To Tip or Not To Tip?

The subject of tipping comes up a lot.  Most of my brides ask about it: “Should I tip?  How much?  When?”

The answer I give them might not be the most popular one.  After all, wedding professionals like extra money.  I know I certainly do!  But it’s the one I find to be the best:

Tips are always appreciated, never required or expected.  If you feel a wedding professional went above and beyond for your wedding day, by all means give them a tip after the wedding.

Going above and beyond is in bold for a reason.  It doesn’t translate into “just showed up” or “was kind of helpful.”  Plenty of people do that.  Service above and beyond takes dedication and care.  This also means that if you feel a wedding vendor was pushy, surly, disruptively late, unpleasant, unprofessional, or just plain difficult to work with…  Tipping is not necessary (and in fact I’d discourage it).  I also discourage against adding tips in with your final vendor payments, because how can you know before your wedding is over whether you think they did an excellent job?

The underlying theme here, too, is that a tip is extra – and again, not expected or required.  Your wedding vendors have thought long and hard about their pricing.  If any of them are expecting more than they’ve charged you, they should probably re-evaluate how much they charge.  When I get a tip from a couple, it’s always a genuine surprise.  I always share with my assistant(s) for the day, and always am grateful for my clients’ generosity.  But I never ever go into a wedding expecting a little something extra from the bride and groom just because I showed up for work.

It also might be unpopular for me to add the next part:

Sometimes the best tip is a great thank you card or an excellent review.  A five-star review can generate a lot of business for an exceptional wedding vendor, and may be even more valuable down the line than a little extra money in his or her pocket.

Again, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t tip monetarily, if you want to, especially if someone blows you away with their service, attentiveness, and final product.  But sending a heartfelt thank you card (I have a few fantastic ones to share with you soon!) or even e-mail, leaving a message on a Facebook page, or writing a review on BridalInsider, WeddingWire or Yelp (or one of hundreds of other review sites on which you might be more active) can really be the tip that keeps on tipping!


It’s All the Same Anyway, Right?

This is going to be a super-quick post.  This month is my busiest yet, and I’m knee-deep in designing, planning, and coordinating for events through next summer!  Unfortunately blogging isn’t essential at the moment, so it’s fallen sort of by the wayside.  That said, I have so many exciting things to blog about that I’m going to have to catch up soon!

What drove me to post today, though, was this: No matter how good your photographer, or florist, or DJ, or church coordinator, or catering manager is, they are not a wedding planner or coordinator.  Many other vendors have extensive experience with weddings, and can give you advice.  But none will be able to help you with the planning process, or to run every aspect of your wedding day, like a planner/coordinator.

In just the same way, your planner or coordinator could potentially make announcements at your wedding, or put together a vase of flowers and make it look passable, or take a decent photograph of you and your husband.  But having a professional DJ, or florist, or photographer at your wedding will ensure that the quality of your wedding music and announcements, floral arrangements, and photographs is top-notch.  Your planner/coordinator doesn’t emcee or put together florals or take photographs for a living.  She  plans and coordinates weddings.

Your DJ should be focusing on the music, the dancing, the party.  Your florist should be focusing on the florals (and typically will not stay throughout the day, as a planner/coordinator will, although many florists do provide event design/setup services).  Your photographer should be focusing on taking all the right photographs.  Your catering manager should be focused on getting the food out to your guests.  Your planner/coordinator sees the big picture.  She will be making sure that all of these parts work in concert with one another.  Your DJ, or florist, or photographer, or catering manager, cannot possibly get done their job and stand in for a planner or coordinator.

On a typical wedding day, as a simple Day-of-Wedding Coordinator, I will be onsite three to four hours before a wedding begins, or more.  I’ll meet every vendor as they arrive, check in to make sure that they have everything they need, make sure that they have the timeline you and I have worked on and distributed, set up all the details you’ve worked so hard on putting together, and check in with the bride and groom to make sure that they’re ready for the ceremony.  I’ve usually walked several miles back and forth between ceremony and reception (even if they’re on the same property) before the ceremony even begins.  I’ve got the whole day in my head, all questions come to me, and I have to be available at a moment’s notice to fix any problems that come up.  I also have to make sure that everything happens when it’s supposed to.

