“The perfect party: It’s an elusive idea. People have to be completely entertained from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave. It’s a grand experiment, and I am a party scientist. Welcome to my laboratory.”
This ambitious thesis of partying originates from the mind of Tom Haverford in Episode Six of Season Four of Parks and Recreation. At the start of the episode (titled “End of the World”), Tom and his friend Jean-Ralphio discover Entertainment 720, their vague business venture, is reaching its end because they spent all of their money on hiring models and giving away free iPads instead of constructing a feasible business model. But while they’ve gone the way of Ask Jeeves, there’s a slight upside: They each will have $5,000 left.
Yet rather than learn from their mistakes and make sound future investments, the duo decides to throw a massive, sunup-to-sundown “End of the World” party that’s “the essence of everything we wanted the company to be.”
The party is, naturally, a fucking smash. It includes:
- Six open bars
- Several VIP sections (including one nobody is allowed into)
- An inflatable pirate ship
- Craps and roulette table
- Snake Juice ice luge
- Cash booth
- Shrimp wall
- Indiana Pacer Roy Hibbert
- A Bengal tiger
But there’s no way all of that could have cost only 10 grand, right? Especially considering that they needed to get everything the same day; they were being kicked out of their office space at noon the next afternoon.
So how much would this party have really cost? Let’s do the math.
For starters, a couple of things need to be taken into consideration:
- Inflation. The date of the party appears to be November 19, 2011, based on the Reasonablists’ literal end of the world celebration. (The Reasonabilists were a relatively harmless doomsday cult in Pawnee that spent the episode in a local park preparing for what they believed would be the literal end of the world, unknowingly inspiring the theme of Entertainment 720’s blowout party.) So 2020 pricing needs to be adjusted accordingly.
- The Number of Hours Servers, Bartenders and Bouncers Worked. When the party begins, the sun is about to set. According to timeanddate.com, the sun set on November 19, 2011, in Muncie, Indiana, at 5:21 p.m. (Why Muncie? Well, Pawnee is fictional, but Muncie seems to be its real-life inspiration, as Parks and Rec’s co-creator would even follow events there to come up with ideas for the show.) We then see Tom emerging from the party as the sun is rising. The sunrise for November 20th in Muncie was 7:32 a.m. So let’s say the wait/bar shift began at 5:30 p.m. and ended at 7:30 a.m., for a total of 14 hours.
One more thing worth noting before diving into the numbers: There are a few things that wouldn’t have cost them any money, and should be struck from the tally.
- The Event Space. See above, regarding their lease.
- Hibbert and DJ Bluntz. Both were previously mentioned as retained Entertainment 720 employees, so let’s generously assume they were already compensated for their time.
- Furniture. Most of the furniture was taken away at the start of the episode, but once the party idea struck, they may have delayed the tables and couches from being removed until the next day.
- Gift Bags. They likely just gave away a bunch of the useless swag they made for the company.
That still, however, leaves a lot unaccounted for. And so, to calculate the rest of the costs down to the exact penny as best I could, I researched roughly how much each individual facet of the party would cost in a town like Muncie, and I reached out to local businesses to get their best estimates. (As for the fact that they needed to procure everything on a rush basis, let’s operate under the assumption that Tom’s fast-talking charm would have earned them some goodwill, allowing companies to waive potential fees for expedited services.)
Here, then, is my item-by-item breakdown:
- Sound System: $150.
- Light System: $250.
- Velvet Rope Barriers: $210 (around 20 at $10.50/each).
- Red carpet: $10.
- Six Bartenders and Two Servers: $3,560. (That’s $30 an hour per bartender and server at 14 hours a piece plus $200 set-up fee; events usually cost more, but let’s say there’s a discount rate with the assumption of tips due to the open bar. Speaking of which…)
- Open Bar: $12,000. (The general rule for estimating the cost of an open bar is (number of guests) x (2 drinks for the first hour + 1 drink for each additional hour) x ($5 per drink); since nobody was there at the start of the party, let’s say people arrive at around 8:30 p.m. for 11 hours of drinking, which comes out to 200 guests x 12 drinks per guest x $5/drink, or 12 grand.)
- 10 Bouncers: $2,800. (Estimated rates for bouncers in Indiana are low, but Tom specifically notes the quality of these bouncers, so let’s say they’re paid $20 an hour at, again, 14 hours a piece, which brings us to $2,800.)
- Craps & Roulette Table: $1,000 (an estimate from Indiana Casino Rentals).
- Snake Juice Ice Luge: $1,000. (No idea how this would happen the day-of, but several estimates were around this range; plus, if anyone has an ice-luge guy, it’s Tom Haverford.)
- Inflatable Pirate Ship: $375.
- Bubble Machine: $36.99.
- Cash Booth: $599 ($399 for booth rental plus $200 in the booth, or $1 per guest).
- Human Hamster Ball: $75.
- Jousting Gear: $50.
- Shrimp Wall: $39.99 for a Costco Party Tray. (The glasses likely came with bar service.)
- Drumline: $1,000.
- Two Vans for Shuttle Service: $178 ($89 each).
- Two Drivers for Shuttle Service and Valet: $200 (approximately $50 an hour per driver for two hours of service).
- Giant Bows on Cars: $400. (Two hundred people were there, so let’s err on the conservative side and say 20 cars at $20 per bow.)
- Bengal Tiger: $5,000. (Beyond the questionable ethics of renting a caged tiger for a party, the estimates wildly varied for this; some went all the way up to $15,000. The upside for Tom and Jean-Ralphio is people can legally own tigers in Indiana with almost no government oversight. That said, transportation costs are a nightmare. Either way, I was unable to find any rate lower than $5,000.)
That adds up to a grand total of $28,897, which, calculating inflation, adjusts to $25,128.01 (and about nine grand more if they couldn’t get a cheap tiger).
I should point out that these are just the expenses we were shown or told about. It’s likely this party actually cost a lot more. It is, of course, hard to be too surprised by that, given that financial illiteracy and reckless spending were hallmarks of Entertainment 720. With that in mind, chances are that after Tom came down from the high of kissing his former lover Lucy, he realized that he and Jean-Ralphio nearly tripled their budget and had plummeted themselves further into crippling debt.
But hey, that’s the price of being a party scientist. And despite not being the model of responsible businessmen, we all may want to take a page out of Tom and Jean-Ralphio’s playbook as we start planning our post-pandemic Beginning of the World parties.
I know mine’s at least gonna have a shrimp wall.