get a life. Or put your watch backwards 10 minutes.
If your friends are concerned with your arrival time, you need to find new friends.

Before you say it, yes I speak in jest. I know you really are not taking this so seriously…

Jon June 14, 2006 at 4:16 pm

I’m an early goer. I like to throw parties and when I’m not throwing the party, I don’t mind (and even enjoy) helping the host set up. Plus I like to maximize my party time. To hell with anyone who is going to give me a hard time about when I show up. I only care about people showing up late when it’s my party and it’s clear that they are specifically trying to be fashionably (sic) late. Thats rude. If people are bouncing around to other parties and just swinging by mine to see how it is, totally cool. But whatever, I just find it amusing that the phrase “to fully enjoy the party’s aggregate utility” was used and debated. Good stuff guys, while you’re fighting over the aggregates, I’ll be at the party setting out cheese plates and hitting on the hostess.

Barkley Rosser June 15, 2006 at 11:39 am

Well, I regret to inform everybody that there won’t be any more
wild parties at the Mercatus Center. If you missed them, you are
too late. One of Tyler’s more impassioned blogogroupies let me
know what happened at the last one.

First of all, Bryan Caplan showed up early and nearly bored everybody
to death by arguing that after you controlled for his IQ and education,
he still outproduced everybody in the room by at least 4% thanks to his
High Achievement Factor. He was about to be drowned in a vat of moonshine
in the back.

But then the late arriving cool dudes showed up, Gordon Tullock and Peter
Boettke. It appeared they were wired on ecstasy and were chugging
cosmopolitans. Everyone thought they would exude rave love, but then they
got into the mother of all fights, with their various acolytes and subalterns
joining in. It involved the throwing at each other of old copies of Public
Choice and the Review of Austrian Economics. The damage to the Mercatus
Center was so severe that all parties have been called off, and Tyler has
had to make a major funraising tour of Very Conservative Foundations to
undo the damage. I wish him well, :-).

David June 3, 2007 at 5:02 am

Lieber grumble!!! hoffe dir gehts gut da in der fremden weite… wenn man dich schon nicht persænlich besuchen kann…

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