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Five Top Secrets for a Memorable Memorial Day Party

I recently had the opportunity to offer my ideas for planning a Memorial Day party to Inspirations and Celebrations.  To create a memorable Memorial bash, I prescribed the following pointers:

1.  Start with style.  Send a colorful captivating invitation with clever wording that raises anticipation, sets the tone and theme of the party, and arouses a must-attend response.  Make it personal, don’t use mailing labels, and send it early.

Credit:  ohhowposh.com/blog

Credit: ohhowposh.com/blog

2.  Articulate your vision, then set the stage with red, white and blue.  The location (typically a garden, backyard or local park). The theme. The flowers. The linens. The food. The china. The music. The many, many must-haves to make a party work. Carefully consider all the details first, so you can be organized, not spontaneous and chaotic. Google “Memorial Day Party Ideas” for lots of wonderful images to help you get the creative juices going.  Target, Walmart, K-Mart all have great inexpensive décor to help with setting the theme.

Credit:  PartySwizzle.com

Credit: PartySwizzle.com

3.  Remember the reason for the holiday.  Memorial Day is a day on which those who died in active military service are remembered, traditionally observed in May. We all know someone who has served in the military past or present. Memorial Day entertaining is all about connecting with family and friends. To make a lasting impression, consider their needs.  Pick a time when everyone’s relaxed and off work …Saturday day, Sunday day or Monday day.   Make your food and beverage selections something your guests will recognize and love!

4.  Have elements of surprise and make it interactive. For an at-home party, play a game to get your group in the spirit.  If you’re at a local park, play soft-ball, volley-ball or good old relay-races!

5.  Read the crowd.  Be in tune with the environment and observe how your guests are reacting.  If you’re not playing in the games, they won’t be either. If they’re not dancing, change the music.  If their glasses are empty, pour the beverage.  And always end on a high note (don’t let the party drag on and on)…great parties are remembered for a lifetime.

My Most Memorable Moment with Robin Williams

The shock and sorrow from Robin Williams’ death will remain with all of us for some time.  But in her unimaginable grief, his wife was courageous enough to ask us to remember him for “the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”  So it is with that request that I want to recount the story of how I met Robin Williams.

About a dozen Decembers ago, I was onsite at the Flood Mansion in San Francisco to manage a holiday party for a private business association.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this property, it is an event venue by night and a girl’s school – Convent of the Sacred Heart – by day.

As part of the cocktail reception that preceded dinner, the girls in the school’s choir sang an assortment of holiday tunes to entertain the guests.  The parents of these girls were told by school officials to wait outside the building until the performance was over, and then their daughters would be escorted outside to meet the parents.  All of the parents dutifully obeyed this directive… except for one dad.

Just after the girls’ performance ended, this guy wearing a backwards baseball cap and ski jacket suddenly burst into the room full of formally-attired guests.  At the time, I was circulating through the room, graciously inviting guests to be seated for dinner in the adjacent Grand Hall.  I did not recognize him because, in addition to his out-of-place outfit, he was also wearing glasses.

“Sir, you were told to wait outside until we could escort the girls out of the building,” I said to him sternly.  “Right now, I have to get the guests seated for dinner, so if you could go back outside and wait a few more minutes, you’ll be able to take your daughter home soon.”

Did he listen to me?  Of course not.

Instead, he ran up into the Grand Hall, where Dick Bright’s band was getting ready to play, and grabbed a microphone.  Then he launched into an impromptu impersonation of an airline pilot making announcements to his passengers.  As everyone began to realize who this crazy dad was, we became enraptured travelers on a most hilarious flight.  The guests were immediately drawn into the Great Hall by his performance and they obediently sat down when he told them it was time to fasten their seat belts.

At the end of his amazing monologue, the Snow Queen character that we had hired for the event rushed over to wave her magic wand and sprinkle fairy dust on him.  Meanwhile, I scrambled to grab my cheapo camera (no iPhones back in those days) and managed to snap this blurry image for posterity.

Snow Queen & Robin Williams

After he had left with his daughter, my client came over to me and said, “I know we had money in the budget for the Snow Queen, but I didn’t think we had enough to afford a performance from Robin Williams!”  I just smiled and replied, “No, we didn’t have any money in the budget for that performance.  But none of the guests need to know that.”

While his hysterical antics on TV and in the movies have brightened my day more times than I can possibly count, this was the first and only time I ever saw Robin Williams live and in person.  And it is this memory of him that I will always cherish the most.

