Once you receive your child’s bar or bat mitzvah date, it all begins. A year or more of preparation and rehearsal, planning and agonizing, decisions and more decisions. All the details to confirm — venue, centerpieces, menu, DJ selection, dance prizes, photographer and videographer choices — not to mention pulling out all those unorganized photos for a montage. The list goes on and on until you think you will never survive it all.
And then the big day — or more typically, the big weekend — is only days away.
Except for your own wedding, your child’s bar or bat mitzvah is probably the biggest event you will ever plan. But that day has numerous behind-the-scenes elements with common, as well as unforeseen, hurdles to overcome.
“Families believe that if they have the party at a country club or a restaurant, the point person at the venue will handle everything,” said Yvonne Wolf, a Los Angeles-area event planner. “But more often than not, that’s not true. Catering managers are not trained to supervise your event as a whole. They are not trained to look at the big picture and supervise all the elements involved.”
Betty Fraser, chef and co-owner of As You Like It Catering, said that being aware of and addressing the smaller behind-the-scenes details can help make it a stress-free occasion.
“There are so many details, and the most important thing at the end of the day is that the family is able to enjoy their special time with their family and friends, not to have the mother or father running around wondering if the flowers, or valet, or cake has arrived,” she said.
In addition to set-up and tear-down needs — including arranging place cards, plating snacks and candy, unwrapping the dance prizes, additional decorating of tables — there’s handling gratuities and vendor balances at the end of the function, managing lines at the buffet, supervising the entertainers and more. You only get one chance to get this right.
Wolf said that if you can’t afford an event planner, identify common dilemmas and solutions by talking with friends and family who have experienced planning a b’nai mitzvah. This is the best way of anticipating problems that could impact the guests’ experience and their memories of the event.
The following are a few problems Wolf has encountered as a planner, along with her proposed solutions:
Dilemma: The appetizers you ordered and paid for aren’t the ones that are coming out.
Solution: Appoint a relative or close friend to check off your selections against a copy of your menu/agreement prior to their being served.
Dilemma: There aren’t enough servers and appetizers during the all-important cocktail hour. Your guests are starving and looking for the food.
Solution: Ask the catering manager to send out each appetizer you selected at the same time, with a designated server for each. Calculate at least five pieces per person.
Dilemma: The room’s layout is not configured according to your plan. This includes dining tables, vendor/entertainment set-up, etc.
Solution: Have another friend or relative arrive at the venue earlier in the day to physically review the room’s layout according to your agreed floor plan, including the appropriate number of chairs per table. This person should be prepared to move furniture if needed.
Dilemma: There are long lines at the bar.
Solution: Order three different drinks to be tray-passed during your cocktail reception: a signature alcoholic drink or wine; a fun nonalcoholic beverage, such as the Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea), and ice water. Ask for a separate children’s beverage station.
Dilemma: The buffet has empty platters, and your guests are waiting for food to be replenished.
Solution: Arrange with catering manager to have one staff person stationed at each buffet to signal for food to be replaced when platters are three-quarters empty. Platters should never be removed from the buffet to create an empty space, nor should they ever appear picked over.
Dilemma: Cocktail hour is too long, and guests are becoming bored and/or hungry.
Solution: Plan your timeline/agenda for the celebration and have someone keep track of time and work spontaneously with the crowd as needed.
Dilemma: Kids are sneaking off to make out or leaving the venue for a coffee break at the nearest Starbucks (yes, both happen).
Solution: Designate one “security” person to remain at the entrance/exit at all times and one additional rep to supervise children on the floor.
Marta Freud is a Chicago transplant who has one bar mitzvah behind her and one more to go. She blogs at immorethanmyminivan.blogspot.com