Manners & Misdemeanors

How to Get Your Guests to Leave

Legendary bandleader Peter Duchin on how to gracefully let your friends know it's time to head home.

You're giving a party of some sort—perhaps cocktails, perhaps dinner for ten. Everything is going swimmingly. The guests are engaged in animated conversation about politics, sex, etc., but you look at your watch and realize that it's time for them to leave. You have golf in the morning, your wife has a lesson with that attractive young tennis pro you hate. How do you suggest that it's time to go?

Do you leave the room, go to the kitchen, and start washing dishes? Certainly you don't move to the couch and lie down. Do you fake a text message from one of your children? Do you casually read some lines from The Man Who Came to Dinner, or do you just stand up magisterially, fold your hands, thank all for coming, and announce that it's time?

Do you leave the room, go to the kitchen, and start washing dishes? Certainly you don't move to the couch and lie down.

Luckily, in back of the piano I rarely have to deal with this question. At the beginning of a party, when people start arriving, I avoid playing loud, but we keep enough of a beat that they know something is to come. Then, as they start to dance, we slowly pick up the tempo and volume, and as we drift into rock, the dancing becomes frenetic.

We stay with that awhile, changing tempi and tunes, always aware of what attracts more dancers. Then we start to intersperse slower tunes, and as we see people leaving we play an upbeat set—Motown, say—and when I feel it's the right time we play "Save the Last Dance for Me," by the Drifters, after which people chat for a bit and say their goodnights.

We used to play the more traditional "The Party's Over," by Willie Nelson, and sometimes we played "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," the old gospel song, and my trumpet player would lead a kind of conga line—right out the front door.


One time we were playing for Henry Ford, and he came over and asked me to play his favorite song—for the fifth time—which was "When the Saints Go Marching In." So we started a conga line and the trumpet player led everyone out into the garden, toward the swimming pool. Several people were pushed in, many jumped, but somehow my trumpet player escaped. That was a pretty good indication that the party was over.

Henry, for the record, stayed dry.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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