Archive for March, 2008

Treat Me Courteously? I’ll Be Your SLAVE!

Monday, March 31st, 2008

On one particular Saturday night, the band was in place and ready to begin. But, before the guests arrived, the hostess wanted us to know – in no uncertain terms – a few important details.

We were lectured (no other term applies) on what we would play, how loudly we would play it, when and where we were to spend our intermissions (so as to keep our cooties away from the guests), and what we could and could not eat or drink. The specificity with which our hostess harangued us told me that previous bands, at previous parties, had behaved unprofessionally. In doing so, they had offended our boss. So she wasn’t making suggestions, because these weren’t requests. They were orders.

The trouble was – we weren’t those other bands. We were innocent. And it’s hard to put on a happy face, when someone has just read you the Riot Act.

Fortunately, we made it through the next four hours without arousing any additional ire in our hostess. But it was a tough, tense night.

Now – contrast that job with what I experienced yesterday: I was hired to play for the anniversary luncheon of a suburban church. Before I could even unload my keyboard, a church member volunteered to show me the easiest way into the fellowship hall and hold the door open for me. (I gratefully accepted his invitation.) Once inside, another parishoner offered to take me through the buffet line before the congregation arrived from the 11AM service. (I declined, but was – again – grateful.) Then the treasurer handed me my check, before I’d even finished unpacking (and now, my gratitude knew no bounds!)

In short, by the moment I hit my first note, these people of uncommon common courtesy had made me their slave. There was no request they could have made that I would have refused. I came home positively glowing from the experience.

Fortunately, in my career I’ve run into more of the Sunday-type folks than the Saturday night grinches. This has not only been to my benefit – it’s been to theirs. Any Pro who is worthy of the name can’t help but bring more to the parties where they have been treated with respect. Thus, everybody wins.

Does this mean that a hostess can’t have a frank heart-to-heart talk with me regarding her concerns? Absolutely not! I’m simply saying that the time to discuss those issues is when hiring a band, not just before they begin playing (and also, not in an inappropriately accusatory manner.)

Courtesy is a wonderful thing – it costs nothing, yet yields rich dividends.

Wedding Stress + Emotion = Tears (Sometimes)

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I was looking through some of our family photo albums recently (a sure sign that I had important chores to finish elsewhere), when I noticed the remarkable difference between different brides’ emotional reactions to their nuptials.

For instance, one beautiful new addition to our clan is positively glowing, without any apparent cares in the world. But another lovely young relative, in every shot, has the shiny nose and runny mascara of the classic bride (or Mom, or anyone) for whom the unrelenting stress and emotion have boiled over into an unstoppable flood of tears.

Among our family, it’s okay to cry. In fact, I am a notorious blubber-puss (with tear ducts the size of fire hoses). So there is no stigma attached to someone’s eye make-up being from the Alice Cooper/Tammy Faye Bakker school of cosmetology. But, just in case you don’t find photos showing “something borrowed, something blood-shot” appealing, here are a few suggestions for you to consider as your wedding date nears:

1. Delegate, delegate, delegate! Having a wedding coordinator or a close (and dependable) friend or relative to ease your load makes it (theoretically) possible for you to pamper yourself – if you just will.

2. Eat healthy, rest often. (Impossible, right?) Actually, some brides do manage to uh… manage their stress levels. Regular rest, nutritious food, and some good old-fashioned sweat-inducing exercise are a terrific antidote to stress. (They are also cheaper than booze or pills, and don’t leave you with a hangover.)

3. Stay out of the middle of any family dramas. The last thing you need at this incredibly busy time of your life is to get sucked into the role of referee in a family dispute. If a parent or step-parent, in-law, errant sibling, or wayward friend is creating problems for someone else, gently (but firmly) remind all concerned that conflicts which have been years in the making cannot be solved by you with a snap of your fingers. When everything else fails, refer back to number one above and delegate a 3rd party to mediate or deal with the problem. It isn’t and cannot be your job.

When a bride lowers her own stress level, there is a beneficial trickle-down effect on the rest of the wedding party. Weddings tend to follow the personality of the bride, so – if the only emotion you are feeling is joy – most of the time, the majority of the other key players will follow suit.

Of course, all this means is that the person who is most likely to be overcome with tears will be me (“Old Blubber-Puss.”) I can’t help losing it from time to time, but I’ll try to sob quietly, so as not to ruin your otherwise perfect night.

