Party planners remove stress from holiday gatherings
by Jackie Norris
Indianapolis resident Dawn Collins planned lavish holiday parties on her own for years. But when a guest spilled red wine on her carpet, she found herself in a frenzy, scrubbing the floor in her cocktail dress. Collins decided to replace the panic with peace of mind by hiring an event planner.
“There’s no way I could do it all and be a good hostess,” Collins says. “I used to run around making sure everyone was having a good time. Now I can sit with my guests, relax and know someone else is on it.”
Collins hired Michele Rogers, owner of Accolade of London in Indianapolis, to plan her holiday parties and says she hasn’t had to break a sweat since 2004. People like Collins use event planners to save their sanity, time, and money, while also adding details that make their party unforgettable.
“Last year, a guest spilled a glass of wine on the floor again and I didn’t even know about it,” Collins says. “I don’t worry because I know Michele is taking care of my guests.”
Rogers set Collins’ mind at ease by meeting with her two months in advance to discuss her budget and needs. During the initial meeting, the two clicked instantly, which was important to Collins. “I really think of her as a friend,” she says. “I trust her fully, so the whole process was easy."
Planners say they spend between 10 and 50 hours to create a truly festive experience — time their busy clients don’t have. To make it more effortless, Rogers sent out the invitations, helped Collins pick out the flower arrangements, and rented the linens and dishes.
To ensure Collins’ first holiday party got rave reviews, Rogers hired a pianist and a photographer to take photos of the guests in front of a professionally decorated 12-foot Christmas tree. “Having a photographer was something I never would have thought of, but it was so unique, we decided to make it a tradition,” Collins says.
The evening of the soiree, Rogers’ staff greeted the guests, took their coats and made sure they got a drink as soon as they arrived. Rogers says event planners are basically a one-stop shop for all your entertaining requirements, even making sure there’s enough toilet paper in every bathroom.
“I always put myself in the position of the guest and ask myself what I would want to experience,” Rogers says.
Kim King Smith, owner of Kim King Smith Events LLC in Edinburgh, Ind., says when you take the steps to make your party special, your guests will notice and remember how great the party was. David Sheets of Manilla, Ind., has hired King Smith to plan his holiday parties since 2007.
He says her special touches, like carefully planned menus and the locations of the food and drink stations, never went unnoticed by his guests. King Smith says it’s important to include vegetarian options and to consider traffic flow to avoid potential disasters like crowding or inadequate seating.
Sheets says King Smith also took the design elements up a notch by coordinating the red and white striped table linens and even the dessert selection to go along with a candy cane theme for his party last year.
Lorryn Langton, owner of Events by Lorryn in Fishers, suggests serving a simple, but elegant champagne cocktail called Kir Royale at your holiday fete.
"Pour two dashes of creme de cassis [a sweet, black-currant flavored liqueur] into a champagne flute," Langton says. "Slowly top with chilled champagne and cheers!"
“People were blown away by everything,” Sheets says. “The napkin rings even had candy canes on them, and Kim created a chocolate peppermint drink for the occasion.”
But King Smith cautions going overboard with a theme can result in a tacky affair. “A theme should add continuity to the event and delight your guests, but not be cheesy,” she says.
Having a holiday party can be expensive, but planners say their job is to give an event personality without breaking the bank. “It’s a popular misconception that hiring a professional to help is too expensive,” King Smith says. “We make sure you stay within or below your budget and have resources most people don’t have access to.”
Sheets says he actually ended up spending less money by hiring King Smith. “Kim was able to negotiate costs with the musical performers and the caterer,” he says. “The savings on those things allowed me to do more than I could in previous years — which enhanced the event and made it more special.”
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 $1,600 and goes up depending on the number of guests and choices of food, drink and entertainment.
One way to keep the cost down is to hold the event at your home — something experts say has become popular. Gene Huddleson, owner of Detail + Design in Indianapolis believes setting the party’s backdrop in a home creates a more intimate and cozy atmosphere that’s unrivaled.
“A home is usually already decorated, warm and inviting,” he says. Huddleson suggests adding to existing decor with fresh floral arrangements for delightful aromas and candles in frosted votives for a soft, welcoming glow. “Another perk of entertaining in your home is convenience,” he says. “Once your guests have left, you simply go to bed.”
Huddleson adds that most event planners will take care of the mess and include it in their fee, making the cleanup for the host stress free. Collins says she used to wake after a hectic evening of entertaining to find her home in shambles, but now that she hires a planner, she can relax.
“I used to dread walking into the kitchen and seeing dishes all over the countertops,” Collins says. “Now when I wake up and go downstairs, it’s as if no one was even here and I can get on with my day.”
Sheets says being able to focus on making memories with friends, family and colleagues is one of the best parts of hiring an event planner. “It was so nice to be able to show up to the party with nothing to do,” Sheets says.
“From the invitations to the toast good night — I could just relax and receive applause from my guests for putting on such a great event.”