People have been throwing parties since the days of Rome. WithOUT event planners. So why hire one now?
In all honesty, you might not need one. Like so many other things in life, it comes down to time and money.
Practice for Success
Professional event planners deal with the logistics of assembling large gatherings of people and materials on a daily basis. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not like planning a family picnic, either. Think about the stakes: if you forget the checkered tablecloth and everyone has to eat off the icky public picnic table, maybe you’ll hear some jokes. Forget trash bins at a 100-seat party, and, after your deodorant fails and the nightmares stop, you’re going to remember it. Possibly forever.
So, preparation is key. And if this is not something you do regularly, that means practice. As in REAL practice. Not just running through the motions in your head. “Trial runs are imperative,” says Donald Wether, a seasoned Toledo event planner. “Most people have no idea how long it takes to lay out table settings on a banquet table. Plates, cutlery, glassware, napkins. Times 50, or 100, or 250. Neatly. And arranged just-so.”
So gather up the crew, and plan on at least 3 full ‘dress rehearsal-style’ trial runs. To work out the kinks, and to accustom everyone to working together as a team. Remember, when D-Day arrives, tensions will be high, everyone will be working under time constraints, and if things can go wrong, they just might.
Which brings up another topic: redundancy. Make sure to plan for, and be equipped for, quantities that exceed expectations. If you need 100 servings of apple tartlet, make sure to build in a reserve of at least 10 percent. Extra guests may show, servers may drop a portion or two, someone may filch a neighbor’s. The same for dishware, seating, decorative elements, and any other resource in finite supply. “No pro ever orders anything in round numbers,” advises Wether. “It’s always 56 of this or 235 of that.’’ His tip? “If you order ‘50’ of something they know you’re amateur and you won’t get the best price.’’
And that goes double for your most important event resource: staff. Even the most rock-solid friends may fall ill, suffer an accident, or otherwise become unavailable right when you need them. If the event you are planning is an important one, call in as many favors as necessary to be sure you have extra sets of hands at the ready.
So. You’ve scheduled a set of practice runs, you’ve plenty of trained friends and family staff to help manage your event. And you’re feeling confident about the whole to-do. What else is it that professionals handle, that you’ll need to oversee yourself in their absence?
Of course, the answer is somewhat dependent on just what sort of event you’re intending. But whether milestone birthday or corporate sales meeting, you’ll probably want to include most of these functions:
Feeding your guests
Most people won’t feel brave enough to prepare everything themselves. So .... caterer! Unless you have current recommendations from trusted sources, plan on doing some legwork. Call and compare menus and costs. If you’re a relaxed, trusting person, it’s perfectly OK to make your selection over the phone. If you can vividly imagine a disastrous outcome, gain reassurance by visiting a few contenders in person for a “tasting.” Most caterers can prepare samples of each menu item for you to compare (for a fee). Don’t forget to negotiate costs. It is unlikely you’ll get the trade pricing that is offered to professional event planners. However, if you’re flexible and willing to compromise on food selections, you can probably knock off a few percentage points from the bill.
At a minimum, most events are enhanced by pleasant background music. If you want to get fancy and add live music or vocals, go for it. But be aware that staging and sound systems are just as important as the actual tunes. Don’t ruin your efforts with tinny or unprofessional sound. Test and re-test your equipment in a room the same size as your event venue. A room full of people will absorb sound differently than an empty space, so take that into consideration too. Request a schematic of the event, and plan safe running of wiring and cords to prevent both fire and tripping hazards.
This is a fun component, but can get pricey fast. An event planner can spread the cost of decorative elements over many events. You need to make your budget work for just one. Skip billowy fabric tenting, fancy light displays, and custom anything. You can use off-the-shelf components to set the mood, focusing on color and texture, maybe some fragrance. Think balloons, a few pots of flowers, table centerpieces sourced from dollar store components. Unless of course, you have a huge budget. In that case, enjoy!
Insurance and Safety
The last thing you want to think about, but it probably should be the first. Risk is present in any endeavor, and won’t take a holiday during your event. All your hard do-it-yourself work can be undone in an instant if decor catches fire, a guest trips and falls, or the menu causes gastric complaints. Be prepared by consulting an insurance professional and buying a policy that will protect both you and your organization from lawsuits and damage claims. Policies usually begin around $200.
Closing Thought — Planning Documents
Play pro for a day by using any of the professional templates available online for planners. The ones for catering, budgeting, and event checklists and timelines may be especially useful. There are lots of small items that must be relentlessly monitored from planning through execution for success. Having a checklist will make that part of the job easier.
So! There you have it. With a long enough timeline, and assistance from family and friends, planning and producing an event on your own is an achievable goal. It’s not likely to reduce the total expense much, but can be satisfying and a memorable experience on its own. Just make sure to allow enough planning and practice time, and steel those nerves. With luck on your side, you’ll amaze yourself and your guests!