I'm actually wildly in love with the fact that there are so many terms for the liminal space between kitchen table and parallel relationships. Watching to see what word people choose to describe this space, as many proliferate - the Multiamory-approved "Garden Party Polyamory," the elegant-sounding "Cocktail Party Polyamory," the evocative "Neighborhood polyamory" (I'll describe these all in a minute, don't worry), the nerdy "Gaming Table polyamory," and "Restaurant Table" or "Birthday Party Polyamory" as inclusive versions that most people will understand regardless of their closeness or not to their metas - feels like a living experiment in community dynamics. It's a sign of how fractured the polyam community is that we have so many different terms that work for such similar dynamics with just slightly different flavors, and simultaneously a strength of the community that we're trying so hard to build a shorthand for this very common dynamic that is in the space that "isn't quite kitchen table and isn't quite parallel" - the polycule with a bit of everything. So let's look at what these different terms kind of feel and sound like and which are more popular, to help you decide when and how you might want to use them.
When might you use any of these terms?
These are all in-group terms, functionally. It will mean nothing to most monogamous people if you tell them that you're in a garden party polycule with ten other people, three of whom you're dating. Saying more than "Oh I'm polyamorous, yeah we're all really social" is probably overkill for the monogamous audience. But for polyam people and especially for potential partners, these kinds of terms can help us determine whether our current practice of polyamory is compatible and whether our vision of how polyamory should work is compatible. That compatibility can be really essential. One person deeply desiring kitchen-table-verging-on-lap-sitting connections with polycules and the other being at "oh I can entangle up to a birthday party level with metas, that's it" is an actual incompatibility, and one that will rear its head at a minimum when NRE fades, if not sooner.
Garden Party Polyamory
"Garden Party Polyamory" has been gaining steam for a while but especially since the folks from Multiamory used it on their podcast episode "From the Kitchen Table to the Parallel Universe" which introduced a lot of folks to this version of the term. They defined it as "low to medium entwinement" in the polycule, where folks are willing to be friendly at events with their metas but don't want close friendships with them. I've seen it used in lots of online forums to mean roughly this same thing, with kind of a light convivial spin. It's when you don't want to have coffee with your meta every week or get into an RPG with them for all eternity, but you're happy to be at the same cookout or the hinge's big event without a problem. My only issue with the term is that it comes off just a little bit classist and tone deaf in term - who is going to a garden party? But it sounds kind of cute, not gonna lie.
Cocktail Party Polyamory
An alternative term that once again uses this idea of being able to say hello over small food or drink you don't need to sit down with as a metaphor for the connection (or lack thereof) between metamours in a given polycule. If you can float past someone and have short, cordial conversation without them souring your entire mood or you theirs, but spend most of the party with others, that's just as much cocktail party polyamory as finding someone delightful in short bursts but not wanting or needing to get to know them more deeply. This term comments on amount of interaction as much as tone.
Birthday Party Polyamory
This can be used for the same level of interaction as the previous two terms, but can have the inflection that particularly, the events folks are willing to put in this effort for are focused on the hinge - birthday parties, yes, but also performances of theirs if they're a performer, holiday events they throw, traditions that the hinge wants to feel they include all partners in. Some folks use all of these interchangeably - but often the "birthday party" people are either hinge-focused or are one more parallel person on the edge of a very integrated polycule trying to strike a balance of being at important moments in their partner's life.
Restaurant Table Polyamory
I've heard this one used specifically for metas who don't make much effort to get to know one another but will sit across a restaurant table from one another for special occasions for the hinge - so very like birthday party and maybe slightly closer than cocktail or garden party implies because of the extended time together in close contact for a meal or similar.
Gaming Table Polyamory
This one can be for the "build closeness" metas, the "small doses" metas, or the "structured activities make anyone worth spending time with but please don't make me make small talk" metas. Again, it's not a high entwinement structure necessarily - although some people run d&d campaigns that last years and over time build a level of closeness that bleeds into a kitchen table structure, this term can also be used for the "once a month we hang out and play some board and card games, there are two tables and nine of us so we divide accordingly, when the games end, folks bail" crowds who don't necessarily like or love their metas but will spend structured time together. The nerd-to-polyamory intersection is strong with this term. This structure can also be used for "poly-nating" - convincing your non-polyam friends of the positives of polyamory/converting the monogamous.
I've heard this one in the wild a couple times, but I can't find it in writing anywhere - the metaphor I've heard described with this one is 'treating your metamours like neighbors' - there's not necessarily a close relationship between any individuals but the people who can reach out in an emergency or to cover a missing cup of sugar or what have you (or polyam wise - to cover a hinge's emergency situation or plan a birthday surprise - something essential or something fun, whether it's the neighborhood watch or the block party. Just as those two situations (a block party or both being members of the neighborhood watch) don't imply that you're besties, but do imply that you can work towards a common goal, this term does the same. The polycule is an ecosystem and in cooperation in neighborhood polyamory - even if you kind of don't like that one neighbor who does the thing you don't appreciate in their front yard.
All or none of these terms might work for you if you're someone with a flexible or low entanglement relationship with metamours. You might find the slight flavor differences and distinctions between the terms helpful and use them to help you pick one, or you might use them all interchangeably day by day. You might like Garden Party because it's getting more popular; or another because it's more unique; or none at all and describing your individual relationships because that suits you best. All of these approaches are equally valuable - but I hope having a little extra language to help you decide what to use makes you feel better about it.
If you're looking for more information on polyam relationships, check out the Ready for Polyamory Podcast, follow me on instagram & tiktok @readyforpolyamory and twitter @lauracb88, get the book Ready for Polyamory: A Pragmatic Guide to Consensual Non-Monogamy, now available in Paperback, Kindle, and Audio formats, or book a confidential peer support session with me here.
If you're local to Connecticut, where I am, I'm helping host a polyam bar social on June 8 at 7pm at the Trinity Bar in New Haven, CT. You can email email@example.com for more info.