Oh – and how are my wedding pictures in the family album? Well, they are so joyful that they’d be great – if it weren’t for those nasty mutton-chop sideburns of mine (which I thought were so cool, at the time.) But that – as they say – is a topic for another column.

Those Unpredictable Holiday Weekends

Monday, March 24th, 2008

I attended three events this Easter weekend where those two words – “Easter weekend” – were a factor (one way or the other) in the attendance numbers of every gathering.

Two out of the three times, fewer folks than expected showed up. That happens a lot on holidays, when – if the weather is especially good (or especially bad) – plans tend to change at the last minute. At one of my events, the no-shows had paid for their tickets, so at least those putting on the party weren’t out any money. But there was an incredible amount of waste (more on this topic momentarily.)

Then, on Sunday, a rash of invitees who had not been expected to attend a family-hosted Open House apparently found themselves “at liberty.” By the time I arrived from another gathering, a mad rush for Easter eggs, baskets, chairs, and munchies was under way.

Please understand – all those who simply elected to show up were most welcome – they were just unanticipated.

What’s a holiday host to do? I see two main options (but if you think of others, please add your comments.)

1. Plan for more / expect less. It’s always a good idea to have extra food, drink, and folding chairs available. Don’t set up the chairs, or set out the food, until needed. (Otherwise, it only accentuates the fact that you had a lot of no-shows.) If possible, choose your emergency food and beverage stash from items that will store (or freeze) well, and keep for a long time. That way, items not used at your event won’t automatically go to waste. And, as long as you don’t mind facing that same casserole or bean dip – again and again – you will eventually eat your way through the left-overs.

2. Call or e-mail your guests one last time the morning of the event. As best as is possible, get a final head-count. By the day of the event, most guests will know if illness, weather, or other conflicts are going to be a factor. The numbers still won’t be set in stone, but should give you your most accurate estimate.

In a perfect world, all guests would be considerate and let you know whether or not they were coming. Since that doesn’t happen, it only makes sense to be prepared. If this means you wind up with lots of left-overs you can’t or won’t personally use, please don’t let them go to waste. The guys at your neighborhood fire station would be thrilled to get them. Here at Tanner Manor, we also frequently point excess food and spirits toward the monks at our nearby Cistercian monastery. They, too, are most appreciative.

And neither group has ever complained that they weren’t on our original guest list.

The Best Party Planner? One Who Doesn’t OVER-Manage Your Party

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I played for a St. Paddy’s Day party this week that was just about perfect in terms of enjoyment for the guests. And – for this – I credit the party planner.

No party professional can afford to be totally hands-off. Great events don’t simply happen by accident. So sooner or later, a true pro will allow a bit of extra time here, or take away a little there (if the proceedings start to drag.)

But some planners are hands-on in the extreme, to the point where everything feels over-orchestrated. For example, predetermined time schedules are great – as guidelines. But – if the salad plates are supposed to be picked up at 8:02, and you are still enjoying your mixed greens at 8:03 – there should be some chronological leeway factored in. Adherence to the clock (for its own sake) should never be more important than the pleasure of the guests.

It’s a balancing act, and one that experienced party people learn to perform well. The good planners – and my St. Paddy party planner was a great one – never seem to break a sweat. In fact, just looking at them, they appear to be having as much fun as anyone there. (Which is not to say that what they are doing is easy- their gift is in making a terrific affair look that way.)

Our event was fairly complex, in that it involved both outdoor and indoor activities, was geared to both adults and kids (not to mention Leprechaun-dressed dogs), and ran from 4:30 in the afternoon until the last dancers jigged out the door. It could have been a nightmare.

Instead, it was a day (and night) with something for everyone: costume contests (including the pets), a parade, dinner and dancing (including Irish folk dancing), and even a limerick-writing contest (another potential mine-field.) Everybody – whatever their age – had maximum opportunity for enjoyment (whether they defined it as sitting and visiting, or participating in the activities), and a bare minimum of visible party manipulation.

Burt Reynolds once asked Spencer Tracy for advice on acting. Tracy’s reply: “Don’t let ‘em catch you doing it.” The same holds true for good party planning – it flows so naturally, that it almost appears spontaneous. It isn’t, of course – it’s darned hard work.

But it’s work the true pros never let us “catch” them doing.

A Few Words On “Suprise” Parties

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Let me make two things clear, right from the start: (A.) I really l-o-v-e parties. (B.) I really hate surprise parties. Why?

