“You’re invited.” Those two words often are surrounded by a flurry of preparations and a laundry list of decisions. While bringing people together can create some of life’s most treasured memories, event planning is no cake walk. Anything can go wrong, and yet so much can be made to go just right. Three local event planners chime in, sharing trends, tips and trials in the industry that makes the parties go-round.
Weddings are trending even more lavish these days.
Stylish furniture is among the latest decor trends. Lounges with couches, loveseats and oversized chairs are making statements around the dance floor or in the cocktail area.
“It dresses up the space more,” says Ashley McChesney, Armature Works’ director of events since 2015.
Centerpieces are leaning less traditional, incorporating non-floral, natural elements such as fruit, vegetables and driftwood.
Smaller, more intimate gatherings have become common due to COVID-19. However, lengthier guest lists have started making a comeback.
Some couples have been forgoing the formal ceremony altogether, getting hitched in the courthouse and planning a reception at a later date.
“We’re seeing a lot of parties celebrating marriage,” says Taylor Smith, who started as venue sales manager for Hyde House this year and started fitness event franchise SweatNET Tampa Bay in 2019.
Additionally, brides have been moving away from formal seated dinners, opting for cocktail-style parties with stations of heavy hors d’oeuvres that encourage mingling.
The wedding day is particularly important and emotional for a bride, so it’s crucial to find the right event planner.
You can start by asking your venue or friends for referrals.
But don’t rush into it. Take your time to find the best fit.
“There are so many great planners with so many different personalities. Find someone you get along with — and who knows how to problem-solve,” McChesney says.
After all, you likely will be working together for a year or more. If all goes well, you may want your planner’s help celebrating future milestones.
“It’s such an intimate thing,” says Ally Lamb, who founded event planning company Social Revelry in 2014 and has been Meat Market’s event planner for two years. “You really have to have a good relationship and a bond. Brides end up becoming friends. I plan their baby showers and birthdays for years to come.”
After securing your planner, you may find it helpful to identify the element that is non-negotiable for you. Then work backward from there. Determine your priority, whether that be the photographer, food, music, venue or guest count.
Pressures are high for a flawless wedding day. Inevitably, things will go wrong from time to time.
Once, a few hours before a wedding reception, a scissor lift hit a water main in the hallway. Two feet of water flooded the service hall and leaked halfway into the ballroom.
“The bride walked in and I remember her jaw dropping,” McChesney says. “I had to let her know it would be cleaned up by the time the ceremony and cocktail hour ended.”
The team and vendors sprang into action, pushing water out the back door, drying floors and putting tables back in place.
“The guests would never know anything happened,” McChesney says. “You halfway want to cry and you halfway have to laugh because you pulled it off.”
Another time, a power outage occurred about an hour before a wedding. The building didn’t have a backup generator, but the parking lot lights had generator power.
“So I was running electricity out the window across 100 feet into the parking lot from the second floor to get the DJ powered on and the catering going,” McChesney says. “I had to call the bride. She was on her way to the venue. She said as long as the bar was open, it would be okay. I said, ‘I wish every bride could be as easy going as you.’”
Whether it’s a private milestone or a corporate get-together, it’s time to go all out.
“Everything has gotten so much more elaborate and intentional,” Lamb says.
Larger-than-life balloon mosaics and fancy backdrops have become a staple for photo ops.
Party favors continue to be a hit, but gone are the days of plastic bags filled with candy. Customization is in, such as custom candle scents, acrylic name signs and airbrushed T-shirts. Themed reusable bags also still are popular. Kids love surprise balls filled with small items like candy, stickers and tiny stuffed animals.
Gatherings have been done on a smaller scale lately due to COVID-19, with outdoor venues and backyard parties becoming more popular, although indoor events are coming back with a vengeance.
A fun addition popping up at backyard parties is a white bounce house. The concept originated in Los Angeles and has been catching on in Tampa. The white color gives a clean appearance that goes with any theme, unlike the traditional, carnival-colored bounce house. Kids and adults alike love the whimsy of jumping around with friends.
For a memorable event, see how much you can tie together. “Choose a theme and weave small details throughout,” Lamb says.
For instance, for a dinosaur-themed kids birthday party at Dinosaur World, Lamb gave guests dinosaur excavation kits, hats and vests. The menu included veggie crudités in the herbivore
section, dino nuggets and sandwich cutouts, and dino cake pops in a two-tiered cake with a geode in it.
Create a wow factor in your event space by drawing attention to a specific area, such as an elaborate dessert table display.
“It’s more important to hone in on one element than try to spread it out to the whole event,” Lamb says.
If you’re looking for inspiration, TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest have proven to be helpful social media platforms chock-full of current ideas.
When choosing an event venue, consider what is already included. Some venues come with furniture or decor, so it’s one less thing to figure out.
To streamline the invitation process, consider going digital. People like email reminders as the event approaches, too. Not all evites are created equal, so make time to select a stylish design.
“Paperless Post is my go-to,” Lamb says.
Find an event planner you get along with. Be sure to communicate your ideas and the amount you feel comfortable spending upfront so you can learn what is possible. The planner will come up with contingency plans, but know that some things happen beyond anyone’s control.
“Be flexible and have fun with it,” Smith says.
Event planning can be controlled chaos. No matter how much time is spent planning, with so many balls in the air, one is bound to drop from time to time.
Weather certainly can be a challenge with outdoor events. Lamb planned a 50th birthday party in a Davis Islands backyard with festival tents and a special stage over the pool.
“It started storming so badly that the next three hours we were getting water out of the tents, and the pool water was rising too high,” Lamb says.
The team opened the pool pumps and used a blower to remove water from the tents. They smiled big when the sun came back out before the event began.
Smith also has dealt with weather challenges. She planned a workout event at 10 a.m. one day at the turn of summer outside a restaurant.
“All of our devices kept overheating,” she says. “No one could play music, the mic was dying, the heat was melting everything. We kept trying to reconnect different devices and created shade with a hat over a phone to play music. We realized we needed shade for future events that time of year.”
No-shows can be another worst nightmare. Once, an instructor didn’t show up to teach group yoga.
“Five minutes from the event starting, I learned there was a scheduling conflict,” Smith says. “I contacted someone who had done an audio recording of a class, put a yoga ambassador at the front of the room for participants to watch, and everyone put headphones on like a silent disco. We made it work.”
That’s the beauty of event planners. They always find a way to make sure the party goes on.