50 People You Should Know When Throwing a Party Slideshow
August 11, 2011
Expert advice and party inspiration from the best and brightest event planners and caterers around the nation
J.F. Legault, The Event Company, Charlottesville, Va.
From tented meals in the middle of a field to large events for the University of Virginia or corporate clients, Legault creates unforgettable dining experiences, with delicious food and drink (even when passing hand-crafted kombucha next to wine, left) presented in a unique, inventive way and seamless service.
Event She's Proudest Of: A series of fundraising events for 500 people that we planned and catered for the Boys & Girls Club featuring international-themed menus and challenging timelines.
Favorite Party Tip: Invest the highest percentage of your budget in the three things that are most important to you. For example, if flowers aren't your thing but food is what matters, invest in upgrading your menu and cut back on floral arrangements.
Jennifer Grove, Sky Blue Events, Baltimore
Style is Grove's specialty. She'll add small touches like handcrafted paper decorations for a small, intimate dinner party, or truck in full-grown trees for events where full-scale transformations of once-industrial spaces are required, always adding a look of sophistication that delights clients.
Event She's Proudest Of: The Saturday night after-party for the United Conference of Mayors hosted by the city of Baltimore. We transformed a former grain silo (left) into a tropical paradise, complete with coco palms, hanging lanterns, a live band, Cirque du Soleil acrobats, and decadent late-night nibbles.
Favorite Party Tip: Invest in letterpress invitations. They signal a very special celebration and are sure to generate guests' genuine enthusiasm for the festivities.
Jody Wimer, JPC Event Group, New Castle, Pa.
Wimer and her husband Richard, the company's executive chef, founded JPC in 1998 as "Jody's Pantry." They have since built their business — dedicated to serving delicious food made with locally sourced, organic foodstuffs — into a full-service event company providing everything from rentals and décor (left) to planning assistance.
Event She's Proudest Of: Assisting in the planning and production of the 2011 Pennsylvania Governor's Ball to celebrate the inauguration of Tom Corbett. It was an experience of a lifetime in regard to the event's size and formal nature, not to mention the creative décor, fabulous entertainment, and delicious culinary creations served.
Favorite Party Tip: Hire a trained planner! It might sound self-serving, but ensures that the event is well-executed and stress-free for the host. Sometimes, hiring a planner can even save you money!
Brian Kappra, Evantine Design, Philadelphia
With a background in event planning landscape design, Kappra and his team take everyday elements like mirrors and and vegetables and use them to create sculptural displays and eye-catching decorative elements that make their events truly unique — rivalling even the most grand New York affairs.
Event He's Proudest Of: The opening of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (left). The building was far from completed at the time. Until the moment the doors opened, structural installations like glass ceilings and elevators were still going in, but whatever wasn't finished was darkened or hidden from view.
Favorite Party Tip: Plan ahead and set up a schedule for yourself to plan the menu, shop, and set up in advance. And never underestimate the power of a well-stocked bar.
Jamie Sears, Simply Chic Events, Washington D.C.
Sears grew up in the D.C. area, surrounded by inaugural balls and state dinners, but it wasn’t until she planned her friend’s wedding, and her own, that she realized where her true passion lies: in planning weddings.
Her events aren’t overly flashy, but simply elegant in a unique way, from seating arrangements written on hanging mirrors, as opposed to more traditional escort cards, to complex compositions of flowers and votives that add an eye-catching, dramatic look to the event. Clients remark on how smoothly her events run, that they are “truly magical” and “exceed every expectation we had.” Another adds that she “made an effort to get to know us as a couple and as individuals but it never felt forced or as though it was a part of your job.”
It’s no wonder that Sears has been recognized as one of the top planners in D.C. since 2009. Sure, hiring a planner gives the client a peace of mind that is often invaluable come the big day, but in an interview with the Washingtonian, Sears adds that it is more than just the ideas, details, and deadlines, “it’s about being a friend.”
Joel Solloway, Eventworks, Cleveland
From floral décor to cutting-edge lighting design, Solloway and the Eventworks team take event planning to new heights. They've produced events with acrobats flying across the ceiling and star-studded events like LeBron James' 25th birthday, each time transforming unexpected ideas high-tech visions into cohesive events the likes of which we've never seen.
Event He's Proudest Of: We've been fortunate to have done everything from corporate events for Fortune 500 companies to consulting for the 2008 Presidential Debates, but the grand opening of the Akron Art Museum (left) was a favorite, with gravity-defying acrobats, elaborate décor, and extensive sound, laser, and lighting design.
Favorite Party Tip: From the onset, deliver what you promise, meeting expectations both creatively and fiscally.
Carlyn Berghoff, Berghoff Catering & Restaurant Group, Chicago
Berghoff first opened her catering business, Artistic Events, in 1986 and has grown to become a leader in the city, recently forming the Berghoff Catering & Restaurant Group together with the famed 107-year-old The Berghoff restaurant that she acquired from her parents in 2006. Berghoff's 200-mile initiative exemplifies the company's commitment to using the freshest ingredients and supporting the local economy.
Event She's Proudest Of: We do an annual holiday party where we’re able to go all out and the clients are a blast to work with. They love to try new things (like using eye-catching colors, at left) and challenge us each year. We spend months creating the menu and talking through how to best set up the event so the space appeals to the dancing crowd, the drinking crowd, and the crowd that just wants to talk. It’s always a huge success.
