Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top 5 Tips for Destination Planning for Groups

George Baggott
Canyonlands National Park
When I turned 40, I wanted to be in one of the most beautiful places I knew...Moab, Utah.   I had visited there with my husband shortly after we married and we have returned many times.  We have spent our most memorable family vacations with the children there, and so there wasn't much agonizing over a choice for me. I had planned a killer event for my husband in Yosemite the summer before so people were jazzed to join in on this trip too.

We had the best time!   Having now done a couple of successful trips, I was thinking that people might benefit from my top 5 tips for destination event planning.

1. Pick a place that is easy for your guests to reach.  Find places that are centrally located, that you can travel to by car, a place close to home or close to airports.  The more remote the location, the higher the hurdle for your invited guests to join you. When I chose Moab, I knew that its location would make it more difficult for my friends to join.  I tried to make traveling there easier by pairing up people who had similar travel dates, helping them to reserve airfare, and by reserving rental cars and organizing the drive with people arriving at the airport at the same time.  One central person helping with the travel arrangements made a big difference for the folks who were attending.

On the road to Moab, Utah
2. Pick a destination that has something for everyone.  Outdoors activities, shopping, kid entertainment - not everyone wants to do the same things so some advance preparations will make for an awesome trip.  You don't have to actually arrange different activities (although that can kick things up a notch for your guests), but just gathering information and availability will make your guests' decision-making tasks easier.  If there isn't going to be things of interest for some of your attendees, tell them up front what to expect, so that no one is upset with the destination's lack of a particular activity.

3. Chose a location that has a large array of accommodations.  Some people want something cheap and some people are going to want something high end with a hot tub.  Everyone needs something different and so having a location that has different accommodations within the same area or complex is perfect.

Miguel's Baja Grill
Moab, Utah
4. Plan group meals in advance.  Trying to figure out where to eat at the end of the day is more difficult and having one daily pre-planned event where the group comes together is so fun. Even if you aren't making group reservations every night, it makes sense to have a list of the restaurants that can accommodate larger groups so quick group decisions can be made.  I also like to plan one special meal for the group and think that if people are traveling to honor you, it is appropriate for you to host a group meal to thank everyone for coming.  That meal can be breakfast, lunch or dinner, or anything you can dream up - don't limit yourself!

5. Start planning early!  Destination events take a long time to arrange.  If you are planning to be at a location during its peak season, start planning one (1) year out.  Start with reserving accommodations because those tend to be harder to secure than any of the other details.   Keep good records of who has paid you. Keeping the money portion easy for your guests will make this trip easy to attend.

Let me know where you end up going with these tips, and if you are planning a destination event in Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto or Redwood City, please go to EventCounselor.com for more information on where to stay and where to eat.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Passage to India and Public Transportation - Perfect Party!

My son loves all things transportation - trains, buses, trucks, cars, airplanes. Very boyish and very cute.  For his second birthday I planned a Touch a Truck Treasure Hunt via Public Transportation.  The key to this little boy birthday party was advanced planning.  We actually did all of our travel from Menlo Park to Mountain View with a small journey into Sunnyvale so feel free to swipe our path!

The itinerary was built with stops in between and a large group to herd.  I cut it a bit close in the beginning, so my recommendation is going to be adjusted slightly from the schedule we kept that day because the first leg of the trip really required more time.

We biked from The Willows neighborhood to the Menlo Park fire station on Middlefield, through Linfield Oaks to the Menlo Park CalTrain Station.  We took the train to downtown Mountain View and stopped in for Gelato.  It was delicious but not a quick stop.  We then hopped the light rail to the Lockheed Martin Station where we caught a bus which ultimately led us to Passage to India in Mountain View.

I had forgotten how awesome their Indian buffet is on the weekends.  They take reservations for groups, online through their own website, and they do have a "banquet room" off their main dining room to accommodate big parties.  This room was reserved the night that we were there for this party so we were accommodated to the left of their main bar, which meets you upon entrance to the restaurant.  We were split between two tables, which worked for us because we had adults and kids, so we had an instant kids' table!

Their food is really tasty and the variety of the buffet is always amazing. They have mini dosas and a large variety of vegetarian options, and they serve Indian "Chinese" food which is delicious too!  They never seem to mind parties bringing in kids and when they are busy, the turn over tables. The drinks came to the adults in a timely fashion and they kept our dirty plates moving off the table.  Children under 4 ate for free, children 5 - 7 ate at half price, and kids 8 and older at the adult price.

