Being in the events industry has its perks.  I’ve somehow worked my way into quite a few rolodexes of event and venue managers, planners, and caterers.  This means I get invited to industry happy hours, showcases and open houses on the regular.  And while I’m obviously benefiting from the open bar and free food, it’s mutually beneficial – when they have a full house, it’s clearly been a successful event.

(My favorite freebie to date?  An open house on a yacht on the beautiful San Francisco bay.  Life is good.)

Recently, I was invited to a showcase at a local venue my company has used for meeting and event space several times.  They have an annual “Spring Awakening” event to demonstrate how effective their space is for large events, complete with multiple caterers, photo booths, swag and entertainment.

They always do such a great job, I wanted to break down and rank each part from what was a complete triumph to where it fell a bit flat.

(And please note – PLANNING LARGE PARTIES IS TOUGH WORK.  This event was a complete success, and the planners did an amazing job.  Even at events I coordinate, I’m constantly doing this same exercise in my mind so my next one is even better!)

Theme: Perfection!

These events never fail to impress with their commitment to the theme.  Last year was “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with fairies and flower crowns and an ethereal air floating throughout the venue.

This year, the company took us on a trip through time to Palm Springs circa 1960 with their “PanAm” theme.  Flight attendants managed the line outside (while posing for pictures) and waved at incoming guests from above.  Once inside, a woman in retro-chic attire stood in a multi-layered “cake” lined with glasses of champagne.  (A favorite feature of theirs, as they did this at evens previously, as well as an event trick of the trade – prevent bottlenecking at the bar with pre-poured drinks available instantly!)


In the next room, a DJ dressed as a pilot was spinning old-school tracks like “Ain’t No Mountain” and “Respect” while people mingled.  I especially enjoyed his announcement sticking hard and strong to the theme, with language like, “We’ll be taking off soon for sunny Palm Springs.  Hold on to your belongings and get ready for takeoff.”  Bravo!

Entertainment: Awesome

There was absolutely no shortage of awesome things to see and enjoy during this event.  Once you entered the main room, a go-go dancer was cutting a rug inside of a giant martini glass.  A live band performed throughout the evening, with funky dancers getting the crowd pumped.  If that wasn’t enough, aerial silk acrobat twisted and turned on a long line of ribbon.

While these entertainers are nice to have, unless you have a huge budget and a lot of space, it’s not realistic.  What is doable?  Arts and crafts!

I’m a huge proponent of some sort of DIY station or activity at any event, large or small (like the spirit stick decorating contest at our summer camp happy hour).  There’s always people who enjoy taking a break from drinking and socializing to be creative, and it doubles as a gift they can bring home.

Upon entering this party, guests realized the main room was closed off until an official start time.  However, guests were occupied by a ‘make your own retro necklace’ station in a room just past the entrance.

This was super clever and a fun way to divert guests’ attention from the delayed start time, but it also created a huge bottleneck right at the entrance.  Those who weren’t interested in the activity or couldn’t fit at the already full table of necklace-creators had to find a small patch of unoccupied space to stand in awkwardly.  Thus, I didn’t give entertainment the “perfection” ranking the theme got, but it was still very impressive and well done!

And, of course, photo booths made this party even awesomer.  One booth with a live photographer included an artist giving makeovers while guests waited in line, and a rack of authentic vintage clothing was available to choose from.  The pictures looked super vintage, and it was fun to pose as if in a real photo shoot in the 60s.

Perks: Pretty Great

Ah, yes.  Swag bags.  Guests love ’em, and it’s a great way to send attendees home with branded collateral advertising your brand or company (or a sponsor’s) without them even realizing it!

The organizers of this event lured people to the venue early by promising the first 300 guests a gift bag.  The only thing is, this contributed to the bottleneck (since the main room wasn’t open for another 30 minutes), and upon arrival, it was clear that everyone got a swag bag.  Pretty sneaky.

The gift was pretty cool though – a tote filled to the brim with cool stuff like wine stoppers and clothing.  Actually getting the bag was a bit of a challenge.  You picked up your swag at the same place you checked your coat – which meant there was a long line to retrieve either.

But I don’t come for the swag bags.  My favorite part of these events?  THE FOOD.  And year after year, these organizers really kill it.  The food is super diverse, really delicious, and interesting – both this year and last year, they had a mobile sushi bar with freshly-rolled sushi!

Flow: Meh…

While most of the food stations had ready-to-grab bites that prevented too much crowding, there was one long line at the sushi roll station, as it was a more intricate dish to prepare (and made to-order).  I would probably advise against offering something so complex in creation for such a large party, or instead splitting the area into two lines and chefs.  The wait was definitely worth it, though!

Another thing I noticed immediately after grabbing food was that there was no where to easily eat it.  The venue had a seating area at the center of the room which was mostly occupied (we lucked out and snagged a couple seats), but not before wandering around like hungry chickens with our heads cut off, being told each time we settled that the location was not available.  Best practice: have multiple high-top tables located just past the food area, away from crowding.

Despite the lack of places to eat, a huge win for the party was there was definitely enough staff rotating through and cleaning the used food dishes.  There was so much entertainment and fun things to do that they almost went unnoticed, like de-cluttering ninjas appearing from nowhere.  Nice job with cleanup!

Due to the crowding at the food stations, entrance, and coat check, I gave this aspect of the party the lowest ranking.  However, it means that there were a ton of people in attendance enjoying the evening.  Overall, this party was awesome, and me and my colleagues had a great time!

I got a picture with Andy Warhol and Marilyn!