Creativity and Individuality in Events
Clients looking for a planner will have distinct visions for their events before you meet. Even those clients who are looking for more traditional affairs enjoy putting their own creative touch on an event. There are many ways to use your creativity in planning an event.
“Crowd-pleasing” and “user friendly” are terms used to describe items such as food and wine that will please most guests. While a cheeseburger is crowd-pleasing, steak tartare (raw beef) may not be. Adventurous and remedial are also buzzwords used to compare gourmet diners to beginners.
Choosing Wine and Pairing with the Menu
Even as Americans become more and more wine and food savvy, there are still those who prefer to leave the choices to the professionals. A client may brag about his wine knowledge and then turn sheepish when asked if his guests would prefer a sauvignon blanc or a chardonnay. You need to remember your responsibility to the guests attending the function (not just the host) to design a menu that is crowd pleasing or user friendly.
As you become better informed about the world of wine, it is best to keep things simple for your guests. Wines are said to be more palatable if they are easy to drink. Pairing wine with a three-course meal means you can offer more variety. Offer lighter varietals when serving wine at a cocktail reception. For better value, shop for wines from Italy, Spain, South America, and Australia.
The time will come to sit down with the chef to plan the menu. You will need to convey all of the client information and requests to her before she can design a menu. The chef may include seasonal items or house specialties, but if something doesn't look right to you, it is important to speak up before you propose the menu to the client. The guest is sure to ask questions about the menu, so be certain you have all of the answers.
You can then proceed to the next stage and pair wine with the food. Before you set up a client tasting, have the wines opened and at the correct temperature (35–41 degrees for white and 50–61 degrees for red) so the wines show better. Traditionally, wines were paired with their regional cuisine. Today more and more wine professionals are getting creative with their pairings. To expand your knowledge of wine and cuisine, it may be a good idea to take a wine course.
A theme is a common idea that runs through the entire event. For a company retreat at a beachside mansion, you could suggest a clambake for the menu. Because the event is happening in August, offer a light white wine and a bucket of different local beers. For decorations, string lights inside the outdoor tent and cover the tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Here you have taken the setting — the beach — and run the theme throughout.
Clients will sometimes choose a theme based upon music, color, or cuisine. Mardi Gras is a popular theme for a party in which you would see Creole cuisine on the menu with a jazz band as entertainment and colorful beads given to guests. For an annual gala fundraiser, a black-and-white ball in which all of the guests are asked to dress in formal attire is an example of a color-themed event. A theme based on a cuisine might be a Mexican fiesta that features a mariachi band.
When you sit with a client for the initial interview, ask him if he has any ideas for themes. It is likely that he will have a theme in mind and will ask you to expand on it. As you begin your career in event planning, it is a good idea to use a creative notebook. In your notebook, keep a log of different themes as you come across them. You may see themes on invitations, in magazines, or hear about them through other event planners. You can refer to your notebook after your first meeting. Once you have gained experience you can replace your notebook with a scrapbook of your events complete with photos.
Before your creative meeting with your client, be sure to secure a deposit for your services. Unfortunately, in this business event planners have been taken advantage of by potential clients who are just looking for ideas but not willing to pay you for your services. Narrow potential clients down to serious prospects by submitting a cost proposal and saving your ideas until after a contract is signed.
There are many different ways to be creative with decorations in event planning. Traditional ways would be through centerpieces, flower arrangements, party favors, and place settings. Even lighting can play a part in the decorations, with candles for an intimate dinner or spotlights announcing a large music event.
A client's personal taste will influence the decorations for an event. Before suggesting ideas, remember you are trying to keep in line with a theme. Decorations are also a great outlet for your client's personality to show through. A bride may envision a romantic wedding but relent when her film producer fiancée asks for movie-style popcorn buckets filled with giant boxes of candy as the centerpiece. Using different aspects of the client's career, hobby, and even first or last name can be successful ways to suggest decorations. For example, to impress a client you might purchase little bottles of a liquor that share his first name to hand out as favors for his bachelor party.
Jot down ideas regarding decorations in your creative notebook. You can get ideas from books, magazines, and events you have attended. You should also begin researching different ethnicities through cookbooks. Your creativity will be applauded when a client requests a traditional afternoon tea for his wife's birthday and you include finger sandwiches on the menu and a recipe for English biscuits as individual placemats.
Cakes and Desserts
Every event needs to finish with a little something sweet. With their pastel colors and perfect piping, cakes have held center stage at weddings and other large events. Specialty cakes are fast becoming the creative icing on any event. Specialty cake shops nowadays create visual art with their cakes and offer cakes with photographs, ships with a captain, aquariums, flower boxes, and antique cars. You can even order customized cakes online to be shipped to your door.
Some events might not necessarily call for a cake. A cocktail party serving rich, heavy hors d'oeuvres will welcome a shift in the evening when the host presents coffee and sweets. Suggest homemade donuts and serve with coffee ice cream as a twist to the classic breakfast pair. Or dust off the fondue pot and serve with chocolate instead of cheese. Accompany the fondue with fruits and angel food cake for dipping.
Shop around for a specialty bakeshop when you get started as a planner. The likelihood of you needing to order a high-end cake during your career will be quite high. Be certain you keep the bakery's hours and ordering information handy.
As the bakery industry grows, so does the price tag of its products. Spending a few thousand dollars on a cake is becoming the norm, which may be a little hard to swallow for your client. Fortunately, bakeries have been forced to get creative in pricing their services. Suggest that the baker make a smaller version of a wedding cake for presentation and serve the guests slices from a sheet cake in the kitchen.
From birthdays to weddings to showers and everything in between, favors can add a little something extra to an event. Psychologically, it makes a guest feel appreciated for making an appearance at your event. Simply putting a bag in your guests' hands will have them leaving with smiles on their faces. Favors are the final farewell to the evening's creativity.
Traditionally, some cultures have made wedding favors a labor of love with homemade cookies or pastries. Those traditions still hold true for many. For others though, favors are another way for a client to put her own signature on an event that her guests will talk about long after the event has ended. As with the decorations, read your client to determine if she is looking for more conservative ideas for favors. For weddings, the favors should appeal to your male and female guests. Morning bread wrapped with the family recipe and a note from the couple is a great favor that will appeal to all of your guests. Picture frames are also a popular favor at weddings.
Your client may be inclined to be more playful when considering favors and remember to tie in their careers, names, and personalities. In this case, a mini martini shaker and a bottle of liquor might be perfectly suited for the couple that owns a bar. A personalized golf ball and tee would be a great match for the couple who met on a golf course.
You may be entering event planning as a transition from another career. You may be tempted to customize the stationery, make the centerpieces, and design the flowers if your specialty lies in these areas: Don't. You will not want the added pressure of, say, decorating a cake the day of the event. Find vendors that you trust who will get the job done for you.
Some clients hire event planners based upon their creative ideas in the initial interview. For this reason it is important to stay on top of current trends and research traditional functions. With the right balance of the two, your objective should be to develop your own style and impress even the toughest critics.