Favorite Party Tip: Food is your friend! Great food can start a conversation, carry a conversation, and keep a conversation going long after the event ends. Focus on innovative, seasonal, locally sourced dishes, and guests will take note.
Jim Horan, Blue Plate, Chicago
One of the premier caterers in Chicago, Blue Plate was started in 1983 when founder Horan had a vision to turn his passion for food (and his small film-industry catering business) into something much grander, a top catering company with over 500 employees and a deep commitment to sustainable practices, delivering delicious food with impeccable service.
Event He's Proudest Of: An event we catered for the Women's Board of the Art Institute (the most prestigious in town) around the opening of the Matisse exhibit. Catering off-site is hard in general, so to cater an event in a place where we typically can't cater brings much more pressure and attention to detail to do the job just right — it was amazing. (Passed hors d'oeuvres, left)
Favorite Party Tip: Always make sure all vendors have ample time to set up and breakdown. Almost every event needs some tweaking during set up, so the more time vendors have to set up makes the event run better.
Robert Mertzlufft, Heffernan Morgan Designs, Chicago
For those planning gala events, the décor is paramount when creating an experience guests will never forget; Mertzlufft is a leader in the community, providing personalized care, innovative design, and a quality product for every one of his clients' budgets.
Event He's Proudest Of: This is a tie between two events, the first a private dinner hosted in the newly opened Griffin Court of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago with innovative design and a flawless execution (left). This was only equaled by the honor of and privilege to design President Obama's first State dinner on the South Lawn.
Favorite Party Tip: Choose your vendors wisely, then trust them with your vision and enjoy watching your dreams come to life.
Christina Clayton, Zinke Design, Tulsa, Okla.
From the linens down to the orange segments on the table, the simple elegance of a dinner table they styled captivates the eye with the perfectly coordinated pink and orange hues, but it is the thoughtful planning and near-obsessive attention to detail involved in one extravagant surprise engagement that show that Clayton and her team are truly talented.
Event She's Proudest Of: From private dinners to weddings and fundraisers we take pride in every event we do, but two events come to mind. One was a wedding we did with décor that matched the couple's Texas roots (left) and all the elements that truly represent a wedding: love, family, friends, and a lovely setting. The other is an annual fundraiser we do — the Painted Pony Ball — that benefits a local children's hospital. With an average of 1,000 guests in attendance, it is a night of fun and fundraising for a great cause. For the event in 2009, we transformed a building at the Tulsa Fairgrounds with a concrete floor, industrial walls, and replicated a gorgeous sunset.
Favorite Party Tip: Be true to yourself and the reason for the event — think outside the box and be creative. And don't forget lighting. Whether it's a gorgeous candlelight glow from the tables, or amber lighting in a room, lighting can completely change the feel of your event. Plus, it adds a warm glow for fun pictures of your guests.
Veronica Alexandra, Blue Ivy Events, Boston
Named one of the top 25 wedding planners in the world by BRIDES magazine, Alexandra adds an element of creativity and inventiveness to each event she plans.
Event She's Proudest Of: We had a client who called us 30 days before their wedding, and had about 40 things left to do — none of which had commenced. The challenge? It was Memorial Day weekend, so finding vendors that were available was like asking for miracles (not to mention time, dedication, and persistence). Of course, we managed to pull it off without a problem during our busiest time of year and even stay within the couples' constrained budget (left).
Favorite Party Tip: Always have a statement piece that represents the celebration in a grander way and adds meaning to your occasion, like a family heirloom or something that inspired the theme.
Bryan Rafanelli, Rafanelli Events, Boston
As a leader of this award-winning Boston event planning firm, Rafanelli works hands-on with clients to grow a seed of an idea into a larger concept (like using a clear-walled tent for a feeling of being outside, left), creating truly distinctive and memorable events with unmatched style and flawless execution.
Event He's Proudest Of: Designing The White House's state lunch and dinner for Germany. For a simple guy trying to make a living designing parties, it's an honor to volunteer for and serve the The President, First Lady, and Secretary of State Clinton.
Favorite Party Tip: "Shoulders and above." Remember, most people see everything from shoulder height and above. Fussing with design that falls below the shoulder is not that impactful.
Robert Harris, Season to Taste, Cambridge, Mass.
Named Best Caterer in Boston in 2010 by Boston Magazine, Season to Taste is a go-to source for local and seasonally driven cuisine that is carefully prepared and served with a unique elegance and inventiveness, down to little touches like treats for each guest (left). James Beard award-winning chef Tony Maws agrees, "I wouldn't just have anyone cater my wedding. Robert Harris is the man!"
Event He's Proudest Of: In the five years we've been planning events, we've had the opportunity to serve a wide range of guests, but it's our non-profit effort, A Reason to Taste, that brings us the most satisfaction. We partner with local farms, venues, and non-profits aligned with our values to host a one-of-a-kind pop-up dinner party to raise money for visual and performing arts programs for underprivileged youth in the Boston area.
Favorite Party Tip: Poor planning means poor performance. Nobody wants to be running out to the liquor store in the middle of a party or searching for extra napkins in the pantry. At the same time, it's important to be flexible and go with the flow on the day of the event.
