Liz Taylor has planned parties for half of the cast of Coronation Street, Gary Neville and Eamonn Holmes, she knows what she's talking about. Here she shares her top tips on how to make it the perfect event that you will never forget.
PLANNING YOUR BUDGET:Your party planning depends largely on the budget that you're given to work with. Although the size of your budget will limit how you celebrate and where, it certainly doesn't have to have limit the amount of fun you have! Allocate money for all the essentials first - venue, catering, staffing and entertainment. Dont try to spread your budget too thinly - I would always suggest that you focus your budget on creating one main WOW factor for the night, such as using a fantastic band, rather than trying to do a bit if everything. Write your budget down and stick to it. It is also essential that you look at when you have to pay the venue and suppliers – if they need paying before the big party then you need to have the cash available.
CREATING A GUEST LIST AND INVITATIONS THAT CREATE AN IMPACT: You'll need to know who is going to be invited before you can book the venue. The number of guests is key to the scale of venue that you choose. Plus it will affect other costs such as catering, accommodation and transport.
I would always base a guest list on who needs to be there and then who would you like to be there. Prioritise the list to fit the number of guests that you can accommodate, but allow for some declines. About 10% is usual but this might be more during times such as the summer holiday season.
Insist on an RSVP date so that you can plan the catering and allow plenty of time for people to respond.
Once you've decided on your guest list, your invitations should be unique. For a really special party, print the invite on an unusual material such as leather or create a bespoke invitation that ties in with your event theme, such as a mini glitter ball with the invitation attached for a 70s night. The more creative, the better.
SELECTING A VENUE, MUSIC, CATERER, DRINKS, DECORATIONS/LIGHTING: Once you know your party date and roughly how many people you'll be inviting, you can decide on a venue. There are many alternative venues to hotel suites for your party, look at museums, sports grounds, galleries and the like. Be creative but also practical. Assess if the space is large enough, has a good layout, will lend itself to the party atmosphere and if the access is good for equipment. I recommend that you visit at least 3 venues before you book. As well as the venue being suitable, you need to feel that you can work with the venues team – after all – in organizing your party you will need to work very closely with them.
If you are looking at a marquee event, costs can easily escalate. Practicalities mean considering the catering options – some venues have a list of caterers that you must use. Do you need to hire a mobile kitchen? Is flooring and carpeting included in the marquee costs? Will the marquee be heated? Where can you site a portable toilet block! Marquees can make fantastic venues for parties, particularly in the summer, but there are far more logistics to consider than more traditional venues.
You might want to hire a DJ for a larger event who can keep the excitement going all throughout the night, but for a slightly bigger budget you can’t beat a live band. Good entertainment will be remembered long after the party is over. Recommendations from a friend is a great way to select entertainment, or you can choose an event company like mine to make a suggestion for you. The style of music should reflect the mood of the night and audience age rages and tastes, but generally speaking, build the tempo. Start more relaxed and then build the entertainment towards the end of the night, when a live band or DJ can ensure your guests dance the night away. Make sure that you brief the DJ or band properly. The more they know about the audience, the better they can tailor their act to suit.
You will need to brief your caterer, florist or room dresser fully. Agree all costs in writing and ask to see, or taste, a sample of what they are creating in advance. I often organize a menu tasting for my clients to sample a party menu and show them an example of their table setting before the big night. When it comes to drinks, keep things simple. A great cocktail on arrival is always a winner but remember those drivers and offer a non-alcoholic version. Insist on trying the wine before hand – you are looking for something that everyone will like. Budget will determine if you offer all your party drinks free or whether you opt to provide a welcome drinks and then cash bar
The style of the party will largely dictate your food options. Whether you are using caterers or the venue’s team, choosing the right food is essential. Canapés are great provided that you can eat them easily and many venues have become far more creative about their presentation. You may prefer to offer a buffet instead. In which case go for a few smaller buffet or food stations rather than one table – it will alleviate queuing. You could tie this into your party theme – hot dog stand, a fish & chip stall and popcorn machine are great for a carnival night. A favourite of mine is a sushi bar, where people can simply lift a bowl of sushi from the moving belt and enjoy. For a larger event I would recommend a sit down meal – it is easier to serve your guests that way. Always consider vegetarians and special dietary requirements.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER ON THE DAY, HOW TO EFFECTIVELY PLAN YOUR TIME SO THAT YOU CAN ENJOY THE PARTY TOO: Get as much organisation done in advance as you can. Many of my best events have been a success because of the planning and groundwork that we put in before we ever dress the venue. Check and double check arrangements 48 hours before the party and then make sure that you have plenty of time at the venue on the day to set things up – if your room dressing requires a lot of lighting or sound equipment, then I recommend that you ask to access the venue the night before or early on the day of the party. You may have to pay for early access or you could negotiate this as part of your venue hire. You also need to ensure that you have plenty of help to dress the room and, of course, allow yourself time to change before the party.
Lists are a must! Plan what needs doing & how long it will take, then prioritise your list in time order to keep you on track. Getting in the caterers or putting a party organiser in control might seen like an expensive luxury, but their services often mean you benefit from better discounts with their suppliers and much more time for you to spend with your guests.
Build time in the schedule for a sound check for your entertainers, to run through the order of activities with the caterers and service team and most importantly, time for you to stand back and look at the room before your guests arrive. It is probably the last time that it will look this good!
EXPERT TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE YOUR PARTY MEMORABLE: How do you create that unique WOW factor is the million pound question. I try to ensure that my events have at least one or two truly memorable features. The more budget you have to work with, the more creativity you can apply to the mission. Remember the welcome – that first impression. You could create a memorable event from the point when guests arrive. The traditional red carpet could be replaced by a more modern colour to tie in with your event scheme, entertainment in the reception area and stylishly dressed models to greet guests on arrival work well. Fabulous live entertainment is always a good idea – most people remember a great singer or band long after the glitter ball has stopped turning. Create a focal point to the party – perhaps a circular ice bar in the centre of the room, entertainers dancing in cages suspended from the ceiling, a sushi bar or simply fantastically dressed tables.
The element of surprise is also a great way to create impact. I often keep guests outside the main party room until the last minute, have used singing waiters and surprise entertainers and have even created events which are “revealed” by the dramatic smashing of a fake glass wall. There is a world of choice.
Make the finale something special too. At the end of the night your guests need to leave on a real high note. Why not have gorgeous gift bags for everyone to take home and, a favourite of my clients, a light and firework display outside. Be creative within your budget.