Party Decoration Ideas
Themes and Party Ideas
Themed parties are always a hit and once you have settled on a theme, you can plan games, invitations, and perhaps a cake to add a finishing touch. Remember, a little bit goes a long way.

When party planning, once you have decided on a theme, ask your client if they might have any old draperies or fabric that might work with the theme. Hanging swags around the room complete with Christmas lights sets a festive atmosphere. Children love lights. Here are some ideas that will help keep the revelers busy:
  • Girls can make their own name bracelets with some craft elastic purchased at most discount and craft stores.
  • Try setting up a mini-golf course in the back yard with a small reward for each person completing the course.
  • Let each child decorate their own party hats. As each child arrives, sit them down at a table with hats, stickers, pom-poms, and sparkle pens. Children can vote on the best hat, which will be rewarded.
  • No matter what the party theme is, keep the music going.
  • Include games that can be played in groups to save wear and tear on the tears.

Everyone loves a luau party. Think waves crashing on a white sandy beach, Tiki torches lighting up the night, Hawaiian music drifting through the air. In Hawaii, a Luau is a feast that usually includes pig, poi, salmon, beer, music, and hula. On the mainland, other tropical influences can be added. The goal is to create an escape filled with tropical ambiance and a party atmosphere.

Center the luau around the pool, on a patio, or lush green lawn. Create a relaxing atmosphere where guests can kick off their flip-flops and sip a Mai Tai. Ambient lighting, great food, luau attire, and lots of soft island music round out the scene.

Greet each guest with a real lei if possible (they are easy to make by stringing flowers on dental floss). Leis can be purchased at party stores or online. Don't forget loose flowers for behind the ear for "single or taken." If not romantically involved, the flower is placed behind the right ear.

Add floating candles to the pool, and string lights, designed as parrots and surf boards, around the yard. Anything you can do to create a relaxing mood will help make your luau a success. Keep the food simple, but definitely with a tropical touch:

  • Coconut shrimp and bowls of macadamia nuts make great snacks.
  • Barbecued pork
  • Grilled sweet potatoes
  • Teriyaki chicken
  • Grilled pineapple slices
  • Kiwi and mango
  • Mai tais or pina coladas are a delicious island drink -- and don't forget that paper umbrella.

Pour the first drink for your guest and they are on their own after that, unless you can con someone to be bartender, or hire a professional. The host and hostess deserve to have fun also.

Party Invitations and Guest List

Always give guests a deadline for responding to invitations if you ask them to RSVP. This ensures you meet your own goals and deadlines. If you fail to give vital information to a hotel or caterer, you could lose discounts offered for advance reservations. All invitations you send to potential guests should include the following:

  • Party or event
  • Host's name
  • Date of the party
  • Time
  • Location (an enclosed map to the location with parking instructions is a thoughtful touch).
  • RSVP phone or email
  • RSVP deadline
  • Significance of the event (Birthday, Anniversary, Bar or Bat Mitzvah).
  • Cocktail or informal dress
  • Entertainment, dancing, or speakers
  • Complimentary ticket enclosure, where appropriate

Invitations can be plain or decorative, monogrammed or pre-printed with a phrase: You're invited, please come to our party or please join us.

As a party planner, you are expected to send out invitations. You will need from the client, names, addresses, and phone number of the guests. Emails are an acceptable method of RSVP, however, the party planner's email must be included on the invitation. If you have not heard from guests by the RSVP deadline, call them and ask if they will be attending. As a party planner, you must have a cut-off date for RSVPs, in order to notify your caterer and other vendors.

People with children may ask if their children are welcome at the event. This should be established up front and noted on the invitation: "Children welcome," or "Adults only."

Deciding on the Venue

We definitely have a little informal buffet going on in the above picture. But look at that beautiful blue lake and lacy greenery as a backdrop for the table. This could be set up on an outside deck or near the back yard pool.
The above picture is a more formal buffet venue with servers and appetizers, likely for a meeting or conference. Your client's choice of a venue will depend on many factors. One is the purpose of the event and another is the budget. Corporate events usually take place in hotels, motels, convention or meeting centers, or restaurants. More elaborate, high-end corporate events may take place on cruise ships, exotic locations, or resorts.
Social events and parties can take place just about anywhere you envision. Possible sights might be home, park, ship, beach or lake-front. If your client is lucky enough to belong to a country club, or their subdivision has a club house, these are atmospheres with the ideal ambiance for a party or event.
When looking for sites, price is one of many factors to consider, but also understand what amenities and services are offered. Ask what services are included, and if taxes are extra or included. What is the seating capacity? These questions are particularly important if the quote comes in on the low side. It helps to call your associates and ask if they know anything about the site you are contemplating.