Michael Gagné, Robinhood Free Meetinghouse, Georgetown, Maine
Gagné has been serving dinner at his Robinhood Free Meetinghouse restaurant, housed in an historic 1855 post-and-beam church, for 43 years. He is dedicated to using only the finest, freshest ingredients at the restaurant — and he applies the same dedication to other aspects of his business, be it producing off-premises weddings (left), authentic Maine lobster bakes, or handcrafting the award-winning cream cheese biscuits that are now available to customers nationwide through Gagné Foods, launched in 2003.
Event He's Proudest Of: An event we did last year with 250 people, six hors d'oeuvres, five courses, all produced in a 20–by–20–foot tent with an extension cord and a cold water hose. All the food was à la minute, and guests remarked that the plates were hot, the food exquisite, and the execution flawless.
Favorite Party Tip: Serve the best and hire the best. Experienced caterers have already seen and fixed a million issues you can't even imagine. Catering is cooking and serving under pressure, without the arsenal of equipment and staff a brick-and-mortar establishment has at its disposal.
Carl Hedin, Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships, New York City
One of the top caterers in the New York Tri-State area, Kirsch has grown her business from a basement cooking school in the 1960s to Zagat's most highly rated caterer in the region. As the director of sales for off-premises events, Hedin, with the rest of his team, delivers unforgettable cuisine with a near obsessive attention to detail and flawless presentation (Luncheon, left).
Event He's Proudest Of: Those that we do for great New York institutions like the New York Public Library, Central Park Conservancy, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, because with funding being slashed, it is more important now than ever that galas are memorable, concise, and well-executed. We deliver memorable meals with flawless timing for a great guest experience.
Favorite Party Tip: Always try your best to know a little fact about everyone that is coming and share it as you introduce them to others. Try not to make it about their work. For example, "Everyone, this is Alex and she just moved to Brooklyn," or "Tom, this is Jamie. She volunteers at the Red Cross." These little facts help to eliminate those awkward initial moments.
Amy Atlas, Amy Atlas Events, New York City
Inspired by sweets and bold statements of color, Atlas creates magnificent dessert displays (left) that elevate everyday brownies, cupcakes, and cookies to pieces of art, and shows how presentation of any food really does matter.
Event She's Proudest Of: Every single one because they're each customized and personal! I was recently reminded of an intimate joint birthday party (for a 50-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man) that I did a few summers ago and am so proud of. The design had to work for both of them, so there were two cakes, a watch for the man and a hydrangea for the woman) and there were personal touches on the table for each of them. I loved being part of it.
Favorite Party Tip: PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! There are always last-minute items that come up, so it is best to be as prepared as possible. Make a list a few weeks before the event. Inevitably, the list will grow, but that's OK. You'll eventually check off each and every item before the party.
Mary Cleaver, Cleaver Company, New York City
With a dedication to using quality organic and locally sourced ingredients, Cleaver distinguishes herself from other high-end caterers in New York City, emerging as the preeminent "green" caterer serving food that is appealing to the eye and delights the senses. (A chicken entrée, left)
Event She's Proudest Of: Those that bring together great thinkers and artists around the table to discuss how we can make the world a better place. In the last year, we've worked with The White House Project, Synergos, The Nation Institute, and the Small Planet Fund, and so many other inspirational individuals and organizations working on amazing things.
Favorite Party Tip: Plan ahead and then enjoy your own party.
DeJuan Stroud, DeJuan Stroud, New York City
With bold colors arranged simply, Stroud has grown a passion for flowers into a full-service event planning studio that can effortlessly transform a plain space into something stunning, using flowers not just on the table, but suspended from the ceiling on ribbons to ambience to the inside of a tent.
Event He's Proudest Of: It was an event taking place in a dance studio with a barn dance/hoedown theme, so we built a red barn facade (left) to divide the space. After cocktails, the barn door was slid back to reveal the rest of the space set for dinner and dancing.
Favorite Party Tip: If you have one large space that you need to use for cocktails and for dinner or dancing, break up the space with a great divider. One easy, at-home way to divide a space would be to use a beaded curtain.
Marcy Blum, Marcy Blum Associates, New York City
While she may be best known for planning the weddings of stars like Kevin Bacon and Billy Joel, Blum is an "eventiste" of the highest caliber, thanks to her keen eye for detail, flair, and deep-rooted understanding of what makes an event memorable. We find her ability to identify a signature style for each client (like the pink flowers, at left) is what sets her apart from the rest.
Event She's Proudest Of: There are so many, but two come to mind. The first was an idea of attaching a mini kids carnival to a wedding for a couple who each had younger kids from previous marriages that worked out just as I envisioned it though it had never been done before. The other? Pulling off an a cappella surprise for Billy Joel at his wedding to Katie Lee. He was so blown away that he stayed and sang with them for some time.
Favorite Party Tip: Walk through your event as if you were a guest rather than a host. Begin with pulling up in a car. Where to park? Where is the coat room? How do I find a drink? It's a helpful perspective.
Bronson Van Wyck, Van Wyck & Van Wyck, New York City
With a dedication to superior service, innovative use of natural materials, and a keen eye for detail, Van Wyck and his team strive to create events that consistently exceed their clients' expectations and leave lasting memories, earning their place as a leader in the event design and production industry.
