introsPECtives


Preparation & Planning

When you are in the event industry preparation and planning are your bylaws. You have to think of things that others don’t and you have to be ready for anything. We jokingly call it Plan C, D, E & F. Meaning that you plan and prepare beyond a Plan B.

No matter what part of the event industry you are in, you will have your own particular set of preparation steps that are required. For us, as corporate event and project managers we carry around an event kit. It’s basically our Mary Poppins magical bag. We can pull out just about anything for any situation as long as we keep the bag stocked.

It’s a great idea to create one that is specific to what you do. (Even working in an office, you can have a magical drawer where you keep those crazy items that you surprisingly need now and again). Here is what we keep in our event kits:

  • Nail polish remover/cotton balls
  • Ear plugs
  • Pills for ill guests: Advil, tylenol, tums, immodium
  • Hand lotion or body spray
  • Scissors
  • Nail clippers
  • Unscented bug spray (for outdoor events)
  • Baby wipes
  • Spray deodorant
  • Sunscreen
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Granola bars and water
  • Travel sewing kit
  • Hair Goods: hairspray, bobby pins, hair ties, brush or comb
  • Safety Pins, double-sided tape
  • Charger with different charging tips
  • Lint Roller
  • Tide Sticks or Clorox bleach pen
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Mints or gum
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss and mouth wash
  • Small first aid kit
  • Screwdriver, pliers, wire cutters
  • Blades or pocket knife
  • Different types of tape: scotch, electrical, masking, gaffers tape and double sided tape
  • Paper clips, binder clips
  • Power strip, extension cords, converters
  • Twist ties, fishing line, zip ties
  • Sharpies in all colors
  • Pens
  • Measuring tape
  • Adhesive hooks and tape
  • Floral tape
  • Windex
  • Paper Towels
  • Flash drive
  • Flash light
  • Velcro
  • Batteries
  • Ziploc Bags
  • Notepad
  • Thumbtacks, Push pins, Rubber bands

Believe me….no matter what event it is, I always need something from this kit. It is a necessity of event life. As a side tip: we use a rolling hard shell toolbox to carry everything in. One with lots of little compartments helps you keep things organized too.


Barbecue “Season”-ing

Yep, it’s that time of year again. BBQ season! Living in the Pacific Northwest we spend as much time outdoors as possible when the weather is nice so it goes without saying that BBQ’ing is a must. After all, who wants to play out side in the sun all day an d then head in the house to make dinner?

Whether you are planning a BBQ for family, a few friends or planning to host a big bash PEC has a few tips for making this time of the year more enjoyable:

  • Prepare your grill in advance. Clean it entirely, make sure the grates are clean too…contrary to popular opinion dirty grates do not add to the flavor of BBQ’d food.
  • The Spice is Right. Put together a plastic bin with all the spices you will most commonly use to BBQ with. Don’t forget to add in non-stick cooking spray and oil. It makes grilling easy if everything is already gathered together for easy use.
  • It’s all about the Tools. Anyone who has done any kind of grilling for any length of time will tell you that the tools you use are just as important as what you food you select. Keep a selection of tongs, spatulas, forks and brushes handy so you can quickly grab what you need.
  • Fresh is Best. Whether you are picking vegetables, meat or fish….without a doubt….buying fresh is best. Grilling brings out the natural flavor of the items you’ve selected so make sure you carefully select items before BBQ’ing.
  • Simple Sides. Don’t overwhelm yourself with complicated side dishes to go with your main entrée.  Keep a few things in the refrigerator that are quick to toss together for a side dish. Try and keep the assembly/prep time under ten minutes.
  • Quick Clean Up. Okay, so if you are eco-conscious you might not want to have a stack of paper plates and plastic utensils at hand and ready to pull out for a quick BBQ dinner outside, that’s okay but try to limit the amount of clean up that will be required. BBQ’ing is more about enjoying the outdoors and a balmy summer evening than it is about washing dishes.
Regardless of what works best for you, summer is a time to enjoy the great outdoors and Barbecuing allows you to do that. Take advantage of the sunny days the Pacific Northwest has to offer and if you decide that you want a little help throwing the BBQ bash of the year, give PEC a call…we’re all about fun in the outdoors!

