Archive for November, 2007

Expect The Unexpected At Your Reception

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Many brides send me detailed timelines of their wedding receptions. With these well thought-out schedules in hand, the wedding coordinator, venue, and I can all literally be “on the same page” with regard to what happens when. There’s only one itty-bitty problem: these agendas never really turn out as planned.


First, the timelines are often unrealistic. Typically, 5 minutes will be designated for seating the guests. But directing your friends and family to their seats is a bit like trying to herd cats – they move at their own rate (which is almost always slower than you wanted.) Another 5 minutes each will be given over to the welcome and prayer. But here, you’re looking at 3 minutes – tops – for the two. Allowing 20 minutes for each meal course is only accurate if you have engaged a huge wait-staff. 30 minutes per course is a more common average, leaving your schedule in tatters.

Secondly, stuff happens. It takes 5 minutes longer to bundle the wedding gown than you had planned. It takes 15 minutes longer to make a pit-stop in your bundled wedding gown than you had planned. Or conversely, in mid-reception, you suddenly discover that your over-stressed and under-rested body is going to collapse if you don’t get out of the ballroom and into your bedroom now – even though this is an hour earlier than you told the limo to arrive.

Once the reception gets off-schedule, your vendors are left to wonder what they should do next. Do they take up the salad plates at the designated time, even if guests are still grazing? Do they wait to serve the champagne toast, even though it is obvious that the crowd is getting antsy and is beyond ready for you to cut the cake? If you have fallen far behind during the meal, do you cram the cake, bouquet/garter toss, and last dance into a single hour – leaving some guests still waiting to receive their cake while you and the groom depart?

My suggestion is keep the party moving. When some guests resolutely refuse to take their seats, have Dad give the welcome and prayer anyway. If the meal is running late, go ahead and do the ceremonial cutting of the cake. Guests can always eat the cake when they are ready. But don’t fall ever-farther behind. Your party will suffer for it, and so will you. Your goal is a successful party, not to stick slavishly to a predetermined schedule.

The unexpected will happen. Allow your vendors the freedom to scrap the schedule for the good of the reception. Because, after it’s over, the satisfying memory of a fantastic party is more important than sticking to an arbitrary timeline.

Keep that in mind as your wrestle with your bundled bridal gown in the potty.

Running Your Party On SENIOR Time

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

I entertained at a Thanksgiving luncheon today for 300+ Richardson, TX older adults. It is an annual event the city puts on for their “seasoned citizens.” Local officials, police officers in uniform, and a host of volunteers donned colorful aprons to serve turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings to a very appreciative crowd of Seniors. It was a delightful day. It was also the best-managed Senior event I have ever attended.

As I drove home afterwards, I was wondering why this particular party stood out in my mind. My conclusion? The timing – from start to finish – was all geared to the guests of honor: Seniors. How?

1. It was a luncheon. (Many of these folks don’t drive at night.)
2. Though scheduled for noon, it really began at 11:45. (Seniors come early.)
3. 2 serving lines and dozens of servers got the meals to each table in a hurry.
4. Speeches were short; doorprizes were plentiful.
5. My program (on The Big Band Era) contained many “old favorite” songs.
6. Then, 90 fun-and-food-filled minutes later, it was over.

Almost any gathering could be improved somehow (nothing is ever really “perfect.”) But – in terms of audience satisfaction – this day came preciously close to scoring a “10.”

So, the next time you host a gathering of “mature folk,” please remember that the biggest single secret for success is keeping your clock attuned to “Senior Time.” (well, that – and a chorus or two of “Mairzy Doats.”)

Let There Be Light! (When And Where You Want It)

Monday, November 19th, 2007

In today’s state-of-the-art party facility, the touch of a computer screen or keypad adjusts the room’s lighting to almost-infinitely complex combinations. However, budgetary or other realities may require that your next event be held somewhere less technologically sophisticated. If so, read on.

Even in the 21st century, many multi-purpose venues of the fellowship hall-community center variety still have what I call “American Legion lighting” – rows of flourescent tubes which offer only two options: “on” or “off.” Such lighting is great for Bingo Nights, but leaves a lot to be desired at classy receptions. Fortunately, a variety of very effective and cost-efficient options are available to to make the mood a little more elegant and a lot less institutional and utilitarian.

Christmas Lights, in sufficient numbers, provide adequate illumination to prevent your guests from bumping into the walls, but won’t flood your party space with an unwanted glare. They are also festive, inexpensive (or even free if you use your own twinklers from home), and use almost no electricity. (More on this in a moment.)

Pin Spots, available through any party rental company, are perfect when bright light is needed – but only in a limited space. Where white light is too strong (or ruins the mood), most pin spots will accomodate colored gels – which your party professional can also supply.