Event He's Proudest Of: One of my favorites was the 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art Gala. We took guests on a journey into an exotic world, surrounding dinner guests with a vertical Garden of Eden (left) made from more than 8,000 plants. Mirrors were placed in small holes cut in this vertical oasis which reflected the party back onto itself, creating windows into an infinite fantasy world.
Favorite Party Tip: There’s not a nicer gesture you can make toward your guest than seating them well. Perfect placement equals a perfect party. When planning seating, think about your guests’ personalities, interests, and backgrounds. Try to combine shy, quiet types with more outgoing guests, particularly ones who have similar interests. Also, think about the cuisine and relate it to your guests. Not only does it guarantee that they’ll like the food, it’s also respectful and a huge compliment to them! For Hillary Clinton’s Iftar (end of Ramadan) Dinner for ambassadors from Islamic nations at the State Department, we used traditional, mostly Middle Eastern, ingredients.
Bernadette Coveney Smith, 14 Stories, Boston
Seven years ago, when same-sex marriages first became legal, this visionary event planner (and a nerd at heart, with apps for choosing décor colors and CAD software for sizing dance floors) had the idea to start her own wedding planning business for same-sex couples. Since then, she's planned hundreds of ceremonies and runs the only firm of its kind in the U.S.
Event You're Most Proud of: A wedding we did for a couple who got engaged on a sailboat and shared love of everything nautical. Without getting beachy, we used anchors, sailboats, monkey knots, and other authentic nautical elements, adding in personal touches like a watercolor (left) painted by one bride's mother and hand-calligraphied lettering.
Favorite Party Tip: Approach each party as if you were a guest. What do you see, hear, smell, and taste as you walk in? How do you position setup to minimize traffic and create good flow? How do you keep your guests from being bored? Think about the things that annoy you at a party or wedding and then eliminate those issues.
Dan George, Smoke and Pickles, Westport, Mass.
A former pickle-maker, George has parlayed his undying passion for food into a well-regarded (and in-demand) business offering off-site catering perfect for family cookouts and barbecues. Guests love interacting with George's team of talented and experienced chefs and planners, and his mobile smoking trailer is a fun source of conversation (not to mention finger-licking good food). (Family barbecue, left)
Event He's Proudest Of: This June, we loved catering for the first graduating class of Our Sisters School, an independent middle school for low-income girls in the greater New Bedford area. The challenge was to design a menu for a multi-ethnic, multi-generational crowd of 250 on a tiny budget. Imagine our satisfaction in watching their joy at and openness to unfamiliar foods, and watching them gobble it up as fast as we could put it out.
Favorite Party Tip: Cultivate communality by engaging folks in the preparation or partaking of their food, especially when doing so gives them something to see, smell, touch, or do, like tending a fire, skewering some vegetables, toasting a marshmallow… And cooking with primal elements like fire and wood always helps to bring people together.
Jesse Brix and Travis McBurney, True Colors Events, Seattle
They’ve been named the best event planner in Seattle four years running by Seattle Bride’s Magazine, but it’s the events themselves that speak for Brix and McBurney’s talents. They approach events with undying enthusiasm, energy, and a remarkable sense of creativity, creating “fairy tale" events for many of their clients. When planning a gala for a wildlife organization, they literally brought the outdoors inside the glass and sheer curtain-decorated space with a large deep wooded forest backdrop where guests got a chance to have their picture taken wearing their choice of animal headpieces or noses.
No matter the occasion, Brix and McBurney work to take care of each and every detail. One client was delighted they “advocated on our behalf” with vendors, while Brix even declared to one client’s parents, “Quinn and Emily spent nine months creating this wedding retreat for all of you, Quinn and Emily no longer have to lift a finger, all questions be directed to Travis and myself as Quinn and Emily are now guests themselves!”
Mary Hataway, Soiree Catering and Events, Atlanta
Since 2004, Hataway and her team of talented planners and chefs have catered some of the most lavish and memorable events in the Atlanta area, such as a 10th anniversary celebration for Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell with dancers (left) in the pool. Unlike traditional caterers, she is also able to guide her clients through the planning process. As one client said, "What we appreciate more than all of this [food] is your expertise as a wedding planner. We didn't plan on having a caterer who could also advise us on so many other 'wedding' things!"
Event She's Proudest Of: It's an honor to be a part of some of Atlanta's most elite parties and galas, but the Children's Museum gala for the past three years has been one of the most fun and creative design and food challenges. We carry themes like Candy Land or Monopoly across the event, from dish names and the design of the passing trays to centerpieces!
Favorite Party Tip: Give your caterer your favorite flowers from the garden or local market for garnishing platters and displays to ensure each dish has your own personal touch, even if you didn't make it.
Mitchell Crosby, JMC Charleston, Charleston, S.C.
With extensive catering and interior design expertise, Crosby is a natural when it comes to event planning, be it a relaxed Lowcountry-style corporate gathering by the water at Crosby's Dock, a themed dinner under the trees (left), or a lavish gala benefit in one of Charleston's finest historic homes.
Event He's Proudest Of: Certainly they're the once-in-a-lifetime events that have taken place in Charleston, like a dinner for 1,000 guests on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown for the opening of the Ravenel Bridge, complete with $250,000 in fireworks, 10,000 people in boats on the water, red-white-and-blue spandex tablecloths, and a 30-foot restroom I brought down river on a barge and lifted by crane onto the flight deck. It's the unexpected civilized touches that make an event!