Imagine this scenario: Your ceremony starts late because Grandma got stuck in traffic, so your reception doesn’t get started on time, your father’s speech goes on forever, and you’ve only paid for six hours of photography.  Your DJ is spinning.  Your catering manager is getting people fed.  Your photographer is taking photos.  Your florist isn’t around at all by this time.  I make sure that your wedding reception schedule gets rearranged – on the fly – in a way that makes sense and still allows your photographer to capture your important wedding moments.

A great many people in the wedding industry say that part of their package is coordinating and planning.  From venues to vendors, it shows up a lot.

No matter how experienced a vendor is, or how many weddings a venue hosts per year, every person involved in your wedding has a very specific job on your wedding day.  You can’t replace a planner/coordinator with another vendor without quality suffering.  This isn’t a post in favor of increasing my own paycheck or business – I know that not everyone can afford even Day-of Coordination, and I’m not trying to talk anyone into anything.

But please know that if you forego the services of a planner/coordinator in favor of the “event planning and coordination” service of another wedding professional (DJ, florist, photographer, catering manager, or any other vendor), you will not be getting the same level of service, expertise, and quality that you would with a planning and coordination professional.

That’s all – I’m stepping off my soapbox now so I can go back to getting done the work I need to do!  Hopefully I’ll be able to check in some time next week with some pretty photos!

Ten Myths About Wedding Planners

Planning your wedding is a complex business.  Sometimes it feels like everyone is just trying to get money from you.  And for the bride-on-a-budget, hiring a wedding planner can seem like an extravagant expense.  The only thing is: most brides-to-be aren’t very educated about what a planner does.  And because of this, some pretty big misconceptions about wedding planners persist.  Below are the top ten myths about wedding planners that I would like to see disappear!

  1. Wedding planners don’t post prices because they want you to give them your budget first so they can charge you more.
    Handmade Tissue Poms and Photo Booth Props

    Your planner may have skills over and above managing your wedding - like making tissue poms at the drop of a hat - or inventory to help defray your costs - like her own arsenal of photo booth props!

    Depending on the type of service your planner provides, she may be basing her price on the overall budget for your event.  However, this practices is typically reserved for full-service high-end weddings.  Why, then, do most planners still not post their prices online?  Simple!  A wedding planner usually won’t quote prices until she’s learned a little bit more about your event!  Since each wedding is different, a good wedding planner will tailor her service to meet your needs.  But a lot of it depends on you.  Do you have a large wedding, a short turnaround time, a complicated setup?  Your wedding planner may need to bring in an assistant or two to help out on the day of.  Do you need extra help making a DIY project, working out a design problem, or finding a vendor?  Your wedding planner may be able to help – but these all take time, so they will probably not be included in her simplest coordination package.  Depending on the individual, your planner may have skills in invitation or floral design, may have an arsenal of DIY projects at the ready, or may stock their own decor items for your use; all of these add value to their base price and may save you cold hard cash in the long run.