Dial 1-800-help-me!

Today was a day like any other…I go about my business and in the course of conversation with some lovely ladies I discover they are two members of a committee planning an event for a local non-profit organization. They began telling me how they had “just gotten together” with six weeks to an event date they have already solidified. One of them starting talking about how many tables they were going to need and the conversation went on from there.

I started asking them questions about the event, basic logistics questions that I handle every day in the course of my work. They hadn’t thought of the simplest things like linens to cover the tables, how many chairs will sit around each table, plates, silverware, serving dishes for the food they were going to make, how much time it would take them to set everything up. The little details that make an event were just overlooked. They didn’t even know to ask each other the appropriate questions.

So, I just kept asking questions until they walked away with a list of things they needed to address in the six weeks they have until the event.   I offered suggestions for where they could find items, people they could talk to about donations and generally gave them the benefit of my expertise as an event planner. However, I walked away worried about the community event because I could see logistical problems in their plans. It isn’t my event. I’m not part of the non-profit organization, I haven’t been hired to plan it or even to consult on it but I have still spent all afternoon thinking about what they could do different to make it more efficient and turn a better profit.

The biggest thing I walked away from the conversation with was the reminder that people, organizations and yes even planning committees have no idea how important an event planner’s role really is. Even if we don’t plan the event we offer one hour consulting packages that would often resolve the most important issues of an event. I spent thirty minutes with these ladies and they walked away armed with a comprehensive action item list. In another thirty minutes of focused time we could have  resolved timeline issues, set up,tear down and venue logistics as well.

The cost of an hour consultation would have saved them countless planning hours, numerous frustrations and wasted financial expenditures by getting the wrong items or items that could have been found for a better price through a different vendor or even donated. I hope their event is a success and that the non-profit organization truly benefits. I hope the committee learns and grows from this experience and each year goes by it gets better. Who knows, maybe someday they will actually hire an event planner to help them out too.


One Summer Night

One Summer Night…..you hosted the perfect summer picnic. The  BBQ rocked (no one needs to know it was inexpensive) and the DJ had everyone jamming. People played old fashioned games like tug-of-rope, egg toss, water balloon toss, and sack races too. It was an event to remember and every perfect detail came from your imagination and was put it into action by a professional event planner. 

That is the biggest secret to your party success. You didn’t tell your neighbor, you didn’t tellyour best friend but you discovered that working with an event planner meant you could get creative on a budget. The best part of working with an event planner is that they help you with everything from your son’s birthday party to your parent’s anniversary and that high end dinner party your husband decide to throw for the executives at his firm.  You give them the end results you are expecting and a budget and they come up with an event that makes you look like a star hostess. The more you wok with them the better they learn your personal style. It is a partnership made in heaven!


Mini isn’t so mini sometimes

Over the course of our careers as event planners we have come across several clients that want to throw a “big” party on a limited budget. To be realistic sometimes it just isn’t possible but there are times when you can give your guests the impression of  big quantities even on a limited budget.  Design a food buffet that creates a visual feast for your guests and gives them the subliminal idea of abundance. How can you do that, you ask? Here are some simple tips:

  • Use mini loaf pans and mini muffin tins, for your baked goods. A lot of bite sized items looks appealing.
  • Use lots of small colorful bowls. Fill them with dips, chips, veggies,  and candies. The more the better your buffet will look.
  • Use salad plates for slices of meats and cheeses or bite sized appetizers.
  • Make a punch and serve it in small pitchers with juice glasses.
  • Finish the look off with lots of small jars or glasses filled with candles  and flowers to complete the “mini” theme.

Guests will see a full table which will translate visually to a feast in their minds. When everything being offered to the guests is small in size guests will think it is your theme.  People won’t be wondering if you were trying to make things stretch on a tight budget. The thing to remember is that any scenario, any obstacle you see to being able to throw a party can be addressed with a little creativity.


