I’ve been producing events for more than 20 years, both professionally and personally. They have ranged from intimate dinner parties to fundraising dinners for 500 (I can produce yours! More information at greenfutureconsulting.info).
Among our friends, my wife and I are (in)famous for throwing memorable costume parties. We’ve done dozens of them. We love to imagine other worlds to visit, create them, and invite our friends along. You can find examples here.
Along the way, you learn stuff. So over the next few days, in 3 parts, I’ll be passing along what I have learned about producing a memorable themed event.
First: what’s the concept? Make some decisions.
- What kind of event is it? Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a barbecue, a picnic, or a sit-down dinner? Each of these has its own considerations. For example, it’s harder to decorate the outdoors, so to communicate a theme, costuming, food and music choices become more important.
- What’s the theme? Pick something intriguing. If you want to do a 1920s theme, instead of a generic “Roaring Twenties” party, throw in a twist. Ours was “New Years Eve 1928 Aboard the Graf Zeppelin” (held in May!) Choose something YOU think is cool: a moment from history, a film, book, TV series…or a genre, like “the future they imagined in the 1950s.” Make it unique, but not so obscure that no one else will be interested.
- What’s the venue? Choose your venue carefully, and be realistic about likely attendance. Be aware of the concept of critical mass—if you don’t have enough people to fill your space, your event can’t possibly succeed. A 50-person party can feel like a smash success or like three mosquitoes flying around the Grand Canyon, depending on how large the space is. Without critical mass, guests will feel awkward and bored, and your party will be a flop.
- What’s the budget? Throwing a great party doesn’t have to break the bank. Most of our parties have had a budget of under $250. Some cost us nothing!
If you have money to work with, I recommend you invest most in atmosphere. If the event is catered, don’t go overboard on swanky food and drink unless it’s a sit-down dinner. The draw is the party, not the food. You can provide attractive, tasty food that fits with your theme without spending a fortune…and your guests will remember the WOW effect of decorations that transport them to another world far more than they would those grilled chipotle-quail-stuffed mushroom caps.
If you don’t have a budget, go potluck. You would be surprised at the effort your guests will put into bringing nice food and drink that fits the theme. Our standard request is “a bottle of something to share, and a plate of theme-appropriate finger food,” and it’s been working for ten years.
That said, expenses can get away from you—set a limit and stick to it. If you know you’re going to need to recoup your costs, set a cover charge and let your guests know in advance you’ll be asking for it. If your parties are amazing, you can ask people to bring a bottle and a plate of hors d’oeuvres to share AND pay a door fee, and they’ll clamor to come to the next one.
If costs are higher than you’re willing to spend and/or space is limited, you can go the whole way and make it a ticketed event. In my experience, the best free online ticket sales service is Brown Paper Tickets.
At publication, the Dragon was ENTHUSIASTIC