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Event Planning

An event table setup for a wedding reception

You’re an Event Planner?  What do you do?

When did we start needing a specialized job description for an Event Planner?  Isn’t that what our grandmothers did?  Remember their amazing dinner parties with all the best china, crystal and silver on display.  A special menu with the best cut of meat or something that was tended to all day to roast, baste and blossom.  And don’t forget the fabulous dresses they wore with the men in shirts and ties and often jackets.  I can picture it in my mind –somewhere I know there is a polaroid of my grandmother with her set and sprayed hairdo, her fitted dress, holding a small crystal champagne glass and the ever-present cigarette, circa 1958-1962. An image often replicated on Mad Men.

Or if it was a corporate business event didn’t the boss’ secretary handle the details?  Make the reservations, address and send invitations or circulate a memo through the interoffice mail, keep a record of the RSVPs, and inform the Maitre d’ at the restaurant of the wines to be served, as well as any special diet needs and requested beverages.

So what changed??? 

In business the change is obvious—remote staff.  There may no longer be a “secretary” and if there is administrative help, they may or may not be in the same location as the “boss”.  And other than a few notable exceptions like The Classic Café at Roanoke there are so few restaurants that provide personal services.  Most reservations are done through apps like Open Table with confirmation emails and the always impersonal survey to complete.  In our families and homes, the changes are such that we don’t entertain friends and neighbors as our grandparents did.  Now it is all about football games and delivery pizzas.  You can see the changes in home design—no more formal dining rooms, instead “great rooms” with a wall for the biggest TV and surround sound already wired in.

These changes have created the need for Event Planners” but please understand the term is very broad.  The type of event planning that I do is small in scale compared to others.  Just like the organizing side of my business, I personalize events to the client. 

For example, I love to plan trips, but I am not a travel agent. I have a recommendation for one if you need it, instead I can assist you in planning what you need to pack, food and beverage options, and activities to enjoy.  For example, if you want to plan a weekend getaway with some friends to go wine tasting in the Texas Hill Country area, I can help you pick the wineries and schedule the tastings.  I can also make suggestions for restaurants or plan a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds at one of the wineries.  I do the research and figure out the details of where, when, how much, so that you can maximize the fun and enjoy your time.

Or if you want to have a Themed Party at your house, I can help you set a budget, select and send invitations, and select your menu and decorations to match the theme.   We can determine where items will be served, or if you are using a catering service, I can work with them for set up, service and clean up.  I can be there from prep to final clean up behind the scene so that you can be the best host/hostess out with your guests.

I have worked with many charities over the years and focused on their fundraising activities.  I enjoy the challenge of these events but I feel that there are lots of resources available to make fundraising more effective and I would rather focus on the personal events for individuals and small businesses.

Here are some steps to planning a unique and memorable event:

1)      Set your budget.  Budgets are important when you are planning a corporate event where expenses will be reviewed and approved, as well as events like weddings and birthday parties.

2)      Pick your theme or style you want to create with the event.  Everything will build from this-colors, decorations, menu, even location and time of year.

3)      Location or Venue is the first major detail to nail down.  Most often the rental fees for a venue are the biggest part of the budget.  And considerations like time of day, temperature, or any weather options (inside if raining) need to be thought through before booking a venue.

4)      There are many more options for invitations than in the past. Depending on what you are celebrating you can do email only invites (Evite is a good option), or you can print almost any kind of invitation online with services like Vista Print or Minted.  The cost will vary but often there are discounts available.  The best part of these services is that if you don’t have time to address each envelope, you can enter the information (a good excel file helps a bunch) and they will print and mail for you (additional fee!).

5)      Flowers or Decorations are another major expense and you should take advantage of any options the venue can provide free of charge.  Often venues will have a both a casual and a formal “look” that you can use.  Why rent candlesticks if they will provide them???  Just add a personal touch and you’ll be all set.

6)      I like to finalize menu plans after I have the actual rsvp count.  But be aware that most venues have a Food and Beverage minimum that you must spend to use that room or space so you are really going up from that minimum with your choices since you can’t go below.

7)      Beverage costs will vary greatly depending on if you are able to bring alcohol into the venue or must purchase onsite.  Keep your choices to a minimum to save not only money but also to reduce left over (that you may or may not be able to keep and enjoy yourself)

Beverage Planning Tips:

Bottle of wine (750 ml) = 5 servings (5 oz)**

Bottle of Liquor (750 ml) = 16 servings (1.5 oz)

**If you are planning a Champagne Toast, pours are generally smaller (3 oz) and you can expect to get 8 servings per bottle.

Generally guest will consume 1 drink per hour unless they are waiting for the bridal party to finish pictures, and then you should plan they will drink 2 drinks during that hour.  Age of your guests will determine if more beer, wine or liquor is consumed.  If you are hosting the party at home and you know exactly what your guests drink, stock up on those items and then add a “signature drink” to match the theme or offer after dinner cordials to finish out the evening.

8) Food Menu Suggestions:

A)      Appetizers are a great way to start the evening—just don’t get carried away! You don’t want your guests to fill up on apps and not enjoy the entrees.

B)      Pre-select your entrée choices so that guests can quickly make their selections.  And have them select entrees, and dessert (if offering) up front so that wait staff does not have to come back around for orders but can focus on beverage service and any other needs.

C)      Family or Buffet service is a good way to keep costs down and allows guests to take only the items they want compared to a pre-plated menu. Family service works great for side vegetables—plan that most everyone will take the starchy item, while not everyone will take onions or mushrooms or even the bacon broiled brussel sprouts!

9) And finally, clean up!  Renting glasses and dishes is not all that expensive and it will save you time and frustration if any of your china or crystal gets broken. If you use your own, plan on just stacking after the party and completing the washing/drying the next day. It is too easy to drop, chip, or snap when you are tired and perhaps had some alcohol too.

If you know that you are going to have more food than you need and you want to send some of it home with the guests, purchase disposable carryout containers at the Dollar Store.  Let your guests enjoy a little more of Uncle Bob’s famous marinara sauce, or your special shrimp salsa one more time! You don’t have to store it or think about eating for the next several days, and clean up will go faster too.

Bonus Tip: Party Favors to consider are printed cups or Koozies, personalized M&M in bags or small tins, sunglasses or t-shirts with the date and location of the trip.  Just remember to stay in your budget!

My most important tip is to enjoy the event and if that means getting an Event Planner involved to help, that’s okay.  We love all this stuff—really we do!

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