The difference between the conference social where you had those delicious canapes and loved the wine so much you had to ask the bartender for the name and that family reunion where all that was left after half an hour was a bowl of peanuts and where Cousin Cletus did cannonballs in the hotel fountain is the difference between planning and the thoughtless cast-off, “Aw, it’ll all work out.”

If you’re staging your first big event, what makes the big day come off without a hitch is to plan, plan, and plan some more. The more you’ve thought through every detail and planned for every contingency, the less likely you are to be met with an unsavory surprise. Here are some of the basics of event planning that will get you started down the right path.


Before you even begin to plan the logistics of your event, you should ask some basic questions. First, what is the purpose of the gathering?  A business meeting has far different aims than a wedding reception and will dictate questions about what you will serve, the types of equipment you will need, the staff you should employ, decor, and much more. Second, try to get a sense of the attendees. A reunion of Stanford’s law class of 1996 will have different needs and expectations than say a celebration for the NCAA hockey champs of 2015. Finally, ascertain your budget so that you can make decisions about necessary costs and those that can be shaved if too costly.

A Comprehensive Plan

Each gathering has certain issues that are dictated by the size and nature of the event, but there are basics that you should consider and plan in advance:

    • Venue: You will want to book a space that will accommodate the expected number of guests and that suits the nature of the event. It’s a good idea to purchase insurance unless your venue already has insurance in place (including coverages for alcohol service–which is a must).
    • Food and drink: Feeding guests is a must for a successful event and style and amount of food depends on the situation. Not every gathering requires alcohol, but if you decide to serve please refer to the section below for special considerations.
    • Entertainment: This may be as simple as music played through Pandora on a sound system or you might want to hire a band. Just be sure you’ve clarified the types of equipment needed, the space required, the designated staff for coping with entertainment issues, cost, and length of service. Depending on location, you may also need to investigate required permits for providing entertainment
    • Staffing: Assess the staff you will need based on the services you’re providing and the number of attendees. Do you need bartenders? Waitstaff?  Is this the type of event that requires security. Will you need someone on hand to handle A/V issues?
    • Decor: Your decorative costs and plans include everything from flowers and decorations to the types of glass and serving ware you will provide. It’s also a good promotional strategy to consider branding as you pick colors and themes for your event.
    • Promotion: Whether you work from a website, use social media, or go old-school with fliers, you will want to consider not only the costs but also the best marketing strategies for your event.

Serving Alcohol

Because serving alcohol at events is so popular and has the potential for the most problems, you should make special considerations about how to do so. The best option if you’re inexperienced in such matters or are unwilling to take on liability, is to work with a venue that already has the proper licenses, insurance, and staff in place. Should you decide to do it yourself, here are a few important considerations:

    • Make sure you have the proper licenses for the type of service you’re providing. Contact your local liquor control board to find out what is required for a Special Occasion License.
    • Plan out your service: Decide how many bars you will provide and what staff you will need for each one. What types of alcohol will you serve and how much are you providing?  How will you control the rate of consumption?  What security will you need to provide and how will you deal with drunk guests? How will you prevent drunk guests from driving?
    • Buy insurance: Because of the possible liabilities involved with alcohol sales and consumption, you will definitely need insurance to cover your event.
    • Hire trained bartenders: When it comes to alcohol, you don’t want to use volunteers. Trained bartenders know the laws of alcohol consumption and liability, know how to deal with inebriated guests, and are more aware of signs of intoxication and the need to cut off a customer who has had too much.
    • Limit/control guest consumption: Cash bars put control in the hands of the consumer. You are better off offering limited tickets for drinks, setting a maximum drink limit, or keeping the bar hours tight so that customers don’t have time to consume too much.
    • Have a driving plan in place: Make arrangements for how to deal with guests who’ve had too much and want to drive home. Have a local cab or ride share service information on hand. Better yet, provide transportation to and from the venue or arrange local accommodations that don’t require guests to drive.

All’s Well that Ends Well

If you’ve planned well and created a thorough agenda for the day, things are likely to go more smoothly, but even the best laid plans can encounter hitches. It’s worth having contingency plans in place. Having back up staff on call, a secondary source of entertainment, and foul weather plans in place, for example, will only make you look more professional and promise your guests a memorable event.

And once you’ve pulled off your first success, it’s never a bad idea to solicit feedback. You’ll learn about all the things you did right, and get ideas for how to make adjustments to make your next event go even better.

WE’D LOVE FOR YOU TO SHARE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR WEBSITE BUT PLEASE INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING COMPLETE INFORMATION: Event Producer Strategist, Entrepreneur, Speaker, and Coach, Annette Naif, CEO & Creative Director of Naif Productions.

This article was written in collaboration with Megan Glenn from MeganWrites.Co.

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About Naif Productions:

Naif Productions is a strategic event planning, design and production firm specializing in corporate, live coaching sales events, social, non-profit, and weddings. Based in New York City, we produce events worldwide from Fortune 500 clients and coaches to families and charities. Naif Productions specializes in helping clients attain their goals, realize return on investment, and achieve the most unique, creative experiences.

About Annette Naif:

Since 1986 Annette Naif has been designing and producing custom events, helping clients create their unique style that translates into a memorable and profitable experience. Annette spent 17 years producing events in the motion picture industry where she helped coordinate numerous productions for film and episodic television programs. Since then Annette’s been running her own event production company, coaching other event planners, teaching an event operations and production course at NYU, and now is the CEO & Creative Director of Naif Productions.

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