Selecting a great caterer is like finding a needle in a haystack…or is it?

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” —-M. F. K. Fisher

Well, here at PEC we completely agree with the above quote. Food is one of the most important elements in hosting an event. There are ways to cut corners, find deals and control the bottom line but the food is not where those cuts should be made.

The menu you provide at an event can literally make or break its success. People won’t remember a lot of details about an event years later but they will remember whether or not they loved or hated the food. Unfortunately, food is the one arena that there seems to be no middle ground for people. That is why it is so important to find a great caterer and even more important to find the perfect caterer for your specific event.  Yes, we do recommend that you use more than one caterer. They all have a specialty and it is important to find the caterer that fits the event.

Here are our tips for finding a great caterer:

Reputation: It is necessary to research the reputation of the caterer you are considering. Ask them for a list of references that you can check and make sure the reference they give had an event similar to yours. Ask to see copies of their licensing. You want to know if they are licensed to do fried foods, open fire foods, etc.  Better yet ask the local health department about their history.

Education: I wouldn’t ask my teenager to cook a high end meal for fifty so I am willing to bet you wouldn’t trust that kind of a meal to just anyone either. Ask for the Chef’s credentials. If you are going to the expense of hiring a caterer then you want to know that you are entrusting your event to someone with experience. Find out where they were educated in cooking, where they have worked and perfected their art. Don’t forget to ask about the education and background of the event staff too. They are the people who come in contact with your guests, you will want to know about their experience too.

Cuisine: Every caterer serves a primary kind of cuisine. Find out what they specialize in and make sure it is a match for what you are looking for. If it isn’t, don’t be afraid to ask if they are willing to customize their menus or if they only serve what is on their menu. If they go off menu to accommodate your requests be sure to have a tasting to verify the quality will meet your standards. (You wouldn’t order Mexican food from a Chinese restaurant – follow the same thinking here, just because they offer it doesn’t mean they do it well.) Side note: it may be important to find out if they do children’s menus as well. Not all caterers do.

Style: Any professional caterer should be able to offer you a number of options for service style. Some of the most common service styles are a sit down dinner, a buffet, butler style, family style and food stations and interactive food stations. Ask the caterer you are considering how many of each type of event they do per year. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can attend an event similar to yours that they have on the books prior to your event. It is always a good idea to see them in action.

Tastings: Almost all catering companies offer complimentary tastings once you have selected a menu. The tasting is an important element of selecting a caterer. It gives you a firsthand opportunity to judge for yourself the quality of the food in regards to taste, presentation and style. It is also an opportunity for you to ask for small changes to the menu like a different sauce, less spice, alternate ways to serve the item etc.

Alcohol Policy: Don’t assume that caterers offer alcohol service. Some caterers do and others are licensed only to serve alcohol provided by you. Even then, caterers will often charge a corking fee and/or a pouring fee. Most caterers will ask you to secure a banquet permit for alcohol service. Don’t worry they are simple to get and cost about $10. *Side note: Be sure to ask the caterer what they have in the way of non-alcoholic beverages.

Décor/Themes: Some caterers bring everything in disposable pans and just set them out on the table. (Don’t get me wrong, some events that is exactly what you need) Most caterers can show you pictures of basic service style. Only a handful of caterers can actually provide you with full on themed out décor. What do I mean by themed out? Well maybe you want the buffet décor to match your Egyptian theme or maybe you want the fabrics and flowers used on the buffet to match the colors you have selected for your wedding either way make sure that the caterer offers something that fits your event.

Staffing: Who actually facilitates your events is very important. Ask the caterers what their dress code and personal appearance policies are. Ask to meet your event lead prior to the event so you are comfortable with them and their knowledge of the event. Find out if your catering coordinator will be available to attend your event or at least be available to you via a cell phone in case you have issues. Make sure you know the caterers policy regarding staffing ratio to guests as well as their policy on overtime charges. 