Favorite Party Tip: Always be prepared for the weather, be it providing a place for coats and umbrellas if it's raining, ice-cold towels with lemon scent if it's hot, or a pashmina at each place or a fire pit to keep guests warm if it's chilly.
Steve Wenger, Duvall Events, Greenville, S.C.
With over 33 years of experience in producing a range of events including sophisticated weddings, gatherings during the Ryder Cup, intimate dinners in converted barns, even launch events taking place in a transformed airplane hangar, Wenger and his team have earned their place as one of the best in the South. Serving delicious food is their specialty, but they are also deeply committed to supporting farmers and other producers in the community.
Event He's Proudest Of: In 2007, we produced a post-Democratic Debate party (left) co-hosted by Google, YouTube, and CNN, transforming a working bus terminal into four very distinct “rooms” with 2,000-square-foot wood, shag carpet, rice carpet, or Bermuda sod floors — all in three hours' time.
Favorite Party Tip: Plan so that guests can enjoy food and beverages without waiting in line. This means having enough bars, bartenders, well-planned food stations, and service staff. The best party is the one where every guest gets individualized service.
Polly Onet, Ober, Onet & Associates, Palm Beach, Fla.
With over 25 years of experience in the event planning industry, Onet and her team specialize in planning large-scale, highly visible, distinctive events (like the dinner, at left) for a loyal following of noteworthy individuals, regularly transforming tents and homes into complete experiences, whether it's a Gatsby-era garden party, a wedding inspired by Versailles, or a luxurious clambake for nearly 100 on a Hamptons beach.
Event She's Proudest Of: I have executed hundreds of parties over the years, so to pick one event would be impossible. I am most proud of our combination of creativity, taste, organizational skills, and making the process fun for our clients... and, of course, our longevity and great reputation!
Favorite Party Tip: Be extremely organized and detailed ahead of time, and add your own personal touches. And don't forget to be relaxed, gracious, and a good host.
Keith Allen, Allen & Son Pit B-B-Q, Pittsboro, N.C.
When it comes to catering your next backyard bash, look no further than this Pittsboro-based barbecue joint (with an additional location in Chapel Hill) that serves up some of the best barbecue in the state, perfect for an outdoor family get-together. It's one of the last few places that split their own wood, and Allen (left) does it himself.
Event He's Proudest Of: We’ve been doing this for up to 40 years. I’d say the Purple Heart Dinner I did was certainly one of the proudest moments. These guys come home shot up and someone needs to recognize them. It was absolutely one of the best parties we’ve ever done. Maybe not the happiest, but the best.
Favorite Party Tip: Timing matters. Make sure drinks are cold when guests get there, and that there is no standing and waiting.
Sebrell Smith, Sebrell Smith Designer Events, Savannah, Ga.
Whether she's planning a dinner party or a lavish gala, Smith gets to know each client first, customizing the event to their personality and specific needs. Planning aside, she and her team are also known for their eye-catching floral displays, like the one at left, with clients regularly commenting they are "the most beautiful I've ever seen."
Event She's Proudest Of: That's hard, because every one is so different, but what makes me most proud is when I receive a call from a former mother of the bride asking me to plan her second or third daughter's wedding — that's when I know I've done something right.
Favorite Party Tip: Your event should be a reflection of who you are and include personal elements — that's what guests remember most. For example, I just planned a wedding for a couple of high school sweethearts. She was an avid dancer and he put himself through medical school on a baseball scholarship, so they exited the wedding in an antique Rolls-Royce dragging a pair of ballerina slippers and baseball cleats.
Monica Varner, Elan Event Studio, Tampa, Fla.
A natural-born planner with a keen eye for detail, Varner is a go-to favorite when planning an event of any size. She approaches each project with energy and dedication; clients are regularly delighted by how "invaluable" her advice and expertise is, and how she regularly goes "above and beyond her duties."
Event She's Proudest Of: My work with the Gasparilla International Film Festival, a non-profit focused on the arts that has grown from a small, unknown festival to an annual event (left) that is eagerly anticipated and embraced by the community.
Favorite Party Tip: Be yourself and let your personality shine through — you'll have the most fun when the party is "so you."
Jesi Haack, Jesi Haack Design, Costa Mesa, Calif.
With a unique, down-to-earth style, a passion for design, and an appreciation for the unexpected, Haack and her team of talented designers and planners work with clients to create their own signature style by using rustic elements for an event outdoors under the trees, adding bursts of colors with balloons (left) or by using old-fashioned games for inspiration.
Event She's Proudest Of: I'm proud of all of my events for different reasons! The best part of my job is telling different couples' stories in unique and illustrative ways. Each one is a different challenge and therefore, at the end, I am beaming with pride and love for my clients.
Favorite Party Tip: Put your personality into the design and décor. Don't strive to just make it look pretty; tell your story.
Todd Fiscus, Todd Events, Dallas
If money were no issue, Fiscus is the man we'd hire to plan an unforgettable, momentous celebration. With smart, lively, and imaginative ideas, Fiscus brings each client's personality to life and ensures that no detail — be it music, flowers, or food — is overlooked and that the event flows flawlessly.
