Archive for March, 2007

“Turn Left At The Tattoo Parlor” (Where NOT To Hold Your Gala)

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Realtors know that the 3 most important factors about a property are: location, location, and location.

For your plans, location is also critical. Your guests must feel safe and comfortable in coming to your formal event. So here are some tips on places to avoid:

* Anywhere with signs advertising body piercings, adult “novelties,” or Pit Bull puppies for sale.
* Any neighborhood you would charitably describe as “bohemian.”
* Any place whose directions include, “the dirt road just past the third trailer house.”

In other words, if your guests wouldn’t want to be there in broad daylight, they’re probably not going to willingly travel to or from such a site in the dark. Consider either changing the location or arranging for transportation for your guests. It would be a shame for all your efforts to be wasted on just yourself and those 3 winos who wandered in and helped themselves to the buffet.

An Important Note On Acoustics (-coustics, -ustics)

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Cavernous train stations, art museums, and former warehouses are great places – to catch trains, view art, or store stuff. But as party sites, they typically share one drawback: acoustics which make your average school gym sound like Carnegie Hall.

Such venues were never designed with sound in mind. They are architecturally interesting, roomy, perhaps even rich in history. But they are also incredibly noisy, due to their concrete and stone construction. The art museum in my town is so “live” that I can hear every word spoken at normal volume by a man standing 100 feet away. Unfortunately, due to echo (-echo, -echo), I can’t understand a single thing he says. Multiply that times a couple of hundred party guests carrying on their own conversations, and you have one very loud room, even before music is added to the din.

In such environs, drumsticks on a snare sound like gunshots. Once the music begins, guests have to speak ever louder to be heard. The overall decibel level soon rises to the pain threshold and beyond. Toasts or speeches are unintelligible, and thus, ignored. Nobody hears that masterpiece of wit you sweated bullets over. In fact, most people don’t even know that you are making a speech, and thus continue their own chatter.

Bottom line: if there is a moment in your event in which the spoken word is important, then you should hold that gathering in a place where those words will be heard and understood.

The Party Must Fit The Venue (And Vice-Versa)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Your choice of where to have your party speaks volumes – about the nature of the event, and about you.

Venues range from elegant to casual to downright funky. Any of them may be fine for certain gatherings, but none are one-size-fits-all. As host, one of your biggest tasks is to pick the right place for your particular event. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways to go wrong. Here are a few:

* A dysfunctional venue for your function. That restored Edwardian mansion everyone has been raving about as a party venue has many charms. It also has many rooms, none of which are large enough to hold all your guests at the same time. This makes it terrible for a wedding reception, because a significant per centage of your guests will miss every single milestone of the night (the first dance, cutting of the cake, tossing of the bouquet, etc.) Such older venues are also often built on multiple levels (which make it tough for your great-grandmother and any other physically-impaired guests.) Even restroom capacity can become an issue. A big, boxy ballroom may be bland in comparison, but every guest can hear each announcement, can see each major moment of the party, and can answer Nature’s calls without waiting in line outside a closet-sized potty.

* The wrong size for your guest list. Here is an all-too common scenario: You have found the perfect venue for a party of 100. You try valiantly to hold your guest list to that number. But – as the date of your event approaches – you realize that 120 invitees have sent in their RSVPs. Your perfect venue is now too small. Your caterer copes as best as possible, substituting smaller plates in order to shoehorn 12 guests into tables designed for 8 or 10. But there is only so much the caterer can do. After all: he didn’t foul up – you did. Your have just learned Venue Truth Number One: size matters. With a bigger room, even if your number had stayed at 100, you could have put fewer guests at each table (thus needing additional tables), spaced those tables further apart (giving more room for both guests and servers), increased the size of the dance floor, or darkened the unused portions of the room. Any of those simple tricks help fill out a room. Altogether, they can make a room which is twice as large as necessary feel perfect.

* The wrong aesthetics for your event. Wow! You just found out that “Joe Bob’s Chicken-Fried Steak Shack” has a free banquet room! What a perfect spot to hold that reception for the royal family of Monaco! Hot-dang! In reality, Prince Albert would probably find “Joe Bob’s” to be a refreshing change of pace. Princess Stephanie might even meet her next husband there. My exaggerated first point is only that your venue must be compatible with the purpose of your gathering. And secondly, please remember that the price of the venue is not more important than whether it is appropriate for your purpose.

But, while you are with Joe Bob, be sure to try his “Heart Attack On The Half-Shell High-Cholesterol Special.” It’s to die for!

Who Put Me Here? (An Argument Against Place-Settings)

Monday, March 19th, 2007

In Thomas Jefferson’s White House, there were never assigned seats at state dinners. Guests simply sat… wherever. No wonder JFK praised Jefferson as a genius! Think of the hours he saved in deciding whom to put where, and the money he never spent on calligraphy.

More and more hosts today are following TJ’s example. Even at wedding receptions, a single table for two may sport a “reserved” sign for the bride and groom, while everyone else makes their choices based on proximity to food, dance floor, or to where their other friends are seated.