  2. If you have to ask, it’s too expensive.
    Due to the complexity of the process of quoting prices for your wedding day (see above), most wedding planners simply don’t post their prices.  But there are planners to fit into every price range.  Nearly every planner needs to learn more about you before she will be able to quote you a price.  But you’d be surprised how many planners are actually more affordable than you think.  And if the planner you like doesn’t meet your budgetary needs, she may be able to suggest a colleague who does.
  3. Anyone can be a wedding planner.
    While it’s true that wedding planners’ education and experience can vary widely, a good planner has skills in organization, multi-tasking, and motivation; as well as the resourcefulness to come up with alternate ideas on the fly and a definite grace under pressure.  This combination is a rarity in the world at large.  Before you “hire” a friend without event experience to be your day-of coordinator, consider this: Your friend may throw a really great party, but a planner will have the ability to simultaneously handle all your vendors, troubleshoot issues, and get your flower girl to walk down the aisle, all while shielding you from the wedding day craziness that is bound to pop up.  Remember, a planner has done this dozens of times (sometimes hundreds).  She knows how to handle even the toughest of problems without stressing you, the bride, out.
  4. I have a site coordinator, so that’s the same as a wedding planner.
    Site coordinators for churches and reception halls represent their employers.  They have the site’s best interests in mind, are always thinking of the next sale or ceremony, and will only offer you a limited choice of options available based on their experience (I once had a church coordinator tell my bride “This is the only way to do it,” about the number of attendants standing at the front of the church when they were taking their vows; every other Catholic wedding I’d seen allowed all the members of the wedding party to line up with the couple, and this was what my bride wanted, but the site coordinator insisted and didn’t back down until I intervened).  Typically, site coordinators for reception sites will be there at the beginning of the wedding, check on the party a few times, and leave, ready to move on to the next event.  Sometimes they’ll even have more than one wedding reception going on at once.  Wedding planners represent you.  They have your best interests in mind.  On your wedding day, your wedding planner is only thinking of you and your wedding.  Your planner will be with you all day; when she’s not with you, she’s tracking down a vendor, setting up a table, or making sure you have food.  You are her number one priority.
  5. Wedding planners don’t actually work.  They just get paid to stand around and tell people what to do.
    Wedding planners are constantly on their feet, constantly going.  Your planner is the first person there on your wedding day, and the last one to leave.  She has to know the intimate details of your wedding timeline like the back of her hand, make sure that everything is in place for all the special moments during your reception, and make it all happen.  She’ll lift, carry, move, kneel, crawl, grab, and schlep.  And that’s just during setup. Your planner is on call for the entire wedding ceremony and reception, ready to do whatever it takes to make your wedding day amazing.
  6. Wedding planners only work one or two days a week.
    While it’s true that most planners tend to schedule weddings on the weekends (that’s just when weddings typically happen), it doesn’t mean that they aren’t working throughout the week.  Usually for lots more hours than a “normal” work week.  You see, a typical day-of-plus wedding coordination job is, for me, 10-15 hours of onsite work and 15-20 hours of work before the wedding day even begins.  Even “simple” day-of coordination usually involves nearly as many hours of work offsite as on.  Why?  Wedding planning involves much more than just showing up and barking orders.  Before your wedding day, your planner will meet with you one-on-one, create a wedding strategy, compile the information from your other vendors, create and distribute a timeline, confirm that everything is going according to plan, run your rehearsal, and take possession of your wedding day decor.  That’s assuming that she hasn’t already put together all your wedding decor herself or helped you to do it, contracted with your vendors, and been to the site four or five times to make sure the strategy works.  Add to that answering your frantic e-mails and phone calls, networking with other vendors to help establish relationships (which leads to the ability to find last-second replacements, excellent service, and, sometimes even deals, for you), and running her own company…  And that adds up to a lot of late nights.  Which brings us to…
  7. Wedding planners with ‘day jobs’ aren’t as good as full-time wedding planners.
    "By day, mild-mannered Student Advisor... By Night, Wedding Diva!"

    "Wedding Diva"... Okay, actually, this was last year's Halloween costume. Don't judge! 🙂

    As a superhero wedding planner myself (“by day, mild-mannered student advisor, by night, Wedding Diva!”), I really hate this misconception.  Many, many planners (and photographers, and videographers, and other wedding vendors) have day jobs.  It’s how we pay the bills.  It’s what allows us to run around all weekend, schlepping equipment, in order to make your wedding day spectacular.  It keeps us from having to charge ridiculously high prices to keep from starving.  Which means we can keep our prices low.  Often times, wedding planners with day jobs will be just starting out in the industry, but not always.  Weddings don’t bring steady paychecks, even for the most seasoned of planners.  Which means that your planner-with-a-day-job might actually be able to focus on you more than your full-time planner (who might be looking for the next client already).  There are plenty of awesome, super-high-service, full-time wedding planners out there.  Just know that there are also plenty of awesome, super-high-service, part-time wedding planners out there too.

