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Minneapolis holiday party planner lets host enjoy the event

by Jackie Norris

Eden Prairie resident Ann Anklam planned lavish holiday parties on her own for years. But when a guest spilled red wine on the carpet, she found herself in a frenzy, scrubbing the floor in her dress.

Anklam says she and her husband love to entertain, but decided to replace the panic with peace of mind by hiring an event planner.

"There was no way I could be everywhere and keep up with all my guests,” Anklam says. “I used to stress out about everything, but now I can simply be the hostess and enjoy my own party.”

Anklam, an officer on the board of directors with the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, chose Hire a Host in Minneapolis to plan her 60-person holiday party last year and has started making arrangements for an encore performance this year.

People like Anklam use event planners to save their sanity, time and money, while also adding details that make a party unforgettable. "I didn't have to worry," Anklam says. "They made my life easy and the event planner immediately became a comforting friend."

Hire a Host set Anklam's mind at ease by meeting with her two months in advance to discuss her budget and needs. They also sent out the invitations, interviewed caterers and florists,  and rented the linens and dishes.

Melanie Vejdani, president and founder of Hire a Host, says event planners wear a lot of hats, from greeting guests, taking their coats, getting them drinks and even making sure there's enough toilet paper in every bathroom.

"You really have to walk through the entire party and think about it from the guests' perspective," Vejdani says. "That's how you pull off a great event."

To ensure Anklam's party received rave reviews, Vejdani's staff played cheerful holiday music and strategically placed fresh floral arrangements and candles around her home, so the sounds and smells of the season would fill nearly every room.

"They had all the candles lit before the guests even arrived," Anklam says. "It made the party feel so warm and enchanting - like something you'd see on television."

Although it seemed simple, Anklam says the glowing candlelight made a big impact on her and her guests. "Everyone kept commenting on how lovely our home was," she says. "It really made my husband and I proud."

Experts say most people overlook the small details when they plan a party themselves. "An event planner takes it up a level and even considers how the traffic should flow through your home," says Laura Mullen, president and lead designer for Laura Mullen Event Design in Minneapolis.

She says the extra steps she takes helps to avoid potential disasters like crowding and inadequate seating. "Since it's your home, you may never consider these things to be an issue," Mullen says. But she says addressing the particulars won't go unnoticed by guests.

Varda Nauen of St. Paul has hired Mullen to plan cocktail parties in her home for up to 50 guests and was impressed by the attention given to every aspect of her event, even when it came to the waitstaff.

"Laura hired a great bartender that really added to the party by engaging my guests in an appropriate manner with her fun personality," Nauen says. "Laura thought of things I never would have imagined."

Mullen, who says her clients often want a color theme, chose to focus on blue and gold for one of Nauen's events. She carried those colors throughout the decor and even in a blue and gold-flecked signature cocktail served that evening.

Eve Deikel Wendel, creative director for Eve Events LLC in Minneapolis, adds it's a good idea to have non-alcoholic options for your guests that tie in with the theme. "I like to serve hot spiced apple cider with cinnamon sticks," she says. "Another great choice is hot chocolate with marshmallows, peppermint sticks and chocolate shavings."

Deikel Wendel and Mullen also suggest their clients serve food that will appeal to the senses and to a variety of tastes. "It's important to have vegetarian options and mark the food clearly for those with allergies," Mullen says.

Both Vejdani and Mullen agree that serving specialty drinks and having an impressive food presentation with multiple tiers of delicate canapes and a chafing dish of a hearty stew are simple ways to make the evening memorable and merry, but warn the atmosphere is just as important.

"You need to capture the attention of your guests in the beginning," Vejdani says. "If the food is great, but the surroundings aren't, they won't stay."

Deikel Wendel says more people are choosing to use their homes as the backdrop for their holiday parties this year. "It's more cost effective and provides a comfortable environment," Deikel Wendel says. "Plus it eliminates the cost of an alternate venue."

However, Mullen warns the cleanup can be a downside to hosting the event in your home, but adds that most planners will take care of the mess and include it in their fee. "I'm always the first one there and the last one to leave," Mullen says. "I can't tell you how many times I've taken out the garbage in my heels."

Anklam says she used to wake after an evening of entertaining to find her spirits down and her home a complete wreck until she found Hire a Host. "Before the guests even left, the kitchen was cleaned," Anklam says. "In the morning, I was exhausted from smiling all night, but not from picking up."

Hiring an event planner not only helped Anklam with the post-party blues, but she was also able to save money. She had a budget of $3,500 and says Vejdani helped her make smarter choices to get more bang for her buck.

"I originally chose a lot of expensive menu items," Anklam says. "But they suggested I only pick two of the pricier options, so I was able to get a lot more food for the money."

Event planners charge for their services differently, but most bill by the hour or offer a flat package rate. The average professionally planned party starts around $2,000 and goes up depending on the number of guests and choices of food, drink and entertainment.

"A lot of people who plan on their own party focus their energy and money in the wrong areas," Vejdani says. "You don't need to have napkins with your name embossed on them. No one's going to remember that, but they will remember the food and flowers."

Experts say while they're spending between 10 and 50 hours to create a truly festive experience, their clients can focus on other things during the already busy holiday season. "Professionals don't have the time to properly organize an event from the beginning to the end," Mullen says. "The planner does the legwork and saves you a lot of time."

While Vejdani and her staff took on the task of making sure the fire was stoked, the china was spotless, the tables were stocked with delicious food and the vendors were paid, Anklam was able to concentrate on creating memories.

"I felt total relaxation before and during the party," Anklam says. "The best part was being able to step back and just watch my guests converse and enjoy themselves well into the night."


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