Bringing Your Wedding Vision Into Better Focus Than 20/20

ABC television, in a recent broadcast of its 20/20 program, aired a rambling episode that they called “Wedding Confidential.”  This episode consisted of several segments, one of which was an attempt to portray wedding industry professionals as scam artists who gouge engaged couples at every opportunity.  In case you missed it, you can watch the entire show by clicking here.

Many outraged members of the wedding industry have offered insightful rebuttals to the 20/20 segment. If you want to read some of the commentary about the 20/20 program, please visit the blogs of my colleagues Alan Berg and Andy Ebon.  Since I have previously commented on these kinds of accusations in another blog post, I will not repeat my prior observations here.  But after finally watching the program online and mulling over the massive outcry it generated, I wanted to offer a slightly different, and hopefully helpful, perspective.

Yes, there are a few bad apples in every industry, and the wedding industry is no exception.  But what is truly important for the engaged couple is to know how to avoid the bad apples.  Brides and grooms certainly won’t learn that by watching 20/20, a program that was designed to entertain, not educate.  So in the paragraphs that follow, I want to take this opportunity to offer my advice to couples on how to make sure you are getting fair value for the wedding services you need.

The single most important thing you can do to ensure that you’re paying a fair price is to obtain proposals from more than one service provider in each vendor type that you need for your wedding (i.e. florists, photographers, caterers, etc.).  And it’s fine to inform each vendor you contact that you will also be getting other quotes – most vendors would expect you to do that anyway.

Make sure that you ask for similar levels of services from the vendors you contact, so that you can make an accurate comparison of the quotes you receive. Getting 2 or 3 proposals from qualified service providers is typically enough for you to make an informed decision.  (Getting 20 to 30 proposals is unnecessarily draining on everyone’s time – especially yours.)  Your decision on which vendor proposal you prefer may be based on the price quoted, but that shouldn’t be the only thing you consider – you may, for instance, decide to select a more expensive photographer because you liked their style the best.

Assuming I’ve convinced you of the value of getting multiple proposals, an important question may still be nagging at you – “How can I be sure that all the vendors I am contacting are qualified, capable and trustworthy?”

My advice is to look for service providers that have credentials, experience and established reputations.  Many qualified vendors belong to non-profit associations that seek to advance the level of professionalism in the industry.  These associations include the Wedding Industry Professionals Association, the International Special Events Society and the National Association of Catering Executives.

If you’re looking at wedding websites to find qualified service providers, check out listings of vendors that have been carefully screened, such as those appearing on Here Comes the Guide or Style Me Pretty’s Little Black Book.  With these listings, the service providers have all received rave reviews from couples as well as other respected professionals in the wedding industry.  Other website listings may only require the service provider to pay a fee to be listed, so there is no mechanism in place to confirm the qualifications of the advertiser.

So I hope the above advice will help you find reliable service providers that you can count on to make your wedding day a wonderful experience.  But before concluding this blog post, I wanted to address one more issue that was brought up in the 20/20 program segment – whether service providers typically charge more for weddings than they do for other types of events.  The answer is that sometimes they do, and let me explain why that can be the case.

I can assure you that the amount of time you will put into planning your wedding will far exceed the amount of time you would put into planning another event, such as a birthday party.  After all, birthdays happen every year, but a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and you will want to fondly remember your wedding day for the rest of your life.  Your wedding vendors want that for you, too.

But this means that your service providers may also need to spend more time working with you to prepare for your big day, to ensure that your wedding celebration is a much more special occasion than a more “ordinary” event like a birthday party.  So it’s not the selections of flowers for your centerpieces, or entrees for dinner, or music for dancing that are themselves more expensive – instead, a somewhat higher price can occasionally result from the extra time that your service providers take to make sure those centerpieces, entrees and tunes are exactly what you want for your wedding.

Overall, the vast majority of wedding service providers work very hard and earn a very modest living.  What motivates them the most is not making money, but making all your wedding dreams come true.

A great example of the kind and generous spirit of most wedding service providers was clearly (and ironically) illustrated in another segment of the same 20/20 program.  This other segment told the story of a bride who supposedly had terminal cancer (she actually did not have cancer, but that is beside the point I’m trying to make here).  What did local wedding service providers do when they heard about this bride’s terminal cancer?  Did they try to overcharge her because she wanted to get married quickly?  No, they offered their services for free or a deep discount because they wanted to help her!  (Unfortunately, since the bride was faking having cancer, it was the wedding service providers who actually got scammed.)

So let me finally wrap things up with what I think is the moral of this story:  If you do your homework to find qualified service providers, and put your trust in these knowledgeable professionals, they will skillfully implement your beautiful wedding vision with much more sharpness and clarity than the producers of 20/20 could ever envision.