  8. If I am going to hire a wedding planner, I need to go with the cheapest one I can find, period.
    The thing is, wedding planning is about relationships, not bottom lines.  Every wedding planner has her own style, every one will build her relationship with you and the other vendors at your wedding in a different way.  You’ll need to make sure that your style meshes well with hers before booking.  That usually means meeting with her, discussing your wedding day and yourselves as a couple, and making sure that she can provide everything you want/need, in a way that makes you feel good, for a price you’re comfortable paying.  The worst mistake anyone could make when hiring a wedding planner is to simply hire the cheapest one before having a real conversation with her and getting to know how she does business.  How does she handle stressful situations, or changes, or other vendors?  How does she put together your wedding day?  What does she offer in addition to simply being a warm body on the day of your wedding (see #1)?  This goes for “gut” feelings too; sometimes people don’t really hit it off – it happens, and it’s not personal.  But if you don’t feel comfortable with your planner, how can you trust her to make the right decisions and handle all the pieces of your wedding day?
  9. I need to haggle with my wedding planner in order to get the best price.
    Wedding planning is a serious profession that requires education and expertise.  I love to haggle for good deals with the best of them, but a planner is nothing like a flea market vendor.  I’m not saying that you should take out a second mortgage just to pay for your wedding planner.  But wedding planners’ prices are based on a lot of factors, including their hard costs (for web hosting, materials, permits, taxes, space, and advertising) and the costs of living.  Your planner will have spent many hours coming up with exactly the right balance for her pricing so that she can continue to provide you great service.  If your mechanic or your doctor quoted you a price for a service you needed them to perform, you wouldn’t lowball them, would you?  A wedding planner has a set of professional skills too.  Granted, in certain circumstances, planners may be willing to negotiate, especially if a real connection and relationship is made between you (see #9).  But usually a planner has quoted you the best price she can to meet your service needs and stay in business.
  10. I don’t need a wedding planner.
    With a wedding planner, you can enjoy your wedding day.'ll be getting married, enjoying your new husband, and partying at your reception.

    Here’s the bottom line: No one needs a wedding planner.  Everyone would benefit from having one.  Your planner will keep you sane through one of the most stressful times of your life.  Instead of worrying whether the DJ has the music, or your engraved cake cutter is on the cake table, or your Aunt Mildred will ever find her table, you’ll be getting married, enjoying your new husband, and partying at your reception.  Your planner will keep you organized, making sure your timeline makes sense and all of your wedding-day details are in place.  She’ll be your representative with the other vendors, your surrogate mother, your coach, your emergency diffuser, your support on your wedding day.  And who couldn’t benefit from that?

All photos copyright Events by Elisa.

Any Ideas? – What Will Our Activities Be?

This sort of ties in with the audience question, above.  What activities are you planning for the guests at your event?  This can be a big space consideration, especially at a wedding, where dancing is typically expected. Do you have enough space for your activities?  Do you have a clearly defined space for them, or will you have to clear away one part of the party to make room for another?

Whether you’re throwing a wedding, birthday party, or shower, how will you entertain your guests?  Board games?  Charades?  Shower games?  Scrapbooking?  Photo booths?  Will you make a wishing tree, or use a traditional guestbook, or paint onesies?  Will you start a massive game of capture the flag, or decorate cookies, or play beer pong?

When you start thinking about party themes, your party activities may or may not heavily feature in the planning process.  But unless you know how your guests will spend their time, the details of your theme will be murky.

Again, I like to use examples, so here goes:

Sack Races

Sack Races

Say I’m asked to plan out a party.  The honoree likes my “Born on the Fourth of July” inspiration board, so I’m working with a red, white, and blue palette and going for an old-fashioned feel.  If the activities for the day included a sack race and a game of Blind Man’s Bluff, the party would have a very different overall feeling than if guests spent their time creating ice cream sundaes, or if they pulled taffy by hand or played a Tiddly Winks tournament.  These would all be pretty standard Victorian-era party activities, consistent with the theme of the party, but would yield dramatically different results with your overall party theme.

Tiddly Winks

Tiddly Winks

Even at a wedding, a careful planner will consider what the guests will be doing.  Will there be a large enough dance floor for everyone?  Is there a photo booth?  A fun guest book?  A sweets table or candy bar?  A slide show?  Trading card favors?  Or are your guests more of the “stand around and enjoy each other’s company” variety?

Keeping guests busy at a party is one of the hardest jobs for any planner; it involves a thorough knowledge of your party space and your audience, and (hopefully) a good deal of thought.  We’ve all been to parties where we were bored to tears (or worse, uncomfortable with strange getting-to-know-you games that didn’t make a lot of sense).  Tying your theme and your activities together helps you to have a clearer picture of what your guests will be doing, and helps your guests to better enjoy your careful planning.

Photo credits: Book Drum, Object Lessons.

Any Ideas? – What Does the Honoree Really Like?

Forget for a minute that vintage-inspired weddings are “in.”  Forget that sweet tables are the hot thing, or that jewel tones are “so last year.”  What does your honoree like?  If you’re the bride and groom planning a wedding, what is your style?

