We’d done it this year: we’d planned the perfect reunion. The food was just right, the weather couldn’t have been better, everyone came, and for once Aunt Barb and Aunt Jessie skipped their long-running feud. Everyone had fun, and nothing bad happened.
And then we woke up.
Let’s pause for a reality check: planning a reunion is stressful. Attending reunions can be stressful. And they are never ever perfect. Accepting this is the first step to minimizing reunion stress. Once you stop trying to create the world’s first fault-free, error-free reunion, you can have a lot more fun enjoying the reunion you’ve got.
As with many things in life, the key to avoiding reunion stress is being prepared. In this article, we’ll talk about how you can handle some common, everyday reunion pressure points.
Handling and Avoiding Emergencies
Emergencies and accidents are, by their very nature, impossible to plan for. We sincerely hope that nothing serious ever happens to dampen the fun of your reunion! However, it’s always best to have some common-sense safeguards in place to prevent or minimize accidents and other emergencies:
- Have First-Aid Kits and a Plan. Even the mildest game of bocce or volleyball can result in some minor injuries: a bloody nose, a scraped-up knee, a bruised arm. For small accidents like these, have at least one fully-stocked first aid kit available. You may even want to have a designated “nurse” to help treat these injuries.
Should more serious injuries occur, you need to seek medical attention. In these days of ubiquitous smartphones, calling 911 is usually not a problem. But just in case your signal is dropped, make sure you have printed directions to the nearest ER or doctor’s office. Once again, you may want to have a coolheaded and trustworthy attendee serve as your point person in case of emergencies.
- Be Allergy-Aware. If any of your guests have allergies – for example, to peanuts, shellfish, or some other food ingredient — clearly indicate which food items have been prepared in an allergy-friendly way. Let them know that unless dishes have been specially prepared to meet their dietary needs, they should not eat them.
- Practice Food Safety. Twenty people with food poisoning? Very un-fun. Minimize the chances of this happening by following basic food safety rules: Cook meats properly, keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot, and don’t leave anything that’s not shelf-stable (chips, cookies, candy, etc.) out for more than an hour or two – or even less on a hot day. As much is possible, keep food covered if you are serving it outdoors. Once again, you may want to designate one or two people as your “food safety police” to make sure these rules are followed.
- Serve Alcohol Responsibly, If At All. Alcohol can be a fraught topic: on the one hand, lots of people enjoy it; on the other, there is some inherent liability if you choose to serve alcohol at any kind of party. Whether or not you choose to have alcohol at your reunion is up to you. However, if you choose to do so, you have a responsibility to your guests — both drinkers and nondrinkers — to make sure that no one overindulges and spoils the fun for everyone (or worse, causes accident or injury).
If you choose to serve alcohol, you may want to consider limiting the types you serve and when they are available. Or you could have a cash bar rather than an open bar and hire professional servers or bartenders who know how to “cut off” over-indulgers. (Note: if you’re staying at a resort or hotel, you may be able to haggle a good deal on alcohol and food prices as part of your reunion package.) At the very least, make sure that guests have a place to stay overnight or that there are some responsible designated drivers to make sure everyone gets home safely.
Managing Stress Before and During Your Reunion
As the reunion planner, not only do you have the dubious joy of planning your get-together, you’re also often the de facto host of the event. As such, other attendees are going to turn to you to handle any potential problems. Here are some tips to help you cope with reunion-related stress:
- Communicate. Everything. In Advance. And we do mean everything, from the schedule of the events, to how costs are divided up, to who handles transportation duties. Also, be clear if any attendee has special needs or allergies that others should be aware of. If you’re the person who owns or has rented the venue, you may also need to set up some ground rules for behavior during your event. Basically, the more you can be upfront with people, the better they will know what to expect — and what you expect of them.
- Ask for Help. Just because you’re the planner does not mean you have to do everything by yourself. Delegate. If a guest has medical training, make them your first aid go-to person during the event. If someone with lots of food experience is coming, let them coordinate the menu and be responsible for food safety. Don’t be shy to ask for help and accept help whenever it is offered.
- Supervise Kids and Pets. If you’re having a family reunion, part of the joy is watching kids be kids. Unfortunately, kids left to their own devices have a habit of getting into trouble or getting hurt. No one wants this to happen, least of all you. So be proactive; schedule special activities for the kids or for kids and adults to enjoy together. Ask responsible and kid-friendly adults to look after children during the event – you may want to divide the kids up into groups by age and supervise them accordingly. Or, if you’re in a resort or hotel that offers it, you can also look into hiring a sitter as needed. And pets? The first question is whether or not pets will be welcome. If they are, make sure that pet owners know it is their responsibility to keep their pet under control and to clean up any messes.
- Prepare for Personalities. Another reality check: people are imperfect. Some people can be annoying. All of your guests are going to be imperfect, and some of them might get annoying. Try your best to be familiar with the personalities that are attending and work with them. Give take-charge types something to be in charge of. Don’t pressure shy or unsocial people to get involved in activities before they are ready. Depending on the group, you may need to declare certain topics off-limits. You don’t want to police your attendees, but you do want to try and make sure that everyone blends together well and has a good time.
What About Reunion Event Insurance?
One of the things that causes the most anxiety about planning a reunion is the expense. What if we have to cancel it? What if some kind of terrible weather calamity happens? What if someone falls and breaks a leg? Are we going to be financially liable?
To cover these contingencies, you may want to consider event insurance for your reunion. In fact, some venues will require you to be properly insured before you host an event. Event insurance can cover damages from accidents, bodily or property damage, cancellation due to weather, and other unforeseeable things. Usually these policies are not too expensive, as they only cover a few days or a week. Purchasing one can give you some extra peace of mind.
Remember, the purpose of your reunion is to enjoy your company, celebrate what you have in common, relax and reconnect. Problems and anxieties are inevitable, but they don’t have to become major stressors. By doing a little planning in advance and sharing the load with others, you can enjoy a less stressful reunion experience.