Be cautious of restrictions. Historic sites may have limitations on the type of d cor you can use. Other sites may not allow alcohol to be served. Always thoroughly check and read any contracts to see if a location offers all the amenities.

If your planned site is outdoors, anticipate making provisions for water, electricity, and restroom facilities. Where will you put your guests if it rains? You can't be too careful when selecting a site. If you're new to party planning, use a trusted site with a good track record that you can pitch to your client.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Party Planning course?

Party Vendors and Suppliers

Just to touch on the subject again -- and a reminder that you can't do it all alone -- as you plan and execute your first event, you will need support to assure everything is handled professionally, from food to napkins. You can' inflate all the balloons, arrange all the centerpieces, or set up tables by yourself.

You'll be looking for professionals who can handle these important elements. Caterers and linen rental companies are essential vendors. You'll want to offer your client the latest in bar ware, glassware, linens, tables and chairs, and current specialized techniques that can save time and energy. By pulling together the right team, you can meet or surpass your expectations,and your client's expectations, time after time.

Establish a list of the professionals you can count on, such as photographers, linens, floral, people who set up and tear down tables and chairs, who meticulously put together gift bags, and hand-address wedding invitations. You'll want a vendor for every type of event or party you plan. You'll also want to reward those outstanding vendors with more business and recommendations. Where do you find good vendors?

  • Trade magazines
  • Culinary institutes
  • Industry groups
  • Chambers of commerce and networking groups
  • Referrals from other party planners
  • Referrals from hotels and event facilities
  • Professional trade shows and conferences
  • If you live near a college or university, college students are always looking for weekend or evening work. Meet with them.

Elements of Style and Design

Unless the host or hostess is a decorator and party planner by profession, it's always obvious when a room or venue has been professionally decorated. It's more than a few vases of flowers and strategically placed bowls and decor. As a party planner, you will be using a seating chart and props, decorative items and centerpieces that must be an appropriate height, and well out of the way for guests not to trip over.
Creativity is a key element in this aspect of party planning. A decor margin of profit can be as much as 40 percent for a large, elaborate party. Rule of thumb is to not give clients estimates until you are sure of what they want and the time and effort you will spend to achieve their desire.

Much of this can be done by florists and caterers who can help you design decor for your events. As your confidence grows, you will be more inclined to build your own sense of design. It's best not to attempt the larger decor jobs unless you are experienced. Design elements can include signage, fountains trellis, palm trees, swags, lighting elements, and even furniture. Consider taking an adult education class that specializes in centerpiece arranging and flower arranging.

Many decorators use black and white to make a bold statement with red floral arrangements. Scale is important. Large arrangements should be used at entrances to create an impact. Preview with a critical eye and remove any decor that does not add to the decor. The right lighting can make entrances and reception areas more photogenic.

Always keep in mind the goal of the event (attendees may need to move around more freely), the age of the guests (senior citizens may require more seating), and where you expect photographs will be taken.

When you transform a site, the people attending the event will also feel transformed.

Formulas for Success

When Bad Things Happen, Make It Good

Almost every event planner has a horror story to tell: The hot coffee urn was knocked over, spilling hot coffee on two of the guests, The florist was a no-show who ran off with the deposit and didn't deliver; the bartender didn't show; the electricity went out when the caterer was serving a sit-down dinner; the list goes on and on.

Party planner and caterer insurance paid the medical bills for the scalding injuries, and the party planner delivered flowers from another florist to each of the two women; The party planner made good for the runaway florist's down payment and went off to the local Trader Joe's to purchase all their cut flowers, and the well-seasoned caterer made full use of the gas range and emergency lanterns.
Something good comes from everything, and the party planners learned some hard lessons. It's really all about standing behind your work and paying for damages. As a party planner, you can't control everything, but you can use approved vendors, place hot liquids, etc. out of harm's way, and keep some gas burners around -- just in case.