My wedding cake table - Events by Elisa

My wedding cake table - Events by Elisa

I got married in 2008.  This was the very beginning of the mismatched table decor trend.  In fact, the first magazine article I saw mentioning putting flowers in various china vessels was published a month or two before my wedding in Martha Stewart Weddings.  But my husband and I – both avid swap meet goers, both in love with vintage looks, both more at home with mismatched and homespun than slick and modern (our house is a great example – we’ve furnished almost the entire thing secondhand) – decided early on in our planning process that we’d enjoy picking out vintage china pieces to fill with mismatched flowers and decorate our tables.  This theme – a whimsical vintage garden – was born when we first visited our venue (a vintage-themed restaurant) and was the perfect mixture of our taste with distinct, inexpensive details.

If you are more couture than campagne, a mismatched garden look is probably a mismatch for you.  Likewise, if I’m planning a birthday party for a 4-year-old-girl who is obsessed with monster trucks, I probably won’t be dressing her up as a princess (unless she’d like a princess-at-a-monster-truck-rally party, in which case I’m all for it!).  Trends are trends – but just as in fashion, if a trend doesn’t fit you, don’t wear it.  Skinny jeans or cutoffs may be in vogue, but I look like a tree stump in them – so I consistently choose long bootcuts.  Don’t reach for the “in” thing if it’s just not you.

Likewise, if a trend does happen to be you, don’t be afraid to embrace it.  You may remember my peacock bridal shower invitations.  What I didn’t say in the original post was that my friend, for whom I’m throwing the shower, originally wanted peacock feathers to be featured at her wedding.  But when she realized that they were a hot wedding trend, she decided against them.  She didn’t want to follow the crowd.  I understand and embrace the creative spirit – but no two parties are identical, even with the exact same printed materials.  Just because something has been done a hundred times doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing again – if the theme is something you love.

Photo from my website.

Any Ideas? – How Many People Will be in Attendance?

How does this play into the theme, you might ask?  What does it matter if I’ll have 10 people at my event, or 100?  Well, unless your budget and your space is unlimited, the number of guests in attendance is crucial to the planning of your event.  You may have your heart set on a fancy sit-down dinner for 200, but if your backyard only has enough room for half that many seated, you may have to plan on serving cocktails and appetizers instead, or cut your guest list in half.  Similarly, if your budget is only $1000, you can invite 10 people and spend $100 on each, or 100 people and spend $10 on each.

Not surprisingly, the less people you expect to have, the more elaborate a theme you can have.  Consider favors – just a small part of a wedding or other event.  With a $250 favor budget, you can give 200 people a handful of jordan almonds wrapped in tulle, or 10 people personalized sterling silver charms.

You can still have the same general theme – say, bohemian wedding – if you have 15 guests or 150.  You may still have the same basic costs – like DJ, coordinator, photographer, lighting, and paper goods – but your per-person budget will determine how many beautiful themed details you can include.  The more guests you have, the less you can spend per person.

Your expected guest list also helps determine your exact venue – if you absolutely must have room for 300 wedding guests, the back room at your favorite restaurant probably can’t hold them.  But if you’re having a small wedding celebration with just a dozen close family and friends, there’s no reason to rent a ballroom.

If your venue is set – say, your home – you’ll need to know the number of guests early on for planning the flow of traffic.  In our living room and kitchen, we typically can’t fit more than four comfortably.  But for my husband’s board game birthday party, we removed all the excess furniture, set up a bunch of small chairs, and transformed our kitchen into an appetizer serving space.  It was tight, but we enjoyed the company of eight of our closest friends (and could have probably fit another couple or two!).

One of my favorite recent examples of the importance of knowing your guest list is the Cinderella-Inspired Birthday on Hostess with the Mostess.  The party host admits that cutting down the guest list was hard – for her daughter’s previous birthday she’d invited over sixty kids – but was able to make a beautiful, lavishly-decorated party with elaborate gift bags for just ten guests.  “This year, ten girls was just perfect!” she says.  Had she tried to plan the same party for even twice that many guests, it would have turned out very differently; from the setup of the party space to the gift bags, she would have had a completely different party.  This is not to say it wouldn’t have been lovely – or that you shouldn’t invite every last one of your friends to your next bash – but the number of people you invite will always be a consideration for your space, your budget, and the scope of your party.

Any Ideas? – What is My Audience?

The part audience plays in the planning process may not be as obvious as the type of party you’re having, or the when and where.  So I’m going to use examples heavily here.

