Birthday Bash: A Lesson in Event Planning

Do you want to plan an amazing party for someone special from scratch?

After completing my degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management I was starving to take on planning a full size event. I have planned small house parties and gatherings, of course, but nothing that was really catered or at a venue. October 2018 my step father asked me if I would plan his father’s 80th Birthday in March 2019. Of course I took the task and immediately made my list of questions.

Before you get any ideas for the event, your clients must answer some questions first:

  1. What is the budget?
  2. How many guests are expected?
  3. Is there a preferred theme?
  4. Will there be invitations?
  5. Are there any preferred venues?
  6. What preferred food is there?
  7. Is there a preferred caterer?
  8. Entertainment needs? D
  9. Will we need hotel rooms?
  10. Will there be an open bar?

There of course are numerous additional questions that will need to be answered as the event is put together, but I like to start with a basic understanding and build from there. My clients didn’t really have a lot of certainties, but they were sure there was going to be bar and that it would indeed be open.

No Set Budget, 50 estimated guests, Hollywood/Rat Pack Theme, Eagle’s Club preferred, Reception/Appetizer Food, Dancing for Entertainment, A few out-of-town-ers but no need for a room block.
We got the ‘jest of it all really, and I dove right into creating an amazing event!
My original duties were a bit broad I recommend building a contract outlining the things you will, and will not do.

After a few weeks of research and putting together options for the party, I gave them a Cost Analysis

The First Top Three Choices for the group

The family looked over the analysis and felt they wanted to look more into a local hotel, like a Double Tree or Holiday Inn. I did feel slightly defeated to have my first report dismissed but was excited to be a step closer to finalizing the deal. So! On to more phone calls, emails, and questions!

The Holiday Inn in their city ended up being the only new venue to the list, as it was the only hotel that could host our growing lists of guests. We started with fifty but after the family reconvened they found at least up to 80! Plus the count of significant others meant we were planning a party for 100- not 50.

A comprehensive, easy to read analysis of cost between the venues

Along with my final analysis I also provided a complete breakdown of what the decorations were, what each caterer had to offer for food, and invitations. I used PowerPoint to build a slideshow that could showcase all of the pricing and options for my clients. After much deliberation, between my main contacts and the sisters, they finally settled on Holiday Inn.

Why The Holiday Inn?

  • On-Site Catering
  • Built-in Dance Floor (Lower equipment cost)
  • Easy to find/Nearby Location for guests

No detail is too small; paying attention to what your client’s NEED is essential.

Finally the venue was selected, a rough idea of menu was created, and AV needs were discussed. I reached out to The Holiday Inn by calling directly to the number they had provided on their website for reaching their catering team. While other venues took a few days to respond, and others didn’t at all, Holiday Inn sent me a follow up email right away to being the process of building our BEO(Banquet Event Order) and solidifying the details. The sales team at the hotel sent me a contract and once my client approved we signed and agreed to put our deposit down by the designated date One month prior to the event.

In my slideshow I included detailed pages of decorations, something I was quiet proud of. Unfortunately, during correspondence I learned that the other half of the family was planning on handling all of the decorations What A Bummer! I was deflated by this news; but had to admit releasing some responsibility wasn’t too terrible. The venue space would handle all of the tables, chairs, and linen, the sisters could handle the rest!

My Job

The most important part of my job was convincing the family that self-catering was going to be nightmare. I used logistics and numbers to prove to them it was much more cost-affect to hire the in-house staff and use a caterer. After solidifying the venue and menu the pre-work was over and time to anticipate the event had begun.

The Day Of

Arrive ours before your client! I knew the decorating team was planning on arriving at 11AM so I showed up at 10. The room was almost perfect, chairs had to be removed and a table or two had to be taken out, but it looked just like the layout we had all agreed on. Of course once the first group of decorators arrived there were a few more changes, but we were able to all work together. The greatest responsibility came from assessing the requests of the group and translating them for the hotel staff to implement.

Bouncing between upset ladies, confused brothers, and irked banquet managers was exciting. Each of them had their own style of communicating, motivations, and desires and I was charged with the the task to bring them all together. It was four hours of decorating, organizing, and deciding all the finishing touches. If one person wanted a change I made sure to get the group together and make everyone aware and agree.

The staff was amazing and considered all of our requests. A staff that always agrees is not attentive staff. Our banquet manager would often discuss more fitting and efficient options with me when we made table requests and champagne toast arrangements. They probably have more experience setting up events if you’re a new planner, take the expert advice!

The Event

Was a resounding success! The music was perfect, a self made playlist on Spotify delighted the guests and special requests brought them all to the dance floor! We partied from 4PM-8 o’clock, they were all a little early actually, thankfully we started the food at the same time as our arrivals. The bar was posted just outside the room and was perfect! We made much room out of the small space the Holiday Inn had available.

All the siblings with Dad in the middle, Happy 80th Al!!

What We Needed

Unfortunately, Naturally, there were a few missed details:

  • Guests were unsure of what to do at certain times
  • There should have been a clear itinerary for guests
  • The open bar/ticket system was not worked out efficiently
  • The dance floor was poorly attended most of the night

No task is too big for you to take on! Anything can be accomplished one step at a time!

Mistakes are learning experiences.

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or question if you need help planning your next party!