my coworker brought seven plus-one’s to a work party — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I recently planned an office social hour at a local restaurant. My invite said “plus-ones are welcome, including kids, but please note you’ll be paying for your own guests.”

One coworker, Pam, brought her four kids, husband, mother-in-law, and nanny. Everyone else came alone or with one guest so, of the 19 of us at the event, eight were Pam’s family. Pam had to be there (she presented an award) and she paid for her family, but am I wrong in feeling that it was a social gaffe? Can/should I rephrase future invites to indicate that plus one means plus ONE?

This is an interesting twist on last month’s question from the polyamorous person who wanted to ask to bring both their partners to work events!

People normally know that “plus-one” means one unless they explicitly make other arrangements. However, I wonder if you inadvertently introduced ambiguity with the wording on your invitation: “plus-ones are welcome, including kids, but please note you’ll be paying for your own guests” contains a lot of plurals, and it’s possible that contributed to Pam reading it as “guests,” not “guest.”

Even then though … I think this is on Pam, not your invitation wording. She brought her mother-in-law and nanny to a work social hour? I could see bringing the kids along if she had no other child care for them, but that clearly wasn’t the case … and four kids, husband, mother-in-law, and nanny is a lot of additional guests for an event that otherwise had 11 people at it. When your guests make up 42% of the attendees at a work event, something is off. (It might be different if she were the one receiving the award — assuming it was a reasonably prestigious award and not, like, a Dundie — but she wasn’t.)

I’m curious whether Pam seemed to realize the mistake or whether it seemed just fine to her. It’s also possible there was some weird confluence of events that made it more convenient for her to bring everyone but which isn’t likely to be repeated.

In any case, normally you wouldn’t need to rephrase future invitations because this would normally not be a thing that would happen more than once. But since it did happen, in theory you could err on the side of more clarity in the future and write, “Plus-ones are welcome (one per employee)” or “(max of two per employee)” or whatever feels reasonable to you … but it’s not ideal because it means that if you’d normally welcome someone’s three kids but don’t want them dragging in-laws and nannies along, or if it would be fine for someone in a throuple to bring both their partners, this wording will potentially put up barriers you didn’t intend.

Realistically, I’d probably just wait to see if it happens again or not, and if it does then talk with Pam at that point … but otherwise assume people will generally get this right or at least mostly in the ballpark.

That said, normally I come down on the side of “if you have specific expectations in your head, be as clear as possible so people don’t have to guess.” In this case, though, it’s so unusual for “plus-one” to be interpreted as “plus-seven” that you don’t need to entirely change what you’re doing because of a single one-time outlier.

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