Glam Rockstar Birthday for a Young Girl - from Shannon Baily Photos

Glam GirlRockstar Birthday - from Shannon Baily Photos; cupcakes by O'Cakerie

Say I’m planning a rock star birthday party.  What do you think of for thematic elements?  Posters on the walls?  Guitar Hero on the Wii?  A cover band?  Big hair?  Safety pins?  Now let me suggest that this party is for a 7-year-old girl.  Suddenly there are sparkly pink microphones and glam makeup a la Jem and the Holograms, a fun photo session with dress up clothes, and Disney karaoke on the Wii.  If the party is, instead, for a 30th birthday, I might insist that all attendees wear their best grunge-inspired clothing and play endless Nirvana.  For a 40th birthday, the theme might be based around Spinal Tap.  That is, unless the birthday girl has dreams of being Joan Jett (or Jem!).  What’s appropriate for a 7-year-old girl and her friends may or may not be what’s appropriate for her mother or her older brother and their peers.

Take another example: the tea party.  Now, I could easily plan a tea party for that same 7-year-old girl (of course, if she’s more of a rock star, she might not be too happy with me for planning her such a sedate theme!). There would probably be lots of ruffles, some pretty tea cakes, a princess dress-up box, and plastic tea set favors.  If that little girl grew up and was having her bridal shower with a tea party theme, I’d focus more on soft floral accents, cucumber sandwiches and scones, perhaps some great hats for her guests to wear, and tea bag favors.  If she were celebrating her eightieth birthday with a tea party (as my grandmother did nearly a decade ago), the food and favors might be the same – but the party activities would be distinctly different (can you imagine a room full of eighty-somethings playing a risque game of shower charades?  okay, maybe you can…).

Heavy Metal Birthday Cake - from Hostess With the Mostess

Heavy Metal Birthday Cake - from Hostess With the Mostess

Too much estrogen for you?  How about a party with a casino theme?  For a teenager’s birthday, they might enjoy dressing up, “gambling” for prize tickets, and drinking fancy non-alcoholic beverages (think slushy virgin margaritas and muddled mint and club soda “mojitos”).  For a 21st birthday, though, the drinks are alcoholic and guests are learning real gambling techniques.  For a bachelor party, poker dealers and bartenders are beautiful women and the beers flow freely.  For a 40th birthday, the guests come in their nicest attire (think Monte Carlo) and the martinis are shaken, not stirred.

Know your audience – age, gender, and likes/dislikes – and you’ll be able to tailor your theme to fit them.

Photo credits: Glam Girl Rockstar Birthday, Heavy Metal Birthday

Any Ideas – When and Where?

When and Where?

This question may also sound like an obvious one, especially if you’ve already chosen a time, date, and place.  But any themed ideas you come up with should have as much to do with the timing and location of your event as with the type of event.

For example, if I were planning a wedding and needed to come up with a theme, I’d first want to know the season in which the wedding will be taking place.  This will help determine what flowers are seasonally available, what decorative elements will easily be accessible, and what the bridal party should wear.  Then I’d want to know the basic characteristics of the location where the wedding was taking place.  If I’m planning an outdoor wedding in the dead of winter in a snowy locale, it’s not very practical to put my bridesmaids in yellow cotton shifts and give them bouquets of rannunculus and lily of the valley.  But that very same bridesmaid dress-and-flower combination would be perfect at a summery outdoor ceremony.  And a fur wrap with a long burgundy brocade and a bouquet of roses and mistletoe – or pinecones! – would look a little strange on an eighty-degree day.

Sometimes it’s all about the details – the same color of bridesmaid dress might be just as perfect during the winter as the summer, but you’d pair it with different accessories.  For example, both of these weddings (one summer, one winter) use gray bridesmaid dresses – but the winter one pairs the dress up with a white fur while the summer one uses a pop of bright yellow.

Winter Bridesmaids in Gray from The Knot

Winter Bridesmaids in Gray from The Knot

Summer Bridesmaids in Gray from Snippet and Ink

Summer Bridesmaids in Gray from Snippet & Ink

Likewise, the time of day of a wedding plays a big part in the planning.  A sunset ceremony and candlelit dinner will have a distinctly different feeling than a morning ceremony followed by an informal bunch on the lawn.  You’ll want to have different food, different fashion, and different decor.