1. They make every element of party planning harder. The logistics of putting together a successful event are plenty difficult enough, without adding the element of secrecy. Florists, decorators, musicians, and venue representatives are forbidden to phone the host, lest Caller ID spoil the surprise. So, they leave messages on cell phones, or with 3rd parties, only to have their calls returned at times which inevitably result in still more messages being left, and more time wasted.

2. It’s usually not really a surprise. Here’s a news flash: Dad knows he’s turning 40, just as Grammy (if not Poppy) may be aware that their Golden Wedding Anniversary is just around the corner. Most of life’s big events that trigger the thoughts of – “Hey! Let’s throw them a surprise party – are so transparently obvious that there is no surprise, thus negating all the extra work that secrecy entailed.

But – if you are grimly determined to host such an event – how can you do so, without the extra hassle and probable futility of keeping it secret?

First, delegate. Use a party planner or close friend/relative who is available to take the jillion phone calls from guests and vendors. Set the wheels in motion, then back away. (For those who are prone to micro-management, which statistically includes about 99% of people who think Surprise Parties are a good idea, this may be excrutiatingly difficult.)

Secondly, jump the gun. Many moons ago, the lovely Gina Tanner threw a surprise party for my 40th birthday, almost a full year in advance. I can assure you that – for once – the surprise was total. By totally disregarding the actual date, she was able to get everybody where they were supposed to be, and my antennae never picked up a clue. (Which is kind of scary to a control freak like me.)

So, it can be done. The question is, should it? And the answer to that depends largely on the personality of the victim-of-honor. I will never forget an episode of the old TV show, This Is Your Life, which was – essentially – a nationally broadcast surprise party every week. When host Ralph Edwards sprung the surprise, that episode’s honoree promptly slugged him, then stormed off. And that was a surprise to remember!

“Your Place Or Mine?” (Where To Have Your Wedding)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Couples today often have grown up in separate cities, gone to colleges in different towns, and met while working in yet another city, state or even country! At each stop along the way, both bride and groom have made lasting friendships. For them, and possibly for you, the question of where to have the ceremony and reception poses a series of problems. Here are some of your options:

1. Your hometown. For couples from the same city, this is a no-brainer. Even for those mentioned in the lead sentence above, it may still have merit. It will probably make planning the festivities easiest for your parents, as well as for any grandparents and older relatives. Unfortunately, if you no longer live near there, the hometown wedding could turn out to be a major hemorrhoid for you (and you know where hemorrhoids are a pain!)

2. Your current place of residence. This has many benefits for you, but also one major potential drawback: jobs that might normally be delegated to your Mom and maid-of-honor may revert back to you, if those two key players live elsewhere. Two words: wedding planner!

3. An exotic destination. Where would you like to go for your honeymoon? Then, how about having the ceremony there as well? With only a few key family members and friends in attendance (who should go home shortly after the ceremony and leave you to honeymoon without their guidance), this method has many positives. Plus, if you choose, you can still plan a reception back home which will allow you to greet old friends and new in-laws. (Note: not every exotic destination is wedding-friendly. Make sure of the local regulations before booking your rooms.)

4. Multiple ceremonies/receptions. In some extreme bi-coastal or trans-oceanic cases, it may even be desirable to have two separate ceremonies. But – be aware – this just further extends the time and level of stress on you. Additionally, you will be planning at least one of these affairs by long-distance. Opt for this choice only as a last resort.

The Beauty Of The BIG Ballroom

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Question: Why do so many party venues feel too small, too crowded, and too noisy?

Answer: Because the guest list continued to grow, after the ballroom was chosen.

Every weekend, all over the world, invitees wedge themselves into ballrooms in numbers that would give the Fire Marshal apoplexy, sit in groups of 12 at tables designed for 8, and step onto a dance floor which has been reduced by 50% to accomodate the extra bodies.

The reason for this is obvious: the typical guest list isn’t finalized until long after the venue has been booked. Additions to that guest list often occur, right up to party time. Thus the room that seemed so spacious when viewed empty, soon resembles a sardine can – and have you ever met a happy sardine?

There is a simple way to prevent this common malady:

Book a room that is 50% larger than you think you will need. Please note that I said a room. Don’t let any enterprising salesperson convince you that additional rooms – nearby – are just as good. They aren’t. Whether you are honoring a bride and groom, a birthday boy, anniversary couple, or simply having a party for the fun of it, all your guests should be able to fit comfortably in your main room (if and when they choose to.)

