“Oh, what a wonderful party,” you hear the guests say as they head out the door. “Everything went beautifully. The food, the music, the room. It was all so perfect.”
If only they knew.
“I’d say something goes wrong about 75 percent of the time,” confessed Lynne Brownstein of Arrangements Unlimited in King of Prussia, who’s been putting together weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and other kinds of events for 41 years. “That’s because there’s a million minor details, and it’s impossible to keep all the balls in the air.
“It’s sort of like motherhood. You just have to come up with solutions and make everybody feel good because there’s no second chance and no manual.
“If you don’t fix it now, you’re done.”
That means there’s a lot more to being a party planner than ordering the food, entertainment, flowers and decorations, then sitting back while the show goes on. You’ve not only got to react when something goes wrong, but often anticipate disaster and come up with plans B, C and D.
“You can always rest assured something’s going to happen,” said Valori Zaslow of ReEvent, who’s been in the business for 20 years. “You have to think fast on your feet and be prepared. Maintain a sense of stability, because how you react us is how everyone will react around you.”
Make no mistake, it’s an acquired skill.
“The first time something happened, I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’” Zaslow said. “But time after time I’ve learned, ‘OK, try to fix it.’ And sometimes you can’t.
“You just try to do the best job you can, because people understand there’s always human error.”
Just try not to let the hosts know about it.
Here are a few tales of events gone wrong.
Turning the Tables
With 200 guests due to attend a Bat Mitzvah party in Doylestown, Zaslow was busy preparing for the event when she got a surprise delivery.
“I’d ordered tables that were supposed to be high-top, and they came in the wrong size,” she recalled. “We had a crew on-site and so they went out, bought lumber and literally built the legs for the tables.
“It was 5 p.m., just before the cocktail hour. I told the facility we needed as many screens as possible, so people couldn’t see what was going on.
“When the truck arrived and I realized what had happened, I checked and re-checked to make sure everything had been ordered properly. They had loaded the wrong things.
“They had just come from New York so there was no way they could go back and get everything, so I told them they had to fix it. They were handymen who knew how to make tables. They built it on-site.”
And other than having to extend the cocktail hour a little longer, no one ever noticed.
The Three-Day Party
The folks at Mae & Company Events in Cinnaminson, N.J., do everything from murder mystery dinner theater productions to character impersonations ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Lady Gaga to Donald Trump. That’s in addition to planning weddings, Bar and Mat Mitzvahs, casino nights and a lot of other things.
A few years ago, they were on their way to a big corporate event at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott when Mother Nature got in the way. But that didn’t stop them.
“This was about 10 years ago,” recalled Sharon Lee Daniels, who partners there with Tony Farma. “Tony picked me up in Cherry Hill where our office was then, and they had to carry me over the snow, which was taller than I am.
“It was a white-out heading over the bridge. You couldn’t see the rails, and Tony just kept going. There was no other traffic.”
Once they finally made it to the Marriott, things got even crazier.
“We had to spend three days in the hotel,” Farma laughed. “The governor put a ban on the highways, so the six guys in the crew were stuck there.
“The guests were already there. The food was there, but some of the impersonators never made it. They were supposed to have a Rocky theme. I had boxed in Philadelphia and had my equipment with me. I put ’em on and went out there as if I was Rocky.”
He and the rest of the team were knockouts.
“For three days we entertained the troops,” said Daniels, who does a mean Marilyn Monroe impersonation. “We were changing costumes, and it was crazy.
“But we gave them a three-day party.”
Not to mention a story for the ages.
The ‘Power’ of Love
On more than one occasion the lights have gone out at events planned by Arrangements Unlimited. But the show must always go on.
“We had a wedding at the Ritz-Carlton one time and the electricity went off,” Brownstein said. “The photographer was locked in the elevator with her crew for over an hour, so we had to improvise.
“We were able to use our phones to pass pictures to her while she was telling us to what to do. It was terrible, but we able to get the power back before the formal pictures.
“Another time, we were having a dinner at Davio’s, just down the block from the Westin, when the power went off. The Westin was wonderful. They allowed us to use their foyer for dinner and their concierge and other people were the waiters. It went off seamlessly, but it was a mess.”
It wasn’t as big of a mess, though, as when 300 elegant place cards for a wedding in Nantucket somehow got thrown out just before the guests arrived.
With little time to react, Brownstein came up with the idea to have each of the bridesmaids and groomsmen call out the names of individuals at each table, then personally walk them over.
“Two weeks later, we had another wedding in Philadelphia and did the standard seating with place cards,” Brownstein said. “One of the guests who had been in Nantucket came over and said she was disappointed we hadn’t done it the same way.
“So we adopted that and have done it maybe a dozen times since.”
Tick … Tick … Tick …
Anyone who’s ever attended a party knows timing is critical. You only have so many hours for the cocktail hour, the music, the meal itself, then all the presentations in whatever order they occur.
For the caterer, it can throw everything out of whack when the clock changes.
“Luckily, in the business we’re in, there are so many checks and balances, it’s seldom that something goes wrong with the food,” said Steve Hellinger, who’s been running Barclay’s Kosher Caterers in the Northeast since 1989. “The thing that always goes wrong is the timing.
“Say the service is supposed to end at noon, but the rabbi goes to 12:30, or a wedding’s supposed to start at 7, but someone’s late or there’s been an accident. That really puts a kink the timeline.”
Every once in a while, though, he’ll encounter a bigger problem.
“Recently we were at [Congregation] Beth El in Yardley for a fundraiser, and the power went out,” Hellinger said. “Luckily, all the stoves were gas, so we were able to heat the food, and the full event went on with candlelight.”
The important thing — whether you’re the party planner, the caterer or just one of the little people in the background — is to never let them see you sweat.
“You spend 24 to 48 months preparing for five hours,” Zaslow said. “So I tell my clients, ‘It’s going to be beautiful, but things are bound to happen.’ We try to make sure everything happens behind the scene, and they never see a thing.”
And then, hopefully, when the guests tell them what a wonderful party it was, they’ll nod and simply say, “Yes, it was.”
Contact: [email protected]: 215-832-0729