Event He's Proudest Of: A wedding I did last October (at left) that was magically beautiful, even though it was in a tent. Most people were shocked it was in a tent, as we had planned every detail perfectly, down to the perfect placement of the fire extinguishers.
Favorite Party Tip: Use crushed ice. I buy it from Sonic in 10-pound bags. It's the best ice for margaritas and looks great when icing down drinks.
Tara Wilson, Tara Wilson Events, Fort Worth, Texas
She's been called the Dallas/Fort Worth area's own Martha Stewart. Her events are classic with a smart, sophisticated edge and almost always an unexpected takeaway, or as Wilson says a personalized "wow" factor, for guests, like goodie bags of black-eyed peas (left) to bring good fortune.
Event She's Proudest Of: I find that I’m most proud of the weddings that we do. Each one is uniquely different as we strive to capture the essence of the bride and groom, working with them to develop a theme that expresses their personalities, but is also full of charm and homespun glamour.
Favorite Party Tip: Always throw in something unexpected, that one thing that will wow your guests. For example, at a recent wedding, we brought in a "butt sketcher" (a character artist who draws booties instead of the face) and it was a huge hit!
Deborah Elias, Elias Events, Houston
Elias has been producing events since 1998, successfully growing her company into a multi-award-winning event planning firm that hosts and businesses around Houston rely on, delighting clients with her creativity and attention to detail when dreaming up innovative uses for one family's Scottish tartan, to transforming another's home into a dream destination for a wedding.
Event She's Proudest Of: "Let Us Entertain You," for Delta Air Lines, that was one of Houston's events of the year. The party spread over five spaces, engaged the senses, featured details like a Champagne chandelier and an electric interactive dance floor (left), and created a constant feeling of surprise.
Favorite Party Tip: Scour magazines, TV, and the Internet for inspiring ideas. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, just tweak something you love with your own flair.
Elizabeth Swift Copeland, Swift + Company, Houston
Whether giving an intimate seated dinner or a large cocktail party, Houston-area hosts have turned to Copeland and her team for their meticulously crafted menus, delightful food, and creative libations for nearly 25 years. In this time, the business has grown from a simple catering enterprise into a full-service event production company capable of sourcing every element of a party, from tables, chairs, and podiums to food, music, and entertainment (like you'd need for the party pictured on the left).
Event She's Proudest Of: There are so many memorable events we've done, like these annual out-of-town sit-down dinners we do for 1,500, but one sticks out — a recent Midsummer's Night Dream-themed party on an estate featuring décor we created and installed, and customized details from invitations down to the china pattern!
Favorite Party Tip: Once the party begins, relax and have fun, as your guests will have the most fun when you're enjoying yourself, not sweating the small stuff.
Juliet Douglas, Green Orchid Events, Las Vegas
From stylish weddings, like the one pictured at left, to birthday celebrations, Douglas works with each client to grow their theme into a complete, whimsical experience, even if it involves orchestrating multiple elements taking place at once. It's the celebrations for children that she creates through Little Posh Parties, a division of her event planning business, that impress us most as the planning and work is done for you; all you need to do is show up.
Event She's Proudest Of: Those challenging events with multiple vendors and precise timing. I once planned a wedding with a yacht entrance, live band, gospel choir, ribbon dancers, a live event painter, and a gondola exit. The bride arrived really close to start time and I had to push everything back. Luckily, we finished with minutes to spare before some of them went into overtime.
Favorite Party Tip: Always be sure to have plenty of food and drink — nothing is worse than a hungry, cranky, or thirsty guest.
Karen Doan, Karen Doan Events, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Regarded as one of the premier event planners in the area, Doan is known for producing extraordinary events, from large-scale décor transformations like one event set in the Arizona desert with a retro, ski-lodge feel, complete with antler chandeliers, to adding decorative touches like the glass ornaments at left, down to the small details, like coming up with uniquely creative ways to arrange place cards.
Event She's Proudest Of: The weddings I plan and produce with so many moving parts because I am able to allow my clients to relax and be present in the emotion of the day because everything ran seamlessly.
Favorite Party Tip: Do everything in advance! The fine details should be considered and confirmed weeks before an event. Once you make the decisions, you can always adjust them but procrastinating always leads to stress and disappointment.
Marika Holmgren, Organic Events, Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Unlike traditional event planners, Organic Events is dedicated to producing events for well-known non-profit organizations working for the greater good. Each event is as low-impact as possible, choosing organic ingredients and eco-friendly materials and minimizing waste — a great challenge when expecting thousands of notable guests.
Event She's Proudest Of: Every year, I produce the Goldman Environmental Prize Ceremony for over 3,200 guests in the San Francisco Opera House and there is hardly a dry eye when the recipients get on stage for the final ovation. When I have guests come up to me and say, "I am so inspired. I want to do more to change the world," then I know we've hit the right note.
Favorite Party Tip: The chemistry of a party has less to do with décor and staging and more to do with its spirit. If people are inspired and relaxed by the event, they will enjoy it and leave with a renewed enthusiasm for the cause (since all my clients are non-profits, this is critical).
Laura Fabian, 24 Carrots, Irvine, Calif.
Serving high-end, carefully prepared, and meticulously plated food, like the salmon at left, for a large gala benefit or corporate function isn't easy, but the 24 Carrots team excels at just that, delighting clients both new and old. It's no surprise that they are one of the best in Southern California (and a critic's pick again in 2011 on The Knot.com, Style Me Pretty, and WeddingWire.com).