The place is decorated very casually and that is how I would describe the atmosphere as well.  I started to write that had I planned an adult birthday dinner at this restaurant and had our party been split up I wouldn't have liked that, but the truth is that if you are planning to bring a large group to Passage to India on one of their weekend buffet nights, you come knowing the atmosphere is casual and so will be the meal.  My friends would have naturally split between the two tables, only briefly to drop their sweaters and get in line for some serious Indian cuisine.

After dinner, we walked back to the CalTrain at the San Antonio Station and rode back to Menlo Park, where we biked home.  Plan to be at the train station 30 minutes before your train comes...trust me it won't be enough!! We were home by 9 pm and we caught the 3:15 pm train out of Menlo Park. I used the websites of both CalTrain and VTA to figure out or routes and schedules.  It was an awesome adventure, beloved by adults as well as kids, and our group meal at Passage to India was a great fit for this event!

Need more ideas for kid birthday parties or restaurant recommendations? Please visit EventCounselor.com for more information

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Joan Fried, 1914 - 2010

My grandmother was the ultimate party planner and social connector. She always knew someone who knew someone wherever you were going.   She never forgot an occasion and usually insisted on celebrating it. She passed away today and I am thinking of all the events and parties that she threw.  She loved to get together and socialize and I admired that in her.  She taught me so much from just watching her go. I am so grateful.

She entertained with fine china and linens, always.  She laid out a table days before the party and placed a tablecloth over the table to keep it all perfect. She would awaken early the day of the event to start the cooking and preparations.  Her bar was well stocked.  The coffee and condiments ready. Everything well thought out, every time.

She had a small space in her condo, but she had all the right pieces to make room for her entertaining when necessary.  She was ready for company at a moment's notice and had her bridge group over days before she entered the hospital for the final time.  I am sure she had some snacks out on the table early that morning in anticipation of their arrival.

Her critical eye was impeccable when it came to throwing a party - her attention to detail was masterful.  She never, ever served anything out of the bottle at the table and the salt and pepper were married - always traveling together.  The table was set for breakfast and she always served it in a special way.  Eggs in the nest were the grandkid favorite and they were served beautifully.  Her fridge always stocked with items you liked.  She was the consummate hostess.

Every party I plan will have a bit of her style in it.  Every family dinner I arrange and prepare for will have a bit of her attention to detail that will make you feel special.  Every time I hear of someone headed to a town in which I know someone special, I am going to recommend they get in touch and have a drink.  Every time I see a white orchid, I will think of her.   Their beauty, their elegance, and their exactness speaks to who she was and will always find a spot in my design plans.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

5 vital things to remember when planning an event for fundraising

Planning a fundraiser is likely to be done by committee or at least you and a few girlfriends, which is how it was for an event which was thrown for the Children of Ethiopia Education Fund by me and three other women in Spring 2009.

I had worked on the Peninsula School Spring Fair with two of the women for two years because their children were in my child's class. We so enjoyed working together that we decided to plan a fundraiser together independent of the school. We added a fourth woman who had mad skills in graphics and design and off we went planning.

We chose COEEF to be our first beneficiary of this teamwork because one of the women in our group was from Ethiopia originally and she knew the organizers' work through some other experiences of meeting them. She was impressed with their work and so we decided to throw an afternoon open house, serve Ethiopian Food and Ethiopian wine. There would be a speech by the founder of the organization and we would decorate with authentic pieces form Ethiopia. High level planning came together quickly.

We laid our intentions on the table with COEEF and they were enthusiastic to come out and speak to a group of potential sponsors. We chose a date that worked for everyone and had a location because one of the women on our committee opened her home to our event (which is right out of Architectural Digest) so we were already making money for our chosen organization because we didn't have to pay for room rental! Magical! The whole event was so easy to plan and execute, when it's right, it's right.

Here are the top five things that I think I learned are most important to remember when planning an event like this one.

1. The appeal for donation has to be woven into the event plan because it is the most important function of this gathering - plain and simple. Do not lose sight of the prize when planning this type of event - start with two questions a) when are you going to ask for the money?, and b) how are you going to ask for the money? Build out your event from there. We knew we wanted something more casual for our first foray into fundraising events and the open house seemed to be a perfect pitch to our friends and colleagues, who were our demographic for this event. Come eat, hear a short speech, and visit with people over a glass of wine with a spectacular view. We planned the speech when we thought the most number of people would be at the party and we planned the whole event from that central point.

Invitation image created by
Robin McCloskey
2. Everything you can get for free or for a discount is money in the hands of your charity - get someone on your team who isn't afraid to ask for discounts. Case in point, when my friend had finished these amazingly beautiful invitations we wondered if they would give us a discount since we were doing a fundraiser. She immediately shied away from that task because that wasn't her comfort zone. I was not at all shy about asking. We used Jungle Digital Imaging in Palo Alto and when I walked in and explained what we were doing to Adam, the manager, he gave us a deep discount off the price of the invites for a small byline on the back of the card. We were thrilled!