Flood Lights, with clamps already attached, can be bought at any major hardware store. When outfitted with low-wattage bulbs (or plugged into dimmers), these can be hung wherever you wish to cast a soft glow over a wide area.

But beware: in my experience, most “American Legion lighting” venues have all their wall outlets on just one or two circuits. Your band or deejay will require a lot of electrical power. So will any microwave ovens or margarita machines. Lighting helps set the mood for your party – but you can’t dance to it, eat it, or drink it.

So, whenever and wherever you can, use the least electricity while incorporating new lighting. Save every watt and ampere possible to use elsewhere. Otherwise, before you know it, you’ll blow the breakers and be back to those old flourescents. And then your only choice in lighting will again be all the way on or all the way off. (Did I hear somebody shout “BINGO?”)

What To Tip The Band – The “Goldilocks” Gratuity Gradient

Monday, November 12th, 2007

When dining out, I tip a good waiter 20%. Being a notorious softie, I even tip not-so-attentive wait-staff between 10 and 15%. Culturally, we have come to expect that restaurant employees who serve us should receive a gratuity. But most of us have no idea what – if anything – is an appropriate tip for a band or deejay. 10%, 20% – what’s the right amount?

To me, the answer depends on two factors.

1. Did you receive any extra services, not included in your contract?

Most bands and deejays offer a standard price which includes 4 hours of music. Any time which they devote to you over and above that is a bonus. Folks who hire me also get an extra hour of cocktail piano music (if they want it), a couple of hours of dance instruction (if they need it), and my guarantee to learn their favorite song (if I don’t already know it.) Because these “extras” are not standard within my industry, some of my clients consider them to be in the realm of Exceptional Service, and tip me accordingly.

However, because these services are standard for me, any client is perfectly within their rights to assume that their cost was factored into the purchase price, and is therefore not – technically – an extra which merits a tip. I can only say that – in general – if you are paying premium prices, premium service better be part of the package.

2. Did you request any extra services, not included in your contract?

Some clients ask their bandleader or deejay for a meeting in their home to go over schedules and songs. Other may have a “guest vocalist” from their family whose performance at the party requires a rehearsal. A special wardrobe request, an especially early or difficult set-up, or a hard-to-find musical selection may cost your band or deejay time and/or money. In such cases, you should definitely offer compensation.

As for what exactly constitutes the “correct” amount for a tip, my guidelines would be: (a.) any out-of-pocket expenses (CDs you requested, for example) ought to be re-paid in full, and (b.) non-contracted time should be compensated based on the number of hours expended. Anything over those amounts should be based solely – just as they would be at a restaurant – on what this vendor’s service meant to you personally. There is no single correct amount.

I call it the “Goldilocks Gratuity Gradient.” You give only what you feel is “just right.”

3 Fund-Raiser Options: Chevy, Caddy, Or Rolls

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

I live in the Dallas suburb of Irving, a city which – if it is known at all nationally – is most recognized as the home (for one more season) of the Cowboys.

A number of arts organizations bring culture to our town. Each of them stage fund-raisers whose profits are added to their ongoing grants and subscriber support. The problem they all face is that – even in a city of 200,000 – there are only a certain number of arts patrons. And – as rich as some of these folks obviously are – the depths of their pockets are finite. With all these cultural groups in town pursuing the same money, how do they survive?

Answer: by planning specialized fundraisers, which appeal to different tastes (and budgets) the same way various automobiles do. Among them are…

1. The Cadillac. Our Symphony League’s annual moneymaker is an upscale dinner dance, complete with the traditional silent auction and raffle. Its unique feature is the introduction of each year’s “Symphony Belles.” This is as close to Irving gets to a debutante ball. So – in addition to the usual generous donors – Symphony Balls draw the friends and relatives of each Belle, and the Beau who escorts her. And while I would never suggest that the selection of a Belle or Beau depends on how many tickets their inclusion may sell, the League’s choices do seem to generate a lot of filled seats – with their resulting revenue.

2. The Rolls-Royce. Lyric Stage is our link to Broadway. So their annual event (which includes both silent and live auctions and a raffle) is “Cabaret.” The elite meet at our swankiest venue for an elegant dinner followed by a “name” act who puts on a concert-quality musical show. Nationally-known entertainers help draw patrons from the greater Dallas-Ft. Worth area. The greater the fame of the performer, the more new faces (and wallets) show up. It’s an expensive (and therefore risky) venture, whose greatest virtue is its well-earned reputation as a classy night of good food followed by stellar performances.

3. The Chevy. Much more accessible to middle class budgets like mine is the Community Theater Guild’s Mardi Gras event. Held on Fat Tuesday, it’s a party! Sure – there’s an auction and raffle – but neither interferes with the New Orleans ambience of the evening. Dinner, dancing, and fun is what this night is about. Unpretentious, with an emphasis on bon temps (good times), it draws both new and repeat business each year.