Event She's Proudest Of: A simple event we did for a complicated cause. It was a second birthday party for a sweet young lady in the community suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, which paralyzes infants. She enjoyed every element of the party, and it was touching to see the community come together during such a hard time.
Favorite Party Tip: Hire someone to help you do the work, as there is nothing worse than trying to enjoy the event while also acting as the coordinator, designer, caterer, and host. Add your own personal element to the event, but let whomever you've hired to worry about the details.
Leah Chace, Jackson Hole Event Company, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Whether planning corporate functions or memorable events for the Jackson Hole Film Festival, Chace is a wealth of knowledge and creativity and a "tremendous talent" to pull off all the events she does, the way she does — working one-on-one with clients to understand their wishes (like one client's wish to have comfy lounging areas, at left), offer innovative solutions, and assemble a series of options for each client and create a unique and distinctive event that is truly his or her own.
Event She's Proudest Of: Those events when at the end of the night I crawl into bed at 1 a.m. and my husband asks me how the event went and I can confidently say, "It was perfect." Those events require a symbiotic relationship between the guests and staff where everything seems effortless and everyone enjoys the experience.
Favorite Party Tip: For success, good music, food, and aesthetic appeal should be top priority. The inviting environment immerses guests into the event, while good food and professional service help to keep things going. And quality entertainment is key!
Pauline Parry, Good Gracious Events, Los Angeles
Delicious food artfully presented with distinction has been a signature quality of each of Parry's catered functions since she first launched the business in 1986, and is what keeps many long-standing clients coming back. Parry is also a well-respected leader in the events industry and the winner of many awards, most recently recognized by BizBash.com and the International Caterers Association.
Event She's Proudest Of: I produced an industry party at a fabulous inn where each guest was made to feel special the moment they walked in, from beverages upon arrival to the spa services planned. The evening concluded with an around-the-house meal: cocktails on the veranda, first course in the front garden, main course along the side of the house, then an after-party in the back, with a unique design for each space (like the tented space, left). Of course, the space was completely transformed by the time breakfast rolled around the next day.
Favorite Party Tip: The party begins the moment guests arrive, so make sure their experience is a great one where they feel special, from having the right music and beverages to ensuring your house is prepped and the food thoughtfully chosen.
Mindy Weiss, Mindy Weiss, Los Angeles
Mixing her modern vintage style with her signature over-the-top, unusual creativity, Weiss creates one-of-a-kind birthdays and celebrations, like the one at left. She's a favorite of stars like Andre Agassi, Billy Crystal, and Brooke Shields, pouring the same care, creativity, and dedication into every event she plants. From a child's birthday with chandeliers crafted from ruffled upside-down umbrellas to over-the-top tented affairs with sheer fabric covering the ceiling and walls, and crystal chandeliers glittering above, Weiss weaves an event's theme into every detail, creating experiences where each guest of honor feels important.
Favorite Party Tip: When looking for the right wedding planner, don't be too quick to hire the first one you interview — interview as least two. You have to like their personality and be assured that the planner is willing to deliver your vision, not theirs. They should be honest and comfortable enough to suggest what ideas of yours might not work and still create an event that you are proud of. When researching, first look at photos, then get recommendations from their past clients, and be sure that you feel relaxed when you are around them.
Lisa Gorjestani, Details Event Planning, Los Angeles
In 1997, Gorjestani left the restaurant world to start her own event planning firm to bring together only the freshest cuisine and finest wines and create uniquely distinctive events, from birthday celebrations in tents that transported guests to the Arabian desert (left), up to festive affairs for stars like Halle Berry and Dustin Hoffman.
Event She's Proudest Of: One wedding in Mexico where I had only six weeks' time, including shipping, to go from start to finish.
Favorite Party Tip: Plan ahead and leave nothing to the last minute. This will allow you to enjoy your party.
Kristin Banta, Kristin Banta Events, Los Angeles
Top Southern California event planner Banta, clients remark, is "extremely talented," and "you won't find anyone better." She's a natural talent when it comes to organization and relies on a background rich in catering, design, and fashion to bring a fresh perspective (like the addition of rich fabric curtains for the event at left), along with an exquisite eye and attention to detail, to each event.
Event She's Proudest Of: Two weddings come to mind, both for musicians. I was able to get to the heart of who they are because of their willingness to take risks along with their understanding of their own personal style, and then interpret and translate these qualities into incredibly memorable events — each with unusual designs based on their character — which was thrilling for me, as a designer.
Favorite Party Tip: Have drinks ready for guests as they first arrive — it should be the first vignette they see — and dim the lights. People are more apt to let loose in dim lighting.
Kim Oliff and Suzy Somers, Always R.S.V.P Events, Menlo Park, Calif.
Oliff and Somers are known for their lavishly creative and flawlessly run events, but what repeatedly amazes their clients both new and old are their fresh, innovative ideas, detail-oriented planning, and undying enthusiasm and energy through the planning process.
Event They're Proudest Of: An over-the-top 50th birthday we recently did for one man with a "larger than life" personality. A 100-square-foot black tent became our blank canvas, and we added light-up tables and white inflatables suspended from the ceiling lit with eye-popping colors. The guest of honor arrived literally over the top of all the guests — on a trapeze!