3. Learn about event underwriting. People or companies can underwrite or "sponsor" an event. Why would someone want to underwrite your event? They want access to your guest list from a marketing perspective or they may want their name associated with your cause. They may want a booth or a banner at your event or may want advertising space on your publicity or event materials. Best to try and figure out an angle of how a company or individual might connect to your event and what they are going to get in return during the early planning stages because you will likely need some underwriters to get your event executed.

4. Who you invite to this event directly relates to how you plan this event to meet your fundraising goals. The guest list couldn't be more important for these types of events. Know your demographic and how to get them to the party. These days there are many ways to invite people to events - use the method that attracts your target audience. Remember point #1 - this is about raising money and you have to customize a fundraiser to make it as easy to give as possible. There are different levels of givers and different expectations and approaches and that information affects every plan you make, so give it thought!

5. People give money to organizations with whom they feel connected and trust. You can't expect to raise money from people who haven't connected to the cause or the organization. There has to be a relationship between the giver and the receiver, and putting on an event like this makes you the matchmaker. A good match is one in which the event creates the opportunity for the organization of honor to connect with each donor. That is quite a bit of responsibility, but you're hosting a fundraiser, so planning from the heart shouldn't be a stretch for you.

If you need more information on event planning, please visit EventCounselor.com.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's the small touches that really make for a beautiful event

Just returned from my brother-in-law's wedding this past weekend and although I had a nasty cold, I was able to take enough acetaminophen to make it to the wedding ceremony and reception.  Having been the wedding coordinator at Caneel Bay Resort in the U.S. Virigin Islands, I have held weddings in gorgeous surroundings, but this weekend's event at Deception Pass State Park in Anacortes, WA was truly spectacular.

Gorgeous scenery aside, I was once again struck by the little touches that push an event to another level!  The color scheme of the entire event seemed to be based off of the bride's gorgeous Carolina Herrera bridal gown (Love Cage is the name of the dress) and it was so exquisite.  The awesome little touch here was that you couldn't tell if she bought the dress to suit the wedding location or if the beauty of this place inspired her to seek out this particular wedding dress.  It was elegant and sophisticated, but whimsical, and if you can believe it, the dress even had an "outdoorsy" touch.  It was seamless!

The colors pulled out of the dress were recreated in every slight touch and they were in concert with the surroundings.  The reception was held in an outdoor space and rustic pavilion in the state park which was a 3/4 mile walk on a spectacular cliff side path with views - well you know - incredible.  Millions of smoothed stones line the beach coves along the walk and the reception site.

The rocks are pulled off the beach and into the event by writing each guest's name in metallic paint pen and then placing the rocks on a large graphic number representing their table number.  Each table number is printed on canvas and burlap material (also within the color scheme) that would also be laid on picnic tables with the opposite colors as runners.  Stunning.

One of the bridesmaids had bought unprinted prayer flags and had written a word on each flag.  They were words of wisdom, hopes, dreams.  They were hung around the edge of one of the tents so there were likely a 100 flags hanging down.  Such a heartfelt touch and sweet gift to the bride and groom.

Paper lanterns and little white lights were the perfect touch!
The rustic structure that held a huge fireplace, which was kept well stocked throughout the night,  was lightly decorated in white strung lights along the beams of the ceilings and paper lanterns in opportune places.  The fireplace had a huge mantle which held odd shaped glass candle holders and mason jars filled with white candles of all different sizes and shapes.  Not fussy at all, but so pretty.

The bride also had a Seattle purse maker  Crystalyn Kae design pleated clutch purses for her bridesmaid gifts and as a gift for her mother and mother-in-law.  The purses were beautiful and each purse was slightly different in that the colors were customized.  I grabbed her card (out of my mother-in-law's purse) and I intend to get one of her purses as soon as possible!  Just beautiful!

Cannot leave this wedding post without mentioning the bride and groom's invitation - very unique idea that I thought rocked - they mailed out a cd of music that they hand selected that arrived in a brown (likely on 100% recycled paper) casing with their wedding invitation printed on the front. Super cool!

What seemed to work for this event was that the bride and groom kept their theme in mind with every decision that was made.  It also seemed as if the people around them that were helping to make decisions kept their wishes in mind too.   Some of the most stylish parties are the ones where the little things get executed with the same thoughtfulness that goes into the big decisions.

Those things are hard to think of when planning an event yourself, so visit EventCounselor.com to see some resources and ideas for your next event.