My Secret Life

February 1st, 2016

I plan and manage weddings all year, but in my free time, I also volunteer my time with a terrific group of people who are founding a food co-op in Rogers Park.  I always like to have at least one volunteer project in my life, and I have an undying passion for local food and the politics of food issues.  (And, I really like food!)  So, this group is a great fit for me, especially because I get to plan events to help the co-op grow.

The first major event I planned (with many other volunteers and Heartland staff) was last October: Heartland Cafe’s Harvest Dinner and Barn Dance.  Heartland put on the event; I did a bunch of the planning for it; everyone had a great time; and Heartland made a sizable donation to the food co-op.

The event was a harvest dinner on the patio of the restaurant followed by a barn dance at the Red Line Tap around the corner (which is also part of the Heartland empire in central Rogers Park).  Wade Chandler, a photographer who lives in Rogers Park, very kindly donated his services for the event.  (Check out his Facebook page for more information.)  Here are a few glimpses of this terrific evening.

 

The Heartland Cafe patio was all decked out for the Harvest Dinner.

The Heartland Cafe patio was all decked out for the Harvest Dinner.

Tom Rosenfeld, one of the Heartland's owners, welcomes the guests--and tells them how important food co-ops are.

Tom Rosenfeld, one of the Heartland’s owners, welcomes the guests–and tells them how important food co-ops are.

The Heartland's kitchen served up a luscious buffet of seasonal dishes.

The Heartland’s kitchen served up a luscious buffet of seasonal dishes.

The guests enjoyed the food and the company.

The guests enjoyed the food and the company.

The Co-op had its brand new t-shirts ready!

The Co-op had its brand new t-shirts ready!

Volunteers at the pumpkin carving station improved on the decor.

Volunteers at the pumpkin carving station improved on the decor.

After dinner, the dance started at the Red Line Tap.

After dinner, the dance started at the Red Line Tap.

Caller Jo Mortland and the band kept the dancers moving.

Caller Jo Mortland and the band kept the dancers moving.

Re-run Success Story: The Fabulous Date!

August 10th, 2015

This is still one of my favorite stories from my years of event planning.  It was also the first of many last-minute events.  I do like to have adequate planning time, but in a pinch, I can do things at the last minute.  Here’s the story:

There were roses everywhere.

There were roses everywhere.

On a Monday afternoon, I got a call from a business man from the East Coast. He was coming to Chicago to take a lady out on a date, and he wanted to do something amazing, something unheard-of. He suggested a yacht, private dinner in a gorgeous location, a helicopter tour, private entertainment. It all had to be first class, exceptional, and, as he put it, “over the top.” Money was no object, he said.  Oh, and this date was to be a week from that Wednesday.  I had another event to work on for a few days, so in less than a week, and with the invaluable assistance of the events staff there, I was able to put together for him a private, candlelit dinner for two in the Sky Theatre at the Adler Planetarium, with skyline views of the city projected on the dome and a private sky show after dinner. A black stretch limousine brought the guests to dinner where a string quartet played while they ate.  There were flowers everywhere, and the dining table looked like a Victorian valentine. When I spoke to him the next day, he said that everything was “spectacular.”

DIY Decor: How Much is Enough?

March 2nd, 2015
How much is too much?  Photo by hannahelaine photography (hannahelaine.com).

How much is too much? Photo by hannahelaine photography (hannahelaine.com).

When you are doing the decor yourself for your event or wedding, how much stuff do you need?  Of course, it all depends on your venue, but for your typical wedding-type venue, here are some thoughts.

Table Decor

A centerpiece on your banquet tables is always nice.  There is nothing wrong with adding a few votive candles or tea lights, but three or four per table is usually enough.  Naturally, you want linens on the tables, although there is usually no need for three layers of them; one or two will suffice.  Maybe you are also having favors put out at every place.  They are also part of the decor.  Once you have this many things on the table, you just have room for a table number, bread basket, butter, salt & pepper, and eight or nine full place settings.  If you’re serving family style, remember to leave room on the table for the serving platters.

Room Decor

If your venue is already well-appointed, you may need nothing at all to decorate the room.  It can be a good idea to have a well-made flower arrangement near the entrance, on the bar, and/or on the escort card table.  It depends on how much sprucing up you think the area needs.  Candles on the bar can be tricky as you don’t want them to interfere with bar service.   If you have highboy tables anywhere in your ground plan, a very nice touch is to have your florist create small, simple arrangements for them.  Or put candles on the highboys.  They shouldn’t need any more than that.

Ceremony Decor

It’s easy to go overboard with ceremony decor:  Flowers on the ends of the rows of seats, an aisle runner, candles in the aisle, a flower arch or flowers on the chuppah, and large floral arrangements are all possibilities (and that doesn’t begin to exhaust the list).  I recommend against candles in the aisle as they can be a safety hazard.  I’m also not a big fan of aisle runners as they generally become trash the moment the ceremony is over.  I think a little restraint is a good idea in this area, as well.

Candy Buffets

If you are set on having a candy buffet, be sure to think small.  For one thing, if you’ve fed your guests well and given them dessert, only the children will return to the candy buffet more than once.  You will almost definitely have a lot of leftovers.  Also, be sure to measure both the table and the dishes and other decor that you plan to put on the buffet to make sure it will all fit.  A few well-chosen items displayed beautifully will be more effective than an enormous spread that is visually overwhelming.

Summary

My recommendation for DIY decor is to remember the mantra, “Less is More.”  You don’t need to overwhelm your guests with your decor ideas.  Keep it in the background because the party is really about you, not about the decoration.

Catering Staff

February 23rd, 2015
Servers make all the difference to your guests.  Photo by Happy Buddy PhotoArt.

Servers make all the difference to your guests. Photo by Happy Buddy PhotoArt.

This is not the first thing you think about when you are planning a wedding or other large event where you are hiring a caterer, but it is surprisingly important in how well your event runs:  How much staff has your caterer hired?

Caterers tend to fall into two categories with regard to staffing issues.  On one side, you have caterers who reduce the number of staff in order to give you a bid with a lower price.  On the other side, you have those who won’t compromise their level of customer service and charge accordingly.

Why does this matter to you and how can you tell the difference?

The service staff at your party or event are the people who have the most direct contact with your guests.  Really, the quality of the service staff determines the quality of the experience for your guests.  The unfortunate things that guests remember are that no one offered them wine or they got the wrong entree or they could never find a server to refill their glass or bring a fork when they needed one. Inadequate numbers of servers can contribute to all of these types of incidents that leave a bad taste in the mouth.

For restaurant service, it’s pretty standard to have one server for every 40 guests.  For exceptional service, such as at a wedding, a higher number of servers is needed.  The best wedding caterers hire about one server for every 10 guests.  This ensures the best service.  When you get a quote from a catering company, divide the total number of guests by the number of servers and see what you get.   If it’s around 10, the price will certainly be higher than if it’s 40.  The service is also likely to be much better.

It’s a trade-off:  If you pay less for service, you are paying for a less-than-exceptional experience for your guests.  I think it’s worthwhile to pay more to ensure that your guests are enjoying themselves.  There are places to cut corners at a wedding or a party, but this isn’t one of them.