Jewish Journal

Party planning from A to Z

by Rebecca Steinberger

Posted on Apr. 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah is hard work, involving years of intense study and the courage to lead an entire congregation in prayer. Organizing a party to celebrate this milestone — well, that’s no picnic either.

It can require meticulous planning and research so that the day represents the personality of the young person and is enjoyable for everyone. Before getting too caught up in the process, remember that the occasion is a religious observance for a 12- or 13-year-old, and the celebration should be consistent with such values. 

Where to begin? From the caterer to the DJ to your budget, here are some hints to help you get started. 

Thinking Ahead

Families should be members of a synagogue and enroll their child in Hebrew school three years prior to a bar or bat mitzvah. This will provide enough time for the serious preparation necessary for the big day — and for the celebration afterward. 

At Stephen S Wise Temple, a Reform congregation in Bel Air, b’nai mitzvah students pick a community service project they are passionate about a year in advance. 

“There needs to be focus on the meaning of the day and not getting too caught up in the celebration,” said Jennifer Smith, b’nai mitzvah and social justice coordinator at the synagogue. “Focus more on the ‘mitzvah’ and less on the ‘bar.’ ” 

It is possible to book the ceremony and celebration three years in advance, but one to two years ahead of time usually is sufficient. Choosing a date well in advance lessens the chance that your target date and time becomes unavailable. 

During this time, start thinking about your child’s style and what he or she thinks is important, so you can pick a theme that reflects this. 

First Things First

Once you have a date, estimate a general guest count and choose a desirable location. The number of guests can determine whether your venue is fitting. The first thing to reserve is the venue for the celebration and the caterer. If you don’t have these, then there’s no point in coordinating flowers, balloons and party favors. 

The date and location also are necessary information for the invitations, which should be sent out six to eight weeks prior to the event. If you book everything early enough, then it’s possible to send save-the-date cards to friends and family six to 12 months ahead of time. If you’ve already chosen a theme, this can also be incorporated into the invitations. 

How to Budget

Start by gauging a budget that is reasonable and prioritizing what is important to you. The party shouldn’t be about keeping up with the Joneses or require a large financial setback, but it should be carefully thought out. 

“People tend to think that they can do a lot of it on their own, but toward the last month or so they get overwhelmed,” said Vanessa Kovac, owner of 2K Event Productions.

Working with a party planner alleviates the stress associated with the day and could be helpful because of the discounts that are available to them. Food is a good place to start when considering budget. Often people will start spending their money elsewhere, leaving a limited budget to work with when setting the menu. 

“Most people will go over budget,” Kovac said. “It is really important for people to prioritize what is important to them and to have realistic expectations of what those costs are upfront.”

What to Ask Your Caterer

Before booking a caterer, ask the vendor if you can observe a party where he or she is working. This will allow you to see how the vendor operates and give you the choice to do some food tasting. 

“Most places don’t set up a food tasting, but surely you can ask,” said Cindy Cohen, owner of Majestic Caterers, the exclusive caterer of -Conservative Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills.

When selecting food, remember that it’s less expensive to do a separate kid’s menu — and the kids usually prefer that food anyway. Because the youngsters eat fast to get back on the dance floor or involved in games, it is ideal to do a kid’s buffet. 

Liquor can also be a costly addition to your food tab. It is often better to bring in your own liquor and pay the cost for the bartender than committing to a set price per person for alcohol. Also, ask the caterer about what else may be included. Security, custodial services, linens and plates are all items that should be included in the cost. 

“Everyone is cutting costs, and they often think it might be cheaper to have the party in the backyard,” Cohen said. “But adding in all the rental pieces gets expensive.”

That’s entertainment!

When booking a DJ, it is good to compare different companies so that you feel comfortable with your final decision. The DJ should be booked six months to one year in advance. On average, people spend $4,000 around Los Angeles, though less-expensive options are available. 

Six to eight months prior to the event, Joel Macht, owner of SpotLightLA, asks his clients to start making a list of things they like and don’t like after attending other bar and bat mitzvahs. This can be shared with your DJ to assist in shaping how you envision the celebration. About 30 days prior to the event, pick the music you like and visuals to include — if your entertainment package includes a visual jockey or incorporation of graphics during the party. 

“You might like the DJ you picked, but remember, that person is only as good as the team,” Macht said. 

If the DJ unexpectedly is unavailable, then you should feel comfortable with someone else from the company. 

“Life happens,” he said. “So ask if the company has thought about the ‘what if’ scenarios.” 

It is also a reasonable request to ask to attend one of their other events with your child to confirm that the DJ’s style is one that you like.

With all the planning, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. It’s time to celebrate!

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