Planning a bachelor party Ask groom what he wants

I can still remember my first bachelor party experience. It was a "Happy Days" episode I watched as a kid. I can still vaguely recall the smoky, back-room stag party with beer-drinking guys and a girl popping out of a cake. Richie got loaded on alcohol and the episode ended in typical "Happy Days" fashion with a lecture from Howie, his old man.

For some reason, this episode came to mind when I was asked to plan a stag party for an old friend. Let's call him Ralph.

I was a groomsman in Ralph's wedding. Since his best man was his younger brother off at college, it was up to another groomsman — let's call him Potsie — and me to plan the bachelor party.

I considered this a huge honor. This was, after all, the first time anyone asked me to plan a bachelor party. I had been to a few stags and was well aware tradition calls for subjecting the groom to a night of tasteful debauchery in this, his final fling at singlehood. O.K., it didn't matter, I thought, that I was unprepared for the planning part.

As Potsie and I divvied up the phone list and sat down to plan the night's activities, I realized the depth of my real-life bachelor party experience was limited to attending those of my two brothers-in-law. I knew from those events, and from talking with friends, that traditions like dinner and drinks are considered integral, while others, like cigars, speeches and entertainment, are considered optional.

What I call the optional package, others I know expect as standard issue. Some people even claim that for the entertainment part, it's "in" right now to jet off for a weekend in Las Vegas or take a road trip to a casino in Windsor, Canada. That's great if you have the cash and don't mind asking your buddies to shell out between $700 and $1000. We decided to avoid that kind of extravagance.

We had a feeling Ralph wasn't expecting the Rat Pack stag. But what was he hoping for? When I called his father and some of the other groomsmen, I was surprised at what some of them envisioned: a smoky restaurant room, big steak dinner, toasts about the bachelor's wild days and finally, entertainment!

When all was said and done, though, the most important lesson I learned is this: Take care of the bachelor first and yourself second.

Potsie, who had already planned a few of these parties, made this remarkable suggestion: Ask Ralph what he wants. It was so deceptively simple it was brilliant. Did he want to swing (martinis followed by gals in slinky dresses) or lounge (a big dinner followed by a brandy and a cigar)?

Ralph, it turns out, was kind of in the middle. That's why we decided to have a moveable feast. Since Ralph is a modern, hip Jewish guy, we needed a suitable place to dine.

Finding a restaurant is tough enough. But with only seven guys at the party, it's even harder to book a spot away from the crowd. After much debate, we settled on an Italian place that could give us a room upstairs.

That would have covered it, too, if only we hadn't gotten greedy. Pretty soon, the thought of having entertainment of an untraditional sort crept into our minds. Our plan involved a scavenger hunt and a blank white T-shirt.

For the scavenger hunt, we came up with a list of activities for Ralph's solo mission — a few based on his favorite things, others on old fraternity pranks, and still more specifically designed to embarrass him. For example, we wanted Ralph to ask a stranger, preferably a pretty young woman, to give him a kiss on the cheek. Along the way, people wrote their encouragements for Ralph on the T-shirt.

You can fill in the rest of the details about what happens when seven guys go drinking. Here's what I learned from my real life bachelor party experience:

1. Always call for cabs. Make sure you're paying on the meter, not a flat rate.

2. Tip big. If you even suspect you're annoying the servers, trust me, you definitely are.

3. Know when to have mercy on the bachelor. That includes letting him crash on your couch. At all costs, don't let him go home to his fiancée.

4. Take lots of pictures.

5. Tomato juice and two aspirin are great for a hangover.

6. Have fun, but keep your lips sealed when the party's over.