They’re the people who plan and produce the events that exist only in our dreams. They help create weddings with all the stops pulled out, bringing in the gospel choir, arranging an entrance by yacht, an exit via gondola — with an artist capturing the whole event live on canvas. They coordinate banquets for over 1,500 guests at a time, and design state luncheons and dinners for the President as well as anniversary celebrations for stars like Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys. They assemble the technologically-savvy team behind high-profile museum openings with acrobats soaring in the air and custom sound, laser, and lighting design.
But this isn’t just a list of the magicians who can plan and execute spectacular events — it is also a useful guide full of practical information that can aid and inspire anyone, from recent college grads hosting their first dinner party in a small apartment to experienced hosts with the budget to throw an unforgettable reception.
Hosting a party this weekend? Take J.F. Legault’s advice and be sure to invest the greatest percentage of your budget into whatever three elements of your party matter to you most — for instance, food, music, and flowers. Beloved Atlanta caterer Mary Hataway urges clients to add their own style to the meal, even if they’re not the ones doing the cooking. A simple sprig of herbs or a garnish of flowers from the garden or local market added to each dinner plate or platter allows the host to personalize a gathering. Whether he’s expecting sun or rain, Charleston event planner (and local native) Mitchell Crosby (below, right) is always prepared: If it’s chilly, every guest gets a pashmina wrap to keep them warm and comfortable; if rain is expected, he makes sure there's a designated place for raincoats, umbrellas, and boots. Even if you’re hosting a small, casual get-together, heed Brian Kappra’s advice and never underestimate the power of a well-stocked bar to ensure your guests have a wonderful time.
Consider this list a go-to resource for any get-together. Stay-at-home parents can be inspired by the kinds of parties that people like Juliet Douglas produce when creating a simple shower celebration, while others can find inspiration in the arrangements created by Lisa Boone and Priska Kaspar Jayme (below, left) when setting the family table. No matter the size of the event, be sure the gathering is a reflection of the host, says event planner Sebrell Smith, because “it’s the personal elements you incorporate into your party that the guests will remember most.”
In creating this list, we began by consulting with the real experts — the people who’ve hired these event planners and caterers over the years and are only to happy to recommend them. In areas where we lacked data, we consulted go-to event planning sites such as TheKnot.com and BizBash.com, as well as regional publications, to see who was favored — and who won the most “Best of” awards. To whittle down our list to a trim 50, we considered the different kinds of events one might host, from an authentic barbecue to a rustic outdoor wedding, a charity gala to a high-tech corporate launch. And we looked for the hidden gems, leaving well-known planning stars like Preston Bailey and David Tutera off our list in favor of other equally talented experts like Mary Cleaver and Todd Fiscus, whose names you might not see on the spine of a book or on the TV schedule.
Whether male or female, young or old, each and every one of our readers can benefit from these professionals’ advice, accumulated through their many years of experience (and, collectively, many thousands of parties). They’ve made the mistakes, learned the lessons, and have become the reigning experts in the field, sharing their knowledge with us and thus leaving us free to push the limits of our own imaginations and excel in hosting parties of our own. Is there someone else we should know about? Send us an email, or comment below.