By having extra space, you can do wonderful things for your party – even if your guest list doesn’t grow. You can seat 8 people at those tables, instead of 10 or 12, because you have plenty of room for extra tables. The dance floor can be large enough to comfortably accomodate all your guests at the same time. Creative use of lighting (keeping the corners dark, while moving your party into the central part of the room) also effectively disguises the excess square footage.

Tanner’s 1st Theorum observes the propensity of parties – like goldfish – to expand until they meet the size of their container. So, save yourself a world of headaches: get a bigger room. You and your goldfish will be glad you did!

Gypsies, Tramps, And Thieves

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Once upon a simpler time, wedding guests used to bring presents to the reception site, where soon, a table outside the ballroom would be stacked to the ceiling with gifts for the bride and groom. After the event was over, and the last guest had trundled off to bed, Mom and Dad would load all the booty into the family station wagon and head for home.

That’s the way it was, not so long ago (and perhaps in Mayberry, it still is.) But in my town, no one today with an ounce of common sense would leave such a treasure trove outside their line of sight. Because thieves may be lazy, but they aren’t stupid. And they have learned that “the gift table” is a high-profit, low-risk gold mine.

Now, you might ask, “How could someone just walk up and clean out a gift table without being noticed? Are they invisible?” And the answer is, yes. Simply by donning a tuxedo and an air of authority, a savvy thief can cart off thousands of dollars in gifts. Family members and guests will assume such a well-dressed soul is a catering executive, while venue staffers will presume that someone operating so openly must be a family member. By the time the two sides compare notes, the brazen thief has disappeared. Invisible indeed.

Also high on the thief’s shopping list is the unattended coat rack filled with fur-this and leather-that. Your photographer’s expensive lenses provide another quick and profitable addition to the night’s haul. Virtually anything lighter than a grand piano is fair game.

So – what can you do to prevent your special evening from being a thief’s bonanza?

1. Nothing deters theft like the experienced eyes and 6th sense of an off-duty uniformed cop.

2. Coat-checking attendants are worth every penny you pay them.

3. Best of all, suggest that your guests not bring gifts to the reception.

These days, brides and grooms register on-line at national chains like Crate & Barrel, Nordstroms, and even Home Depot. Guests can pick out and pay for their gifts electronically. Doing so not only assures that the gifts will get to their proper destination, it also saves Mom and Dad a big load-out after the party. In today’s world, it’s the only way to go.

Unless you live in Mayberry.

Pictures Are Worth (MORE THAN) 1,000 Words!

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

During a 1992 TV debate, Pres. George H.W. Bush referred to his difficulty in articulating concepts so that others could see them. He said, “I have trouble with the Vision thing.”

Bush “41″ is not alone. One of the most frustrating problems for brides and vendors alike is a communication gap that prevents one from expressing their ideas to the other in a way which makes their thoughts clear to all. The bride may know exactly she wants, but not have the correct words in her vocabulary to describe her desires. Similarly, party professionals occasionally employ technical jargon which is murky to industry outsiders. In either case, everybody loses.

My solution to the problem? Don’t tell me what you want, show me! Nothing beats a good Visual Aid.

For an upcoming wedding, a bride-to-be asked me if I had seen the Pierce Brosnan remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair.” I had indeed. Did I remember the white-suited orchestra playing sexy Latin music in a party scene of that film? Again, my response was affirmative. At which point, all she had to say was, “Do that.” Not only did those 2 words save both of us time and energy, but her specific example prevented any possibility of mis-communication. I knew exactly what she wanted: a white-tuxedoed, sultry Samba-playing band.

Another future bride burned me a CD of her favorite songs by Michael Buble. Not only did this tell me what she wanted to hear, it showed me precisely how she wished it to be performed.

The same idea works splendidly in other areas of ceremony and reception planning, as well. Most venues, florists, photographers, and decorators maintain extensive photo files of their past work. A few minutes spent thumbing through their albums eliminates hours of guesswork (and frustration when the other person guesses “wrong.”) Articles and ads from magazines are another good source of pictures which tell even “vision”-impaired vendors (or parents) what you are hoping to achieve, and what thousands of words might not adequately describe.

The moral of this story is: if you are having trouble communicating the “vision thing” – save your breath, save your time, and save your sanity. Forget trying to tell them – just show ‘em! (Then say, “Do that!”)