Set Up/Tear Down: Caterers can give you an expected time line for set up for an event. You will need to know this as the set up time varies according to the style of event. Also make sure that you have allotted enough time for tear down prior to the venue needing to be emptied. Don’t assume that a caterer will clean up the space they have used for food prep. Often times you will need to negotiate the clean up with the caterer and it could cost you additional staffing fees.

Rentals: Some caterers offer plastic service ware and utensils complimentary and china for an additional cost. Some caterers offer the reverse. Make sure you know in advance what the fees are for rental items. Rental items can include everything from china and glassware to tables and linens. Coolers, ice, punch bowls, coffee carafes and water pitchers can all cost additional funds. This is the area to pay the most attention to. You certainly don’t want an unexpected charge because you assumed it was part of the caterers service.

Additional fees:  Yes, you need to bite the bullet and ask you caterer about all of their fees. Not every caterer charges the same fees and knowing what those fees are might make the difference between two caterers that are hard to choose between. Additional fees that you may come across when selecting a caterer are service fees, gratuities, taxes, fuel surcharges, delivery, and drop offs.

Contracts: Before selecting a caterer make sure to see what their contract looks like. Their contract should outline policies regarding such things as natural disasters, payments and deposits, final head counts, service timelines, liability, cancellations, and insurance provisions. *Side Note: make sure the caterer is carrying the right insurance. Often time venues request a certain level of liability insurance and you will want to make sure they meet the requirements.

Multiple Events Policy: No matter how good a catering company is, even they have their limits. If you are planning a big event it is a good idea to know how many other events they have booked on the same day and where they draw the line on taking multiple events on a day. The last thing you want is a catering company that thinks they can do it all and end up shortchanging your event by sending substandard staff or worse…food! It doesn’t hurt to check periodically leading up to your event if they have taken on more events that day even if they have told you at the beginning of the planning process that the day is free.

Follow these simple guidelines and selecting a caterer will be a much easier process. We know because these were all lesson’s we learned the hard way.


Organizing the Organizers

As event planners we tend to be natural organizers, some would even say we are a bit retentive about organization. We plan for every occurance. We have back up plans for those plans. We are always looking for a way to make things flow smooth and easy. We like things to be neat and tidy and esthetically pleasing. We know that attention to detail is what can make or break an event. So, one would think that event planners carry those same traits into their private lives. Well, for some that might be true and to a good extent we are very much this way in our private lives but for some reason our business storage area looked like a cyclone had landed and created utter chaos.

It was one of “those things”…you know, the projects we are going to get around to “someday”. Well, someday came about two weeks ago and I have to say that even though it took us a whole day to clean, sort through and get rid of stuff as well as organize to our hearts content; it creates quite a feeling of satisfaction to open the door and see everything neat and tidy. Better yet we can find things easily which makes trips to the storage quick and simple now.

I guess it just goes to show you that even natural born organizers have “those things” that we put off, will get to someday or just plain avoid at all costs. Now that we have the storage all cleaned up I think we are feeling better prepared to face the next BIG project…organizing all the boxes of business files we have to keep for the dreaded seven years until we can shred it all. Now if only I can get someone else to do that so I don’t have to everything would be perfect!


Road Trip Debacles

Ever just know that if you get in the car with a friend to go somewhere it will inevitably end up with something going awry? Oh it is sure to include lots of laughter and another “never going to forget that” story to tell people but you know something, anything could happen to make it a debacle.

We are event planners so you would think that we seldom have those days because we pay attention to details. A contraire, when it comes to the details of our lives it is a very different thing than when we are being hired by a client. We have experienced everything from pumping gas into the company van when it was already full to being absolutely positive of a shortcut that ended up taking us longer because of road closures.

Whatever the adventure we find ourselves currently in; it is laughter that gets us through. Professional though we may be, we are a zany group of women that know how to really just live in the moment and fun doing so. Of course, when that moment leads us down a path we weren’t quite expecting we know how to think on our feet and come up with a plan B.