Of course, the usual suspects – they of the deep pockets – are present at all three evenings. But what keeps these – and our other – arts groups in business is their ability to cast a wide net throughout the community. By attracting me to one gala, and my neighbor to another, Irving’s arts mavens keep the culture coming.

(Be honest with me: I’ll bet you thought you’d never hear the words “Irving” and “culture” in the same sentence!)

Is Your Music In A Rut? Here’s How To Make It Rut-Free!

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

In a typical 4-hour evening, most bands or DJs will play 60 to 70 tunes. And sometimes, it seems like it is the same 60 – 70 songs, night after night, party after party. This is one factor which contributes to event chairpersons’ never-ending search for someone “new” and “different” – they are trying to extricate themselves from a musical rut.

However, in seeking change, your party chairs may be overlooking two facts:

1. Many bands have hundreds more songs at their disposal, and deejays have
thousands of tunes to choose from. They don’t have to always play
“New York, New York.”

2. Also, many of those “same” songs you repeatedly hear are actually Audience
Requests. (The band is probably just as sick of them as you are.)

I mention this because – as wonderful as “new” and “different” can be – good is actually of more importance. And while a different band or DJ is new, they may not be better than vendors you already use. So, if you are otherwise happy with your music provider, but simply want more variety, here are 3 potential solutions to your problem:

A. Look at your band’s song list (the complete roster of tunes they can play.)
Pick 20 to 30 good, but seldom-heard songs. Instruct your band leader to
incorporate these into the the first two musical sets of the night. The
music will seem fresher immediately. (A DJ’s options are almost endless.
Simply tell them what your criteria are.)

B. Also ask your band or DJ to avoid songs that you are both weary of
hearing, unless and until they are explicitly requested by your guests.

C. Finally, if you have hired live music, be aware that the addition of even one
extra instrumentalist or vocalist can dramatically alter the look and sound of
a band. In this way, a familiar combo can suddenly seem new.

However – be prepared for some of your group to be less excited about these changes than you are. When my band was playing for a bride who loved to dance Swing with her Dad, one of her guests took me to task for “ruining” our music with all those Jitterbugs. This unhappy lady was only slightly mollified by my assurance that we were following the bride’s instructions, and that we still knew all our other songs as well.

It just goes to show that what seems like a musical rut to you is really somebody else’s groove. (Look out! They’re requesting “New York, New York” right now!)

Uh – Uh, Hello? Can Anybody Hear Me?

Monday, November 5th, 2007

A loud drum roll followed by a cymbal crash is a great attention getter when a speaker is about to begin. Conversations cease – or at least slow – in anticipation of an announcement. Fanfares are also great for telegraphing to the audience that important words are imminent. (“Dinner is served!” – for instance.)

Unfortunately, not every gathering has access to throbbing drums and blaring percussion. Rotarians generally strike a bell when it is time for their business to begin. Other clubs tap their water glasses with dinner knives. Or do a group-Shhhhhhhh! And – of course – there’s always the old reliable sound of a throat clearing (ah-HEMMMM!) with hands held in the air, palms out.

All of these methods work some of the time (none do all of the time). But what does not and will never work is the timid approach, characterized in the title of this entry as “Uh- uh, hello? Can anybody hear me?” The answer is no, because you aren’t saying or doing something that will cut through the roar of the crowd.

Personally, I favor the “Ringmaster” approach: “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!!!” delivered at a volume that a hog caller would envy. But – I must admit – a good shrill whistle is equally effective. And, dropping a metal tray from head-high onto a non-carpeted floor makes a pretty good gong.

Of course, then – once you (temporarily) have your audience’s attention – you still have to follow up boldly. My attitude is that any announcement which is important enough to demand a stop to all conversation is important enough to deliver with authority. Otherwise, what’s the point?

So – if your goal was to announce that the buffet is open, but you aren’t good at speaking to a crowd – simply go from one small group to the next, pointing them at the food. Believe me, once a few folks return to the room loaded down with steaming, heaping dinner plates, even the chattiest of your guests will get the message.

Some audiences – I have learned – almost never shut up. Not for an announcement, not for a prayer. Not even for The Star Spangled Banner. In such cases, waiting until you have every last person’s attention is futile – it’s not gonna happen. All you can do is get as many jabber-jaws as will to hush, then quickly (and I mean in a few seconds or less) say whatever must be said. Don’t read them a list of thank-yous, don’t go into a discourse, and – whatever you do – don’t pause!

Just say what has to be said as though you think it is important. Say it with authority. (And then quietly head to that buffet line to enjoy your pick of the victuals, before the yakkety-yaks even know what they’re missing.)