A Destination for Your Celebration?

Joyce and I share a love for travel and adventure. Between the two of us, we have traveled to the some of the dreamiest spots in the world. So we have decided to create a series of occasional posts about destination weddings, highlighting some of our favorite places to tie the knot.

But first, I want to address a fundamental question that newly engaged couples often ask themselves:  Why should we consider having a destination wedding? 

Here are 7 reasons to take your celebration on the road, along with my “Trip Tips” for making it an awesome experience for everyone.

1.  Be unique.  Only about 20% of American couples have destination nuptials, so if you get out of town to get hitched, you won’t have to choose from the same old spots that the other 80% of your married friends have already booked.

Trip Tip: Pick a locale that represents you as a couple. Think of memorable vacations that you have enjoyed, or places that you have always wanted to visit.

Photo: Chris Gin

2.  What a Great Excuse!  Believe me, your guests will appreciate a destination wedding.  With everyone’s busy schedules, a destination wedding gives guests an excuse to travel and plan a vacation.

Trip Tip: Make sure to send your Save the Date cards well in advance, to allow guests plenty of time to arrange their work schedules and travel plans. Wedding couples should determine their venue and date as soon as possible, and then let guests know!

3.  Quality time with your loved ones.  The standard wedding lasts 6 hours, and the bride and groom spend most of the time running around trying to say hello all their guests! A destination wedding usually spans a minimum of three days, which means the bride and groom have plenty of time to spend with their guests, and in a more relaxed setting.

Trip Tip: Plan easy and fun pre and post wedding activities.  Some favorites include relay races, cooking classes, sunset cruises, bike tours and spa days!

4.  Simplify your Guest list.  Having a wedding at home can often lead to the feeling of obligation to invite everyone you know (or sometimes don’t know) like parent’s friends or distant relatives. Since those who aren’t close to you are unlikely to make the trip to a destination wedding, this keeps the guest list nice and simple.

Trip Tip: You can consider having a cocktail party with extended family members and friends once you return from your destination wedding.

5.  Happy Wallet.  It follows that with a simplified guest list, a destination wedding can turn out to be more economical as well. If you keep it to just close family and friends, this will help keep the budget down.

Trip Tip: Many hotels will offer wedding packages or special group rates. All inclusive hotels are also a nice option for some couples.

6.  Neutral ground for blending & bonding. The opportunity to get married some place different sets up an equal playing ground between families. This way, there will be no hard feelings about setting the wedding in one family’s hometown or another. If the destination is something new for both families, it will become a place special to them, as well as to you. With you and all of your guests spending time in such close proximity and away from home, it creates a much more intimate setting, and a great way for families and friends to mix and mingle.

Trip Tip: Be the gracious host, remember to introduce everyone to each other by first and last name and their relation to you or your fiancé. Encourage conversation topics that highlight common hobbies, careers, hometowns, etc.

7.  The Honeymoon can be part of the package.  Consider combining your honeymoon with your wedding celebration. This is not only cost effective, but you’re already in a location that you love, so why not stay and enjoy longer!

Trip Tip: After the wedding, transfer to a different hotel, or even better, a different part of the city, for a change of scenery. And don’t forget to splurge on the Honeymoon Suite!

Honeymoon Suite at Meeru Island Resort, Maldives

In our next post, we will focus on one of our favorite locations for a destination celebration.  In the meantime, pull out a map of the world and start thinking about where you might want to wed.

The Compass Points to Love

In celebration of Cortney & Scott’s wedding anniversary, we take this opportunity to reminisce about their Napa Valley nuptials with some festive photos from Sharpe Photographers.

If Cortney & Scott’s story were summarized into a newspaper headline, it would read:  Navy Doctor from Michigan Meets West Coast Intern in Our Nation’s Capital.  The Smithsonian sang, cherry blossoms bloomed, and the Republicans & Democrats cheered in unison as this darling duo found love exploring the attractions of Washington D.C.

To capture the essence of this delightful couple, Events of Distinction came up with a compass logo for their wedding design, as shown here on their invitation:

The compass was divided into four quadrants. North represented Michigan, the groom’s home state, using the automobile and Mackinac Bridge as symbols.  East represented D.C. where the couple met. South represented the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the groom proposed. West represented the bride’s birthplace and their wine country wedding location, The Vintage Estate in Yountville.