Assigning seating is especially tricky at gatherings where certain guests don’t like each other – the divorced parents of the bride or groom, for example, with their new significant others. The modified Jefferson method, with just the bridal couple’s table reserved, not only puts the focus where it belongs (on the bride and groom), but it avoids the recriminations associated with seating Dad and Trophy Wife Number 3 (or 4) more distant than Mom from the head table.

Whose Party Is This?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Twice in the past year, I have attended 80th birthday parties which failed in their primary goal (to praise the honorees and entertain their special guests) – and both for the same reason: somebody forgot whose party it was.

In each of the cases above, it was a child of the honoree who sabotaged the evening by trying to turn it into one which suited themselves. But I’ve seen the Best Man and parents of the bride do similar things at weddings, and – on one memorable night – I watched in horror and fascination as a tipsy bank president effectively ruined his future and a stockholders’ event at the same time.

Bluntly put: a party is all about pleasing the guest of honor (first and foremost) and that person’s honored guests. Every effort should be made so that the pacing of the event, its formality or lack thereof, its cuisine, its music (if any), and especially its speeches (if any) should reflect the taste and temperament of the honoree. Generally, at such occasions, a simple toast or short (very short) story told from the heart (ie. without notes) is far superior to “This Is Your Life” presentations, overlong videos, lame poems, and performances which take the spotlight away from the honoree.

At weddings (as noted elsewhere in these musings), the bride is the center of the event. Uncle Louie’s rendition of “New York, New York” or a groomsman’s amateur stand-up comic routine are not what brought those guests.

Deb balls, Quincineras, bar and bat mitzvahs, and anniversaries each have their points of focus. When anyone – even the host of the party – steals the spotlight away from those focal points, the party suffers (and – all too often – dies). A ton of work goes down the drain, all because somebody’s ego got in the way of the real goal of the event. They forgot to ask themselves, “Whose party is this?”

Don’t let that someone be you.

The Inconvenient Truth About Outdoor Events

Monday, March 12th, 2007

In planning a gala event, you can spend countless hours and commit undreamed of sums of money. Your inner Control Freak will rise to the surface, as you fret over the tiniest details. Again and again, you will visualize every aspect of the evening, from the moment your first guests arrive until the last one leaves. Nothing will be too small to escape your attention, because you want this to be acclaimed by one and all as The Greatest Party In The History Of The Universe. Why, then, would you jeopardize all your plans by putting them at the mercy of the one thing over which you have no control at all: the weather?

While it is true that a glorious sunset is spectacular, and that there is nothing quite so romantic as a perfect evening outdoors, it is also regrettably true that perfection – in anything, anywhere – is an elusive commodity.

That sunset would be no less awesome, viewed from inside a climate-controlled ballroom. The variation – up or down – of only a few degrees in temperature adversely affects the comfort of your guests (and you.) Wind, mosquitoes, noise, and even the slightest potential for rain can ruin an otherwise problem-free event. Are you willing to gamble so many hours of your time (and somebody’s money) that the elements will cooperate with your plans?

If you simply must have your special evening outdoors, at least have a back-up in place. A tent or nearby alternate location where your party can be moved on short notice is not an expense – it is an investment in the success of your plans. Also, you should have a relocation strategy in place, with key friends and family members specifically assigned to move chairs, food, and guests indoors. But better yet – plan from the beginning to hold your event inside. Doing so will remove one huge item from your worry list.

Setting The Date: A Study In Futility

Monday, March 5th, 2007

Frustrating Bridal Fact Of Life: there is no perfect date for your wedding.

No matter how hard you try, and no matter how far ahead you plan, you will never find that one day on the calendar that works for all of your guests. Be prepared to settle instead for the date which works best for you and your immediate family.

For starters, it may help you to rule out certain times of the year, letting the process of elimination narrow down your search for that almost perfect day. And weather is an important element to consider. Planning a wedding in Buffalo during winter or Orlando in hurricane season just gives you one additional uncontrollable variable to fret over. Will your guests be able to arrive/depart on schedule? Will your romantic honeymoon be spent in an airport lobby, because all flights have been grounded?

Another factor is: what else is happening on that day? Unless you want a plasma screen TV beside the altar, you might want to avoid Superbowl Sunday as your date. A Dallas wedding in July or August not only has to deal with the heat, but also 50,000 pink-suited Mary Kay ladies competing with your guests for hotel rooms. Are any of your other high school, college, or work chums planning a wedding on or near your proposed date whose guest list will overlap yours?

For brides anticipating lots of out-of-town guests, the 3-day weekends (Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.) offer the potential for a Sunday event, bracketed by travel days. Just be aware that these tend to book very early at both ceremony and reception venues.

Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for your schedule. Give yourself as much time as possible, both before and after the wedding date. Your immediate family will do everything they can to accomodate you. So will your closest friends.

Inevitably, somebody very special to you won’t be able to make it on your chosen date. Your first reaction will be to go back to Square One and start over again. Don’t. (Unless, perhaps, it is the groom.) The next date you choose will only leave out someone else. Simply tell this special person that you have selected the best day for the most people concerned, and let them know that they will be with you “in spirit.”

With luck, they’ll still send you a gift.