Either way we know we are in for an adventure when we are together. I guess that is why it is so great to work with your best friends. We would love to hear about some of your favorite road trip debacles too!


A Tale of Two Thrifties

Picnic season. Can’t you smell the barbecue already? Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, baked beans, potato salad. A face painter or balloon twister for the kids, maybe an inflatable toy or two, and some fun summer music in the background. It’s a classic recipe for summer fun! Summer picnics are the best, if you ask me. I’m a huge fan. For corporate America, it’s an opportunity to get the employees out of the office and onto the grass, and mingle with their coworker’s families. It creates a sense of belonging to a family, and goes a long way to promote good morale. The picnic is important. Perhaps that’s why two of our clients got creative instead of scrapping the picnic altogether.
It wasn’t long ago that we went to the phones to contact our clients about their yearly summer event, and two of them, we’ll call them company A and Company B, were seriously considering cancelling the event that year. Their budgets were tight, and neither of them could afford the kind of picnics that they had years prior. When we looked at the contracts from the previous years, we found that these two companies had a lot in common. Similar group size, menu choices and entertainment choices were all about the same – and they liked to picnic at the same park. The light bulbs went on and we were on the phones getting these two companies together. Combining their picnic would go a long way in both of their budgets! They agreed, and this is how it worked for them: Both groups opted to have their own style of catering. Company A combined potluck sides with a hired bbq chef for the grilled items that they purchased at Costco. Company B gathered their volunteers, which included their CEO, to do much the same thing. It was arranged that their picnic sites were side by side, and the shared entertainment was set up between the two groups: Two inflatable toys, a face painter, and a DJ who came ready with games for each group to play at different times. All of the guests had a great time. It went so well that they did the same thing two years in a row!
You don’t have to share a picnic with another group to keep your picnic budget under control. A potluck picnic can be a wonderful way to bring employees together, and with a little creativity can be just as fun as the big budget picnics – it can also be more labor intensive, take more planning time and a lot more organization. The point is there are many ways to enjoy a company-wide summer get together without taking a huge chunk out of your morale budget. Let the sunshine inspire you and get creative!


Embrace Your Inner Magician

Ever sit in a meeting where your client tells you that they need cut their budget by 30% but the core objectives are still the same? The impact of that moment, when you know your client is looking to you to provide the same caliber of event, meet the same objectives, and do it for far less can be daunting. Want a word of advice? Don’t look like a deer caught in headlights, don’t run from the project in fear and don’t ever give your client’s reason to doubt your ability to get the job done. It’s moments like this when seasoned event planners really have an opportunity to showcase their talents.

Due to our current economic culture we find ourselves facing these moments more and more frequently. What words of wisdom do we offer up for handling these moments? Take a look in the mirror and smile a greeting at the master magician. From the moment they communicate their needs to you it becomes your job to take those needs and magically design an event that still exceeds their expectations. YOU CAN DO IT! Everything your client needs can be produced with a little creativity on ingenuity. Need a few ideas?

RESEARCH: Take the time and really research the products needed to produce the event. With a little due diligence you can often find quality comparable, cost reduced items. DESIGN: Often times small switches in design focus can save money in the budget. Don’t be afraid to make things simple either. Sometimes simple, small touches or impacts of color provide a very dramatic effect without breaking the bank. CATERING: Communicate your willingness to let them be creative with product as long as they stay within your budget. You will be amazed at the results and even more importantly, so will your client. SHARED COSTS: Have several events happening at the same time? Look at the aspects of all the events and see where you can reuse, recycle and double up on products and then share the cost across all of the events saving money for each event. PLANNING FEES: Last but not least don’t be afraid to discount your fees and ask vendors for commissions for bringing them business. Worried you’ll be stuck in this box forever? Communicate clearly to the client that you are discounting your services for this event only in order to make it work within their budget.

With a few basic “magic tricks” up your sleeve you can turn a negative situation like your client’s budget getting cut by 30% into an amazing showcase of your planning skills and you might just find that you enjoy the creative challenge too.

~ Logistic Mystic