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Gambit's 2015 Party Planning Guide

Event specialists give their top tips for successful celebrations


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If you've ever planned a party, you know that successful events involve numerous details, which can be overwhelming. Where do you begin? Gambit offers a mini party planning checklist to keep you organized and on schedule, but there are other essentials that make a party fun and memorable. Here, three local event planners offer their top tips — and their own unique slants — on party-planning basics.

Kenny LaCour

  Fifteen years ago, Kenny LaCour, owner of Dakota Restaurant in Mandeville and Dakota-Catered, brought his decades of experience in the restaurant and catering industries to a second, com-plementary business — a turnkey party-planning operation called Grand Events.

  LaCour plans the full spectrum of events and regularly takes care of everything from soup to nuts. He advises you consider four things:

Purpose/experience — Considering the purpose of a party is more than just thinking about the type of occasion it celebrates, such as graduation, birthday or anniversary, LaCour says. It also means thinking about how you want the event to be different. For those who entertain regularly, the question is especially important.

Budget — When party planners ask clients to name their budget, LaCour says, often clients don't have a definitive answer. When determining how much to spend, he suggests considering several things: food, beverages and location need to be discussed before a planner or venue can quote a price; and don't worry that setting a number will make planners and vendors inflate their prices in order to spend the entire budget.

  "Everyone is so afraid of leaving savings on the table," he says, "but with a reputable planner and equally reputable vendors, you don't have to worry about that."

Uniqueness — There are many ways to make a party stand out — from canvassing the area for an untapped venue — "Don't be afraid to ask if a unique discovery is available to rent," LaCour says. — to transforming an often-used venue into something unexpected. Throwing a unique party may cost more, he says.

  "Predictability comes with a much more stable price," LaCour says, but adds there are exceptions. He cites the experience of a recent out-of-town client who chose a New Orleans diner for a pre-wedding event that was both memorable and surprisingly affordable.

  "Our specialty is the opposite of cookie-cutter," he says. "We take an event and make it as unique as possible."

Enjoy the party — "It's important to be a great host, but you also have to plan a party so that you can be a guest at your party," LaCour says. "The key is to do the work up front. That means planning the important details beforehand, and then planning to delegate the rest."

Hien Nguyen & Kim Tran

  Event planners Kim Tran and Hien Nguyen of Wink Design and Events have been in business for 10 years and handle every aspect of party planning. Tran and Nguyen highlight five key ingredients for planning a stellar affair:

Venue — "The venue is the shell of the event," Tran says. She advises considering both the logistics of using the venue (parking, space, equipment) as well as whether it has the look and feel you want to convey.

Budget — "There's a party for every budget as long as you can include details that mean something to you," Nguyen says. If you're giving an event on your own, you'll want to research all costs before finalizing the arrangements. If you are using a party planner, he or she can provide an estimated budget that allows you to see your expenditures and move them around accordingly, she says.

Non-negotiables — If you know you want a certain photographer or band, secure it early on, Tran advises. Fun things like shopping for accent pieces should be saved for last, after the non-negotiable items are pinned down.

Customize your event "Everyone wants something custom," Nguyen says, citing social media as a contributing factor in the customization trend. "Everybody wants to post something 'Wow' about their party," she says. Wink counts monograms, bold colors, themes and interactive experiences among personalized touches in current demand.

Create an inviting environment — "What makes a great party are the guests, so you want to create an environment where people feel comfortable," Tran says. At a formal dinner, for example, the atmosphere should be elegant and guests should feel special. Likewise, a casual affair should be conducive to informal ease, she says.

Kim Sayatovic & Kelley Troia

  Kelley Troia and Kim Sayatovic plan private events, weddings and destination weekend excursions to New Orleans, a specialty niche the partners in Clandestine have carved out during their three and a half years in business. Troia lists five "musts" when planning a perfect party:

Venue — To keep abreast of new venues, Troia advises asking people where they've gone to parties. "Most people are pretty forthcoming," says Troia, who hears about an average of one new venue a month. Troia and Sayatovic like to search airbnb.com for interesting venues, Troia says, and can negotiate party rental opportunities for some of those venues. Make sure to determine noise ordinances and other policies in the area of the venue that could affect the event.

Set a budget — Less experienced party hosts often underestimate the cost of entertaining, Troia says, and it affects decisions about everything from beverages to decor.

Be flexible — Like all the experts interviewed here, Troia advises flexibility. If your heart is set on a particular venue or band, you may have to change the date of your event.

Consider all your guests — All activities may not be suited to all guests, Troia says, so make sure everyone feels included. A second line may not be possible for elderly guests, for example, while children may need special activities such as a table with coloring books.

Remember to have fun — "People get wrapped up in so many nitty-gritty details, they don't have fun," Troi says . "Relax and enjoy."

More event ideas

Inspiration for the look and feel of a party can come from many sources. Here are a few of our experts' favorites.

Travel — "Walking around in New York, looking around in bars, dress shops, men's stores, stationery shops, there are all sorts of things happening from a design point of view," says Grand Events owner Kenny LaCour, who's especially fond of New York City as an inspiration destination.

The Internet — Kelley Troia of the event planning firm Clandestine regularly sends clients to Pinterest, where they can create a private board for an event that's under wraps. They also can share boards with event planners. Troi says she also scans Bizbash.com and Stylemepretty.com and keeps images on Flickr and Instagram. LaCour says he prefers websites like TripAdvisor and the Zagat guide to cities. "See what's hot and look for what you haven't seen before," he says.

Restaurants — For menu and theme ideas, Hien Nguyen, co-owner of Wink Design and Events, suggests looking at the way food is presented in a creative restaurant. "It's about taking little pieces of things and being able to envision them in a different environment," she says.

Designers — The women at the events planning company Wink pull inspiration not only from the aesthetics of interior and fashion designers but also from their nuts-and-bolts operations, such as production of a fashion show.

Magazines — "I look at as many magazines as I can and pull things that I think are interesting," says Troia, who suggests Travel & Leisure, Garden & Gun, Edible and The Scout Guide for fresh ideas. — Lee Cutrone

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