Surveying Strangers About When to Show Up to a Party

Surveying Strangers About When to Show Up to a Party

Ugh...a party

If you dislike me you won’t talk to me. If you hate me you’ll invite me to your party.

Aside from needing to talk to people at a party, one of the other problems with parties is deciding when to show up. I am a punctual person. Being “fashionably late” conflicts with the core of my being.

Yet I have been to enough parties to realize that punctuality is not always appreciated. I remember going to a party in Tribeca thrown by a friend of a friend. The Facebook invite had a 9 PM start time. We showed up at 9:05 PM. We were the only ones there. One of the hosts, not even completely dressed, said she didn’t expect anyone this early. I was confused, weren’t we on time?

So if being on time is faux paus, what is the right time to show up? I conducted a survey to lock down a concrete answer. I recruited 71 people and presented them with three parties:

  • House Party - A house party with 20 to 50 people and an official start time of 10PM

  • Small House Party - A house party with 10 to 20 people and an official start time of 10PM

  • Early House Party - A house party with 20 to 50 people with an official start time of 8PM

For each hypothetical party, I asked participants three questions:

  1. When is the earliest you would like your guests to start arriving?

  2. When is the latest  you would like your guests to arrive by?

  3. What is the ideal time you would like your average guest to arrive?

This is what I found:

Survey Says...

1. Show up on time to 15 minutes late.


Over 50% of people wanted guests to arrive on time to 15 minutes late. This was especially true for smaller parties: 68% of people said that that was ideal time frame to show up.

For larger parties, close to a third of people wanted guests to arrive more than 15 minutes later than the official start time. So if you’re a punctual person, get in another episode of The Office in before leaving for your shindig.

2. If you have to be early, don’t arrive more than 15 minutes early.

More than 50% of people were okay with guests arriving earlier than the official start time for all three parties. However, don’t arrive too early. Few people found it acceptable for guests to arrive more than 15 minutes early. If you’re in danger showing up prematurely, take some extra laps around the neighborhood before knocking on the door.


3. There’s fashionably late and then there’s arriving more than 1.5. hours late.

People varied in how late they found it acceptable for guests to show up. For smaller parties, 78% of people said that guests shouldn’t arrive more than an hour late. For larger parties, 75% of people were okay with guests arriving up to 1.5 hours late. 7% of people fell in the “I don’t give a F&CK” category and didn’t care when guests showed up.


4. Just because a party starts earlier in the night doesn’t mean you can show up later. In fact, the smaller the party, the more on time you should be.

I thought that the party start time would affect people’s expectations about when guests should arrive. I was wrong. The data suggests that regardless if the party starts at 8 PM or 10 PM, you should still arrive on time or slightly late.. Party size had the bigger effect on expectations for timeliness - the smaller the party, the more on time you should be.


What your party arrival time says about you

The data told me when to show up to a party. But what do people actually think when you arrive to a party 30 minutes early or 2 hours late? I recruited some of my socially-minded friends and interviewed them about party arrival times. What I discovered is that when you show up to a party says a lot about you - your personality, your relationship to the host, and your goals for the night.


1. You show up a little early.


You are undoubtedly the first one to arrive. You probably caught the host in the middle of setting up or getting dressed. Expect a few comments about “not expecting anyone this early.”


  1. Are best friends with the host

  2. Mistakenly believe people appreciate your early arrival.

  3. Didn’t know how long it would take to get to the party

If you are best friends with the host, all is forgiven. You may have even been expected. Your presence means you can help the host set-up or better yet, pregame.

If you are 2), consider this your awakening. Hopefully the data has convinced you that those exclamations of “You’re Early!” were not because the host was excited to see you.

Most likely you are 3). You weren’t sure how long it would take to get to the party so you arrived earlier than anticipated. Rather than circle the block a few times, you decided to just ring the doorbell - what’s the worst that could happen? As you take in the look of confusion and judgement across your host’s face, you immediately regret your decision. Next time you arrive early, you’ll just patiently wait in your car like a normal person.


2. You show up on time


You’re likely still the first person to arrive unless there’s that odd guy who showed up early. I mean who does that, even you have more social tact than that.

Depending on how prepared your host is, one of two emotions is crossing their mind. If they’re set up, they’re relieved that people have actually come to the party. You’ll also make the party look more popular for when other guests show up.

If your host is still setting up, they’re cursing your existence. They know the invite technically said 9 PM, but who actually shows up at 9 PM? Now they have to continue getting ready while feeling obligated to make small talk.

So why did you show up on time? You are either...

  1. Punctual

  2. Bored

One option is that you like being on time. Your college nickname was “Punctual”. You have a stopwatch tattooed on your wrist. The Facebook invite said 10 PM so doggone it, you’re going to show up at 10 PM.

The other option is that this party is the pinnacle of your night. There are only so many True Detective episodes you can watch in one day. Literally - there are only two seasons right now and you’ve watched them all today. So you arrive on time because you would rather do anything else than spend another more minute at your place.


3. You show up fifteen to twenty minutes after the “start time”


People are starting to trickle in and everyone is standing in a large circle. You can actually hear other people speak.

You either:

  1. Hate large crowds.

  2. Have somewhere else to be.

Maybe you prefer chatting in smaller groups but don’t want to make one-on-one small talk with the host. Arriving relatively early is a good strategy if you don’t know many people at the party. While the party is small, you can actually meet everyone there. As people trickle in, people will also gravitate toward the social circle you’re in and introduce themselves to you.

Showing up at this time can also mean this party isn’t your final destination for the night. You felt socially obligated to make an appearance but you’re really just waiting for the acceptable amount of time to pass before you can leave for your true destination. In the meantime, you’re not going to turn down the wine being passed around.


4. You show up thirty minutes to an hour late


The party is picking up, the drinking games have come out, people aren’t drunk but they are certainly drinking.

If you arrive at this time, you are normal.

As you enter the room, you mentally pat yourself on the back for being fashionably late. Nevermind that you were watching cat videos for the last two hours just so you wouldn’t arrive early.

Every decision is planned. You brought a 6 pack - just enough beer to show that you’re not a moocher but not enough beer for people to think you’re desperate for friends. Your wardrobe is put-together enough to look good but not too put together to look like this party is a big deal. The fact that you tried on five different outfits before landing on the one you have on is besides the point.


5. You show up 1.5 hours to three hours late.


The party is in full swing. Conversations consist of yelling into each other’s ears. Like an invasive species, red Solo cups are spreading across the room. The beer pong table has a waiting list.


  1. Do not know the host.

  2. Are coming from somewhere else

You’ve never met the host. In fact, you didn’t know this party existed until 10 minutes ago when your friend shepherded your friend group here. You’re only here because the first party ran out of alcohol and this was the best option anyone could think of. This was not before receiving several texts confirming that this party was indeed “poppin”.

Or this is the second or third stop of the night. You were at the “coolest bar before this” and make it clear to anyone you meet. Now you have to match your level of intoxication to the level of the party. If your level is too low, you take some shots to catch up. If your level is too high, you still take some shots to bury the awkwardness.


6. You show up more than three hours late.


You are drunk.

You have no idea how you got here. As you look around, you don’t recognize a single person in the room. People glance your way and whisper to their friends but you’re in no state to decipher what it all means. You would call your friends but you lost your phone two destinations ago. Now you’re just sitting on a couch with a cup of water in hand, or is it a cup of beer? You’re just going to rest your eyes for a brief second…


It’s Party Time...

So hopefully you now know when to show up to your next party - yay. If you’re not convinced you actually want to show up I have an article for you. But for now, I have to take a shot, grab my jacket, put on a smile, and head out the door.


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