The Party is Over. Now What?

December 30th, 2009
What do you do with leftover mini-cakes?  Photo by HappyBuddy Photo Ard.

What do you do with leftover mini-cakes? Photo by HappyBuddy Photo Art.

One thing that often gets overlooked in party and event planning is what happens after the party is over.  If you are planning a wedding, party, or other large event, now would be a good time to think about what happens when the fun is done.  Beyond the basic logistical question of who is going to transport stuff from one place to another, there are the considerations of what to do with left over items.  Here are my thoughts on several of categories of those items.

Food: If you didn’t run out of food at your party (heaven forfend!), then there will be leftovers.  It would be a shame to throw them out.  In some places, a local food bank can pick up your extra food and distribute it to food pantries and shelters.  (See the Feeding America food bank locator to find a local food bank.)  Some states and municipalities do not allow this practice, though, and not all food banks are set up to handle it, so check with your food bank ahead of time.  And unless you’re a food safety expert, don’t try it on your own.  Even if you can’t distribute your leftovers to hungry strangers, you can probably find some friends and relatives who would be happy to take some of it.  Prepare for this possibility by having appropriate containers available, and instruct your caterer how to distribute extra food.  Whatever you do, talk to your caterer ahead of time!

Flowers and other decorations: The nicest way to take care of flowers and other centerpieces is to donate them to a local hospital or nursing home.  As with donating food, this is both eco-friendly and socially responsible.  Not only do flowers get a second use, but they may also brighten the day of someone who could use a little cheer.  Perhaps you already have a relationship with an institution where you can send your flowers.  At one wedding that I coordinated, they announced at the reception that all the flowers would go to the hospital where a family member had received treatment in his last illness.  It seemed like a most fitting thing to do.

Favors: Extra party favors can be a real problem.  This is one area where you will really need to plan ahead.  For one thing, you will almost definitely have extra favors.  If you plan for one per guest, there will be some guests who don’t take one, or who take one for a household, instead of one per person.  But you don’t want to have too few, either.  When deciding what kind of favor to give your guests, consider how easy the extras will be to get rid of.  If you have a common item that is usable by anyone (like decorated pencils, for instance), then you can give away extras on Freecycle or to an organization that can use them (like your local school).  Food favors are even more difficult to get rid of than catered food.  Novelty items will probably be sitting in the back of your closet for years.  You might need to turn to an organization like Special E in order to find a second use for some of these things. One couple I worked with gave away beeswax candles (tied with ribbons in their wedding colors, of course).  There were plenty remaining at the end of the evening, but I imagine they were perfectly happy to have a supply of such a useful item.

So give some thought now to what happens when the party is over.  You can save yourself some headaches, bring joy to friends and strangers, and keep things out of the landfill with just a little extra effort.

New Photos

December 21st, 2009

I’ve received new photos from the wedding in November I wrote about a few weeks ago.  You can view them here:

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Rerun: Event Planning on a Budget–Part One

December 14th, 2009

It’s time to rerun my budget event series for everyone who is getting ready to plan a wedding or party on a shoestring.  Here is part one of the series, for those who missed it around this time last year:

Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have the event you want. It requires some extra work and maybe a few compromises, but you can still get married or have a bar mitzvah or throw the party for your parents’ anniversary and have a real celebration. Working on a budget is something I do a lot, so I’d like to share some of my insights with you.

It's about the money.

It's about the money.

The first thing to do is to have an actual budget. This is sometimes an item that people put off, but I urge you to come up with a realistic budget as early in the planning process as you can. It will help to guide your choices as you plan your event. The main reason for procrastination, I think, is the simple fact that many people do not know how to go about preparing a budget. Here is my method:

Start with the total amount of money you are able to spend on the event. Be realistic about your ability to spend, including any contributions others have committed to making. It is not worthwhile to spend more on any event than you have. Unless your circumstances are unusual, it is not generally a good idea to go into debt for a wedding or other celebration. I also do not recommend spending everything you have for one day’s celebration.

Next, list all the things you intend to spend money on. Include everything you think you might need, and add a “just in case” category. For a wedding, your list might look something like this:

Ceremony venue
Dish rental
Event planner
Furniture rental
Guest directions
Linen rental
Other rentals
Place cards
Program book
Reception venue
Save-the date cards
Sound equipment
Table numbers
Unity candle or sand

This is not to say that you have to include everything on the list. I don’t think I have ever worked on a wedding that spent money in each and every one of these categories. And some events require things that are not on this list. Pick the ones that pertain to your event and make a spreadsheet.

Now comes the hard part: Fill in a number next to each category and make sure the total does not exceed your total budget number. (Computer spreadsheet programs such as Excel make this job much easier.) But how do you know what number to put there? You will have to do some research. Talk to vendors and other professionals (such as an event planner). Poke around online to get a range of prices. Decide what things you can do yourself to save money and what things will require professional services. For example, you might make place cards and table numbers yourself at minimal cost, if you have the time. In a future post, I will take a look at some of the more difficult categories and consider ways to estimate and reduce costs in each.  (Or you can see where this is still posted from March and July of 2009.)

The creative bride of this wedding made her own programs, place cards, and even her own flower arrangements.

The creative bride of this wedding made her own programs, place cards, and even her own flower arrangements.

Finally, if your cost estimate exceeds your resources, you will have to find places to cut. You may have to reconsider how you define what you need and remove some categories, or you might have to make do with smaller quantities or lesser quality on some things. You can also consider cutting the guest list.  These decisions are not easy, but keep in mind that the most important thing about any celebration is not how opulent it looks but what happens between the people. If it’s a wedding, getting married is the most important thing that will happen. If it is an anniversary or birthday party, the important thing is to honor the ones who have reached a milestone. If you can manage a lavish entertainment in addition, consider it a bonus.

Vendors I Know–Theatre Building Chicago

December 7th, 2009

Theatre Building Chicago logo

Okay, you are already wondering what on earth Theatre Building Chicago has to do with events.  The answer is that this three-theatre space on Chicago’s north side also has a lovely lobby available for rental to private clients.  They don’t promote it much and the hours are limited, but I think it is worth a look.  The decor is funky-eclectic.  And the staff is wonderful.  They go far out of their way to make sure you have what you need.  I have never worked in a venue where the staff was as helpful.  There are also three theatres available for daytime rental by the day.  You do have to work around whatever show happens to be in there, but (with the staff’s excellent help), it is easy to do lectures, presentations, and other events for which theatre-style seating is preferable.  I highly recommend this venue for small daytime or weekday evening events.