A few years ago, in 2016, we received a call from a prospective client inquiring about our services to help plan her husband’s 60th birthday party. “Nothing big,” she said, “just some friends, some music and a bit of food at our home.” We scheduled a time to meet so that we could get a better sense of her vision and needs for the celebration. As we pulled into the driveway, little did we know that this would be the start of a wonderfully creative journey with an equally wonderful client.
The property in Newtown, Connecticut, was originally owned by James and Helen Brunot, early promoters and the first producers of Scrabble, the word game invented by a friend. The Brunots manufactured the game in the home’s barn, starting in the late 1940s. According to the current owners, Scrabble tiles were still popping out of the barn walls and around the garden some 70 years later.
After a lovely walk around to see the expansive fields, barns (complete with a petrified cat, we’ll get to that later), chicken coop and guest cottage, we sat down to chat. “Sure, no problem,” was my response when asked if we could design a party that resembled the infamous ones hosted by Freddie Mercury in the 80s. Well, not exactly, phew…
What they were trying to create was an atmosphere of something happening at every turn and total enjoyment for their family and friends. The ‘nothing big’ was going to include 100 guests camping out overnight, an aerialist in the tent, line dancing with an instructor, a DJ, an illusionary arts performance, glow-in-the-dark hula hoop dancers, dragon ice cream, a ghost story teller by the fire pit and plenty of food and drinks.
At some point in the planning process, we received a call from the client asking about adding a performance by the singer songwriter, Ben Folds. She and her son really enjoyed his music and had contacted ‘his people’. They had been optimistic since Ben Folds is ‘Capable of Anything’ (the title to one of his songs) but unfortunately, their request was denied.
Remember the petrified cat in the barn? Well, it was in the barn when the property was purchased and our clients believed that it brought them good luck, it was their special talisman. The cat must have been sending out good vibes that day, because it just so happened that at that very moment, the band leader’s manager was having lunch with Ben Folds in Nashville. Within 10 minutes time, we had a tentative hold on Ben Folds. However, after a few back and forth conversations, our client decided to wait on Ben Folds until her 60th birthday celebration the following year.
The birthday celebration was a huge success and it was only a short time later that we started a conversation about booking Ben Folds for the following year. Do you know the saying, ‘lighting only strikes once’? Well, that was the case in this situation. The contacts changed and it seemed like now, there were layer upon layer of ‘people’ between us and Ben Folds. Weeks turned into months, the client’s 60th came and went, but we continued the pursuit of the elusive Ben Folds.
Fast forward to the summer of 2018. Our son, a dockmaster in Noank, Connecticut, introduced us to an entertainment attorney who docked his boat at the marina. As we chatted, we casually mentioned the ‘had him, didn’t have him’ experience with Ben Folds. I felt like we were channeling the cat talisman again, because his first response was, “of course I know his people.”
From that day on and for the next nine months, we planned, negotiated, organized, discussed, and coordinated the logistics to bring Ben Folds to the client’s home for a private concert in their barn, for 100 of their nearest and dearest. When the contract was finally signed, the Party King commented, “I feel like I just birthed a baby.” Well, not really, but you get the drift. When we called our client, she was so ecstatic that we could feel the excitement jump out right through the phone!!!
“We can just do a pot-luck dinner,” our client chimed in when asked what she wanted to do for the long-awaited concert. She was so overwhelmed with the prospect of Ben Folds coming to her home, that not much else mattered. I gently suggested that having 100 guests bringing assorted casserole dishes might not be the best plan and that she needed to trust that we would come up with a great event plan.
The concert was going to take place in the large barn behind the house. It was actually more of a storage garage for their vintage vehicles, with high ceilings and windows allowing natural light to shine in. The guest house was going to be converted into the ‘Green Room’ and the barn transformed into a lounge atmosphere, complete with staging for the piano and performer. My creative juices were flowing.
Of course, no event can be successful without being able to partner with fantabulous vendors. We got to work putting together an ‘A-Team’ of vendors to handle the catering, tenting, photography, lighting, furniture, bar, restroom and rentals. It was truly a collaborative effort and the clients were thrilled with the outcome.
The day arrived that Ben Folds came to play. He exceeded the clients’ expectations, even playing a bit longer than initially scheduled. Certainly, an experience that will last for years to come in the memories of the clients and their guests.
Simply, this is why we do what we do.