Even for non-wedding events, such as showers and birthday parties, timing plays a huge part.  A bridal shower brunch will serve different food than a bridal shower tea or a bridal shower dinner (think quiche and mimosas, versus cucumber sandwiches and iced tea, versus a pasta dish with wine).  You may be planning your party in a different locale based on the time of day (that patch of lawn might be lovely in the morning but without some shade may be wiltingly hot at 2 pm; likewise, the seaside bluff may be perfect midday but have a chilly breeze in the evening).

Think about the basic when and where of your event before finalizing thematic details and you’ll be able to ensure that all the elements work together.

Any Ideas? – What Kind of Event Am I Having?

As the first in my ideas series, I want to help you to explore the first important question I ask before coming up with a theme for any event:

What kind of event am I having?

This might be obvious.  I’m hosting a bridal shower or a birthday party, or a wedding.  But there is a huge difference between the scope of, say, the birthday host that pays Christina Aguilera a million dollars to sing for an hour and the birthday host that asks all their friends to pitch in a potluck meal.  Both parties can be spectacular – one of the most fun weddings I have ever been to had a potluck dinner (which is next to impossible to pull off but was flawless) and in total cost less than most gowns featured on Say Yes to the Dress.  But until you really think about the kind of event you’re having you can’t really move forward.

I’ll admit this is overall a relatively simple question.  But if you’ve ever been the Maid of Honor for a wedding, you might remember a moment of panic when you realized that all the slightly racy shower games were going to be played to an audience including the groom’s grandmother.  Consider the type of event – not just “wedding” but “intimate family wedding” or “minimalistic urban wedding”, and not just “bridal shower” but “relaxed family bridal shower” or “silly risque bridal shower with friends” – you want to have before everything else.

Once you figure out what kind of party you are going to be having, you can start considering the answers to my other questions.

Any Ideas?

I get asked it a lot: “I’m holding a party/shower/wedding/other social event and I need help.  Any ideas?”

No, really – if you asked me this question this week, don’t worry – I promise you’re not the only one (even this week!).  And I like the fact that people think I have good ideas!

The answer to this question, though, is a lot more complicated than a simple yes or no, or even a simple theme.  Themes for events aren’t just dependent on the event itself (a birthday party for a four-year old girl, for example, which is something I haven’t been asked about lately!).  When asked this question, I could rattle off several themes (“Have you thought about ponies yet?  Yes?  Okay, let’s see, penguins are in vogue right now…  Or how about gardening and ladybugs?”).  But for anyone who has kids or has seen a kids’ nursery, there are about as many themes as there are people.  A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work.

In addition to the likes and dislikes of the person for whom the event is being thrown, a ton of other factors are at play.  For example, the audience of the event:  Are you having a houseful of rowdy twelve-year-old boys?  Or a playroom filled with toddlers?  Or hard-partying single twentysomethings?  Or sedate grandparents?  Obviously a heavy metal-themed party isn’t going to go over well in a bridge-playing country club set (unless, you know, it would, in which case, I want that job!).  A party princess won’t be welcome at the birthdays of most teenage boys (unless, of course, she’s a different kind of princess altogether).  And most bridal showers are completely different affairs than twenty-first birthday parties.

You can start to see why I can’t simply answer, “Sure, I’ve got some great ideas, and here they are.”  I’ve got tons of them floating around in my head – but it’s like walking into a giant bookstore blindfolded and trying to pick out a specific title.  Until you know which part of the store houses what kind of books and can narrow down how the books in that part of the store are organized, you’ll only be groping blindly, pulling books off shelves at random.

So here are the basic questions I try to get answered before I start planning any event.  Some are simple and straightforward.  Others might have you scratching your head.  But no matter whether you’ll have a planner involved (like me!) or not, you’ll want to answer these questions for yourself before taking on a party planning project:

  1. What kind of event am I having?
  2. When and Where?
  3. What is my audience?
  4. How many people will be in attendance?
  5. What does the honoree (or honorees) really like?
  6. What will our activities be?
  7. What will we eat?
  8. What will we drink?
  9. Do I already have a space available that can handle the number of people I’m expecting and the type of party I’m hoping to have?
  10. What is my budget?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll delve deeper into each of these questions to help you start to figure out your event’s theme, or to give you the tools to approach a planner  to create the perfect themed celebration.