The decision-making phase is intense and extremely busy for planners. You will rent the site, hire vendors (always have a signed contract), plan a menu, appetizers, and beverages, and so many other details ? more than you can imagine. The larger the event, the more lead time is required. Would you believe some major conventions are planned years in advance?

Mentors and Networking

If you are lucky enough to have a mentor, someone in the industry who takes you under their wing and puts you to work helping out at parties and events, you will move ahead much faster. These professionals have seating charts, serving requirements, checklists, and so many other materials to make a party planners' life easier. Stay in touch with the professional party planners you meet along the way. Buy them lunch and they may share some secrets like:

  • Will one buffet line serve 350 people? No!
  • One gallon of liquid fills about 16 eight-ounce cups.
  • Thirty percent of the coffee provided should be decaffeinated, 70 percent regular. As the day progresses into evening, the percentages change to 50/50.

All party planners should put networking at the top of their list for developing a strong client base. Networking is necessary to any successful business. It's been known to be even more effective than print advertising. Networking can be accomplished successfully by using traditional methods, such as being active in industry organizations: National Association of Catering Executives (NACE) and International Special Events Society (ISES). When you're ready to put up your own website, check out your competition and how they market themselves on the web.

Here's how it works: Once people have met you and know what services you offer, they may refer you to others, or use you themselves. When you network with caterers, hotels, and vendors, you may have need of their services yourself. Networking can give you the inside scoop on the current trends. You don't want to be still serving green tea when some Brazilian creation is all the rage.
Get out there. Meet people and put your mighty little business card to use. Make a professional impact!

The Power of Customer Service

The support of customer service is a must for any business. You've worked hard to gain your customers and now you want to keep them.
It makes a difference when you respond to your customers right away or tomorrow. If a customer is calling because of a complaint, they will, most likely, sit there and seethe until you return their call. The longer a client waits, the angrier they become. It makes the client feel important when their call is returned promptly.
Always be courteous and professional. When you are in the service industry, you goal is to make sure the customer feels at ease and that you will do whatever you can to help. Even if you are rushed, be aware of your tone. People can actually catch your mood through the tone of your voice.
Using lingo the client cannot understand makes them feel inadequate. Rather than say, "I'll have the caterer serve ASAP after the guests are seated and at breakfast, we usually serve OJ unless someone doesn't care for it. Some people are so picky, it just makes me LOL. Speak to the client in plain old English and save the jargon for your friends.
Keep your cool with irate customers. Whether you are at fault or not, some clients become irate at the first person they speak to. Please don't be accusatory. Listen and let them vent. You should never allow yourself to be subjected to abusive language. Once a customer has finished talking, paraphrase the problem or request and get busy problem solving.
If a client is complaining about a mess the caterers left, call the caterer, discuss it with him or her and ask them to return to the site to clean up. Call the client and advise them of the time the caterer will return to clean. Follow up with a phone call to the client to ask them if the cleanup is satisfactory.
Some may not feel that CPR falls under the category of customer service. Saving someone's life is the greatest service one can perform. Many deaths have been prevented in restaurants because someone, a diner or staff member, understood the Heimlich maneuver. Professional caterers periodically have their staffs attend CPR courses and Heimlich maneuver class. As a party planner, it's as important as the fire extinguisher hanging on the wall that staff be well versed in both of these life-saving methods.

You and your staff provide the image of your business. When your staff or vendors come across to clients as dedicated, helpful and knowledgeable, you increase productivity, sales, and morale.

To Be There or Not to Be There

To summarize some of the best and reliable strategies from event planners throughout the country, here's some solid advice:

  • Always dress like a professional. Old jeans and tennis shoes is a sign you run your business the way you present yourself to the world. A business suit and well-coordinated separates should be your uniform for the day.
  • Keep up with your career continued education.
  • Provide the service you say you will do in the contract, and then some.
  • Create a reliable team.
  • Mentally walk through each event.
  • Always have Plan B.
  • Make your clients happy.

When emergencies arise, stay calm. It's the main reason event and party planners should be available at their own parties. Try to anticipate and be one step ahead. If you have planned for emergencies and a change of plans, you've got to be ready for that.

The more parties you plan, the more professional and skilled you will become.