Cortney & Scott’s compass-themed wedding celebrated much more than finding each other. It also symbolized the new direction they were embarking upon in their married life together.  Here are some of our favorite images of their special day:

Many thanks to the fabulous team of wedding service providers who came together to make Cortney & Scott’s celebration a day to remember, including Blueprint Studios, Branch Out, Classic Party Rentals, Got Light, La Tavola and Perfect Endings.

Summer Entertaining– Dine Like You are in Napa in Your Own Backyard

Just last month I co-chaired a Wedding Industry Professionals Association (WIPA) meeting held at Church Estate Vineyards in Malibu.  The day was gorgeous and once guests entered the estate they were swept away to Southern California’s finest coastal wine country.

photo courtesy of Imagery Immaculate Photography

In addition to the fantastic setting, the food (catered by Good Gracious! Events) and its presentation were the epitome of summer vineyard entertaining.   Peach and thyme infused water along with platters of fresh figs and salads adorned the table.  The frequently refreshed platters gave a sense of abundance.

While we don’t all live on a vineyard estate we can take inspiration from the menus we find in wine countries all over the world.  The beauty of the quintessential wine country dishes is their focus on fresh and local ingredients. A white porcelain dish filled with organic farmer’s market strawberries makes a stunning statement.   The bright reds of tomatoes, oranges of peppers and squash, and greens of arugula and basil are beautiful as well as mouth watering.

Today’s Los Angeles Times featured an article on easy -to- prepare whole grain salads that are beautiful for a summer vineyard-inspired buffet.  The salad below is made with bulgur, arugula, zucchini, and pine nuts.

This Quinoa, grilled corn, tomato, and cilantro salad is refreshing and sophisticated and will certainly impress your guests at your next get together.

Please, pour yourself a glass of California Chardonnay and enjoy a fantastic, mouth watering meal in the sun to celebrate these precious summer months!

3 (More) Wedding Planning Tips for 2011

1. Embrace Color

Photo Credit: iboy_daniel

Everyone loves a splash of color and no better way to use color at wedding than by clearly dividing your space.  Approach designing a wedding as if you were designing rooms in a home.  From the ceremony to cocktails to dinner to the after-party, each space has its own personal identity, so no two rooms need to have the same colors, same linens and same flowers.

Instead, put together extraordinary and unexpected color combinations… be daring!  Here are some palettes to ponder:

  • Turquoise with Amparo Blue (a bright, energetic blue) and a shot of Orange
  • Coral paired with a Aurora Yellow and Dover Silver
  • Honeysuckle (Pantone’s Color of the Year) with fuchsia and purples
  • A pale, cool palette of Violet, Lavender and Deeper Hues of Purple, paired with vibrant Gold accessories
  • Turquoise with Copper and a splash of  Seafoam Mint and Spray Whites

Photo courtesy of Branch Out Floral Design and Napa Valley Linens

Reinvent the color wheel and glam it up!

2. Sensational Ceremonies

Not all couples marry in a house of worship, so there are ways to make the ceremony aisle unique and personal other than the traditional church pews for seating.  You can create seating in the “round” or “square” with the wedding couple and officiant in the center.

Photo:  Kevin Chin

There are so many options in various colors and sizes of chairs, cushions, chair caps and liners to chose from.  Create an aisle border with all lemons as we did for our Citrus theme wedding or use another fruit or vegetable.  For a beach theme wedding, use benches with cushions.  If you have a lush lawn, my most favorite is the spiral circle of ottomans…

Photo: Kevin Chin

Oh so zen!

3. Sweet Dreams

Cutting the wedding cake will always remain a nuptial tradition, but other imaginative ways abound for giving guests their just desserts.   Melons Catering creates a fabulous “All Things Chocolate Station” which includes every imaginable form of chocolate – ice cream, truffles, mousse parfait, hot chocolate shots, macaroons, paired with dark chocolate martinis – even the tabletop surface is made of chocolate!

Photo:  Grace Image

At a wedding we designed that was catered by Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, I felt like there was so much food throughout the wedding.  Instead of serving all hors d’oeuvres at cocktails and all the dessert at a dessert buffet, I suggested we butler-pass “Good Night Treats”, memorable parting edible eats to guests as they exited the wedding and waited for their valet cars.  Everyone loved the idea, so we severed miniature burgers on slider rolls with balsamic onions, ketchup and mustard (originally on the cocktail menu), and waffle ice cream cones filled with raspberry sorbet, rich chocolate gelato and vanilla bean ice cream.  Bottled waters to go were placed in each car by the valet parking attendants.

Overall, you can be sure that imaginative new ideas will continue to make wedding celebrations fascinating and joyful in 2011.