Event Design, Décor, Coordination and Management: Amazing Celebrations & Events, Glastonbury, CT and Boston, MA
Event Production: Zaphod Productions, LLC, Orlando, FL
Event Photography: Kate Lauren Studios, Avon, CT
Furniture Rentals: AFR Furniture, Rocky Hill, CT
Bar and Décor Rentals: Averi Jade, New Hartford, CT
Lighting: CJC Lighting, Springfield, MA
Tenting: Tents Unlimited, Torrington, CT
Catering: Christie Caters, New Hartford, CT
Catering: Red Diamond Pizza Truck, Shelton, CT
Rest Room Trailer: Live Earth, Rehoboth, MA
Catering Rentals: Party Rentals Ltd., Boston, MA
Ben’s Bar Mitzvah
Theme: MasterChef Junior
Date: May 20, 2017VENDORS Event Design and Décor: Amazing Celebrations & Events Venue: The Riverview, Simsbury, CT Graphic Design – Logo, recipe books and Place Cards: Denyer Dezignz, Cromwell, CT Chalkboard Signs: Amazing Celebrations & Events Place card and recipe book printing: Minuteman Press, Glastonbury Entertainment: Powerstation Events, Cheshire, CT Favors: Victor Advertising, Middletown, CT Sign In Board: David James Gallery, Glastonbury
Even though we’ve all heard the Muppets song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” pulling off a green, eco-friendly wedding can be easier than you think! In many ways, most couples are not aware that they have already included ‘green’ components into their wedding plans.Love the idea of a chalkboard seating chart or menu sign? That’s a great way to save on paper and printing and the boards can often be wiped clean and repurposed as a message board for years to come. Wedding programs can be a lovely memento, so think about printing on recycled paper and perhaps ask guests to share copies to cut down on the quantity. Better yet, display the information on a large chalkboard at the beginning of the aisle so your guests can have something to read before you walk down the aisle. Relocating it to the reception venue can be a great conversation piece as your guests mingle and enjoy the celebration. Engaging the services of a local artist or art student to create these pieces can be a wonderful way to support the local economy.
If your budget allows, provide shuttle transportation for your guests staying at hotels. This will cut down on excess emissions from multiple cars traveling to the same location for the ceremony and reception. In line with this, use as many local vendors as possible to cut down on the distance that they are traveling to your wedding.
Use ‘home grown’ as much as possible for your floral bouquets and centerpieces. Ask your florist to partner with a local flower farm to create seasonal floral décor. Succulents and plants used in your event design can be given to your guests so they can enjoy memories of your wedding long after the last dance. There are several flower-repurposing companies, such as Random Acts of Flowers (randomactsofflowers.org) and Rebloom (rebloomflower.com), who will pick up floral arrangements and redistribute them to hospitals and hospice care centers or resell them with proceeds benefiting various charities. If you are not able to locate such a service in your area, select a local nursing home and ask a family member or friend to handle the delivery after the wedding.
Bottles and cans from the bar often end up in the dumpster during off-site and backyard weddings. Set up a recycle area near the caterer’s cook tent or behind the bar so bottles and cans don’t end up in the landfill. If the caterer is not able to handle the returns, contact a local community organization to pick up the bins or bags following the reception – they would certainly benefit from the return deposit.
Let’s be serious, no one really needs a personalized Koozie imprinted with your face and wedding date. If you feel that favors are a must, think ‘GO LOCAL’ and find a state-made product such as honey, chocolates, candles or soap, as a way to support a local small business. Better yet, choose a charity close to your heart and let your guests know that, in lieu of favors and in honor of your wedding, you have made a donation in their names.
You may be planning on preserving your wedding gown for all eternity, but if you’re like me, your wedding gown will end up in the back of your closet for the next three plus decades! A far better fate would be to donate your gown to an organization like Brides Against Breast Cancer (bridesagainstbreastcancer.org), who has helped thousands of women buy affordable pre-owned wedding dresses and has donated millions to cancer-related charities. If vintage or second-hand is more your style, there are an abundance of shops around who carry an assortment of gowns and often provide tailoring services on-site. Want to make your mother cry? You may be able to wear your mother’s wedding gown by simply updating those poufy sleeves with just a few alterations.
Looking for wedding rings? Engage the services of a jewelry designer to create rings from recycled gold or with fair labor gems. Does your photographer offer an actual printed proof album? Ask for an online version so you don’t have to be wasteful and throw out the prints of your Aunt Shirley doing the Cha Cha Slide. Have an abundance of information to pass along to your guests? Forego the printed invitation inserts and set up a wedding website to tell your guests about accommodations, transportation and local spots of interest. See? It IS easy being green!