Favorite Party Tip: Hire a planner. Not only will they be there the day of to pull things together and keep things organized, but they will also be able to offer you unique ideas, total personalization of your event, hot trends, financial savings, and most of all, the ability to relax and enjoy the process of planning as well as the actual event.
Mary Crafts, Culinary Crafts, Salt Lake City
As one of Utah's best caterers and the preferred vendor at numerous venues around the state, Culinary Crafts is a leader in the industry with numerous repeat customers over their 26 years of experience. Whether it's a small family gathering or a function for thousands for clients like the Sundance Film Festival or the International Olympic Committee, Crafts can create a custom menu that delights both palates and eyes with delicate garnishes of microgreens (left) and skewered vegetables — which can be tricky when you're serving hundreds of people.
Event She's Proudest Of: I've done over 10,000 events and there are many to choose from, but my favorite event thus far for 2011 has been the Skaggs Polo Match. Nine hundred high-brow guests came for morning cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, brunch, small plates, and desserts. Everyone arrived hoping to have the best hat to showcase on the field during the "stomping of the divots." These guests expected nothing less than the finest foodservice and creative cuisine. I love that I’m able to meet and exceed their expectations.
Favorite Party Tip: Think about the experience you want your guests to have at your party and go from there. Don’t get overwhelmed trying to include too many things; instead, narrow down your choices by deciding which colors, décor, and food choices will go the farthest to create the best atmosphere and experience for your guests.
Lisa Boone and Priska Kaspar Jayme, Atelier Joya, San Francisco
With a passion for flowers and beautiful environments, Boone and Jayme bring an element of playfulness and fun to every event, whether it's planning a client's rustic wedding outdoors, producing an elephant-themed baby shower with handcrafted decorations, or styling glamorous arrangements for an upscale celebration.
Event They're Proudest Of: At each event we've done over the years, there is something that really stands out that I love. One of my favorites is a wedding we did in St. Helena at Durham Ranch where we designed salvaged plank/Mason jar chandeliers to hang over each dining table (at left). The room looked magical!
Favorite Party Tip: Lighting is essential — it sets the tone for the entire evening, whether it's candlelight for an intimate dinner party or up lighting for a larger event.
Kim Stevens, LRE Catering, San Francisco
One of the best in the area (and certified green), LRE Catering has set itself apart from other Bay Area caterers with its dedication to serving restaurant-quality food, forging close relationships with area farmers, and letting the ingredients they use shine for themselves. “When you’re cooking for large groups from around the country, you can’t get too unusual, but we like to show the local food off,” said 15-year-veteran of the Bay Area and LRE Catering chef-partner Douglas Monsalud in an interview with Meeting Focus. “We love to serve vegetables in different varietals — tomatoes, peppers, eggplant in colors and forms that people haven’t seen before. People are blown away by this.”
Their dedication to freshness is evident in the ingredients they make in-house, like mozzarella and cocktail mixers, and purchasing the quality products, like aged soy sauce or Banyuls vinegar, whenever they can’t. They're “one of the best,” clients say, and their food is “creative" and "familiar.” Another adds, “If it were not for Kim and her team, I'm not sure what I would do.”
Roland Blandy, Mobile Libations, San Francisco
Everyone knows about traditional caterers — but a mobile cocktail caterer? Indeed. Blandy and his team (pictured at left) of talented mixologists take the worry of bartending off their clients' hands, creating innovative cocktail menus and a complete experience that guests are sure to love.
Event He's Most Proud Of: The first event I ever bartended with the Mobile Libations team in 2009. It was called ALCHEMY, held at the California Modern Art Gallery in San Francisco, and it featured interactive art, workshops, and a runway fashion show. It was an inspiring crowd that appreciated the mixology behind our artisan cocktails. It’s also great to look back at that first event and see how far we’ve come since then.
Favorite Party Tip: When it comes to choosing the cocktail selection for your party’s bar, always make an appointment for a pre-party tasting with the beverage caterer and bring some friends. The tasting ensures that you have chosen the right catering team and that you are getting the drink menu that you and your guests will enjoy the most. And be sure to serve drinks that are quick to make at the start, as there will be a lot of people who want a drink at the same time. Serving something like a champagne cocktail will ensure you get a drink in everybody’s hand quickly and then you can move on to the more complex drink making.
Nicole Sillapere, Sillapere, San Francisco
When planning a gala event, the décor matters just as much as the food when impressing guests. Sillapere and her design lab team are known for their unique eco-friendly and creative style for high-end events, using decorative structures covered in greens (left), flowers as an unexpected touch for tie-backs, to a bed of flowers decorating the ground, and dedicated to consistently raising the bar when it comes to design innovation.
Event She's Proudest Of: I just did a wedding for couple who had 60 some-odd kids at the reception, so we created a carnival for them. It was a little challenging because kids tend to slip away and we wanted the event to feel fabulous, free, and natural while keeping them safe and out of parents' care for an hour or so, but it turned out to be the perfect way to deal with all the challenge.
Favorite Party Tip: Make the dance floor smaller than you think it should be. It's like how a small restaurant always seems to look more inviting and happening than a cavernous one. A smaller dance floor creates this energy that is fabulous.