Those who know me know that I have a top 10 list of pet peeves. It has also been referred to as the ‘never ever’ list. Hovering around the number one position is the practice of placing tip jars on bars at events.
Some may argue that if the event has a cash bar (don’t get me started with that one) then it follows that bartenders should be allowed to accept tips from the guests. However, if a client is paying for an open bar for their guests, the bartender should ‘never ever’ place a tip jar on the bar.
Venue contracts most often will include a line item indicating a specific service charge to be added to the final totals. This can also be referred to as a house fee, administration fee or service fee and often ranges from 18% – 24%. This percent is added to the food, beverage, room rentals or audio visual services secured for the event. More and more venues are adding details regarding how they designate this charge. For example, with a 23% service charge, they may delegate 8% to administrative costs and 15% for gratuities for the staff.The policy of gratuities should always be discussed prior to signing any venue’s contract. An important question would be to inquire about how the staff gratuities are handled. Some venues will pool the amount and then distribute evenly among the event staff while others will give a larger percent to the wait staff and a smaller percent to the bartenders. It is also a common practice to tack on an ‘attendant fee’ for the bartenders and coat room attendants at larger events.
Nothing irks me more than to see a tip jar on a bar when we have discussed this at length with a venue’s event team. I can’t tell you how many times that I am told that it is the company’s policy to not allow tip jars yet the bartenders always seem to go rogue and place a dollar-filled jar smack in the middle of the bar. During the final walk-around prior to an event, we find ourselves in a ‘battle of the bills’ with bartenders who insist on having a tip jar.
During one social event at a hotel, I walked by the coat room to find a tip jar out, overflowing with pre-placed dollar bills. After tactfully asking the attendant to remove the jar, I continued to check the two bars positioned in the pre-function space. As expected, tip jars were on both bars so I reminded the bartenders of the contract agreement as well as the hotel’s written policy. No sooner had I walked into the ballroom to double check the tables, the bartenders defiantly replaced the tip jars onto the bars. One of our alert event assistants, witnessing this transgression, informed the banquet manager to deal with the issue.
Certainly, should a guest kindly decide to offer a tip to a bartender, we always ask that the bartenders discretely slip the bills behind the bar so the other guests don’t feel obligated to follow suit. We have also placed small framed signs on bars stating, “You’re hosts have kindly taken care of all gratuities this evening.”
During a recent wedding (with an open bar), we had a long discussion with the event manager regarding bartenders blatantly soliciting tips. She adamantly stated that it is not allowed in the venue and that bartenders benefit from the shared gratuity pool after each event. I mentioned that one of the bartenders had seen me prior to the event and he said, “Oh I remember you, you’re very particular.”
Several years prior, this same bartender had placed a tip jar on the bar and had fanned out numerous dollar bills across the top of the bar, as if to say, “keep it coming folks!” Tacky to the nth degree! He was quickly admonished by myself as well as the event manager and I even recalled this incident during my pre-event discussion. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as the bars were rolled into the ballroom, both bartenders immediately placed tip jars (stuffed with dollar bills no less) out in plain sight. With my blood boiling, I swiftly removed the tip jars and went to find the event manager. As I walked away, one of the bartenders (guess who?), took out a wad of cash and fanned it out on the bar. Really??!!
We often must walk a fine line when managing an event for a client. We need to be respectful of the venue’s event manager and understand that the bartenders are their employees. However, signed contracts are legal documents that should be respectfully followed by all the venue’s employees. Despite our best efforts, it is exceedingly annoying to deal with this time and time again. I often wonder if the event managers look the other way to compensate for the low hourly wages paid to their employees? Even if this is the case, that’s not our client’s issue and signed contracts should be followed to the letter.
Historically, people are under the impression that if they generously tip a bartender, their drinks will be more potent and the service more attentive. This may be the case in restaurant bars, but at events, all guests should be treated equally and the service should always be top-notched. You certainly don’t see servers walking around with money bags strapped to their waists, clanging coins while balancing their food trays!
Tip jars are an issue that won’t be going away any time soon. This has become an item that is front and center during every event meeting and one of the tasks that is on our check list for every event. It would certainly be helpful to have venue managers reiterate this policy during ‘recon’ meetings prior to events. In addition, they should be mindful of ‘repeat offenders’ and deal with this accordingly.
In the meantime, whether you have an event planner or not, make sure to scrutinize contracts and add addendums if you don’t see your specific desires listed clearly – OPEN BAR, BAN THE JAR!!