Blog posts on expert tips for a distinctive, modern lifestyle.

Don’t Call it a Gala if it is a Picnic

Recently a former client demanded that I label their inaugural event a gala. I wouldn’t.

The event that they sought out my expertise to design was an introduction to their non-profit. A celebration of their one-year anniversary that coincided with the upcoming launch of their new performance season. The event’s purpose was to enrich existing fan relationships, establish connections with new audiences and to facilitate intimate dialogue with all attendees. At the eleventh hour, they demanded that I label their inaugural event a gala when it was an early evening introductory showcase with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. That demand ended the relationship. Let me inform you of why it did so that you do not repeat the same mistake.

A gala is typically reserved for the black-tie circuit. The type of grandiose fundraising balls held at five-star resorts with ticket prices ranging from several hundred to a few thousand per person and purchases by table. The type of affair that society’s upper echelon attend in their finest gowns, tuxedos and jewels.

Ironically, this demographic group comprises the organization’s target audience of desired patrons. These society members would probably scoff at the idea that a gathering was marketed as a gala especially given the unknown brand, leadership, location and ticket price. The improper event description diminishes the organization’s credibility as well as mine. By the way, people will not attend a misrepresented event.

This lesson is one to heed along with these other event description pointers:

  • An event goal and budget will determine the type of event. The type of event will establish a theme and structure. The structure will generate a timeline. All of these elements are packaged to present the event and its intended purpose.
  • If it is first-time event, it is an inaugural affair and should not contain first annual in its description. This detail applies to galas, awards programs and events intended to become annual traditions.
  • If it is a gathering the set-up is more informal. This includes happy hours, potlucks, picnics and spontaneous social meet-ups.
  • A fundraiser is expected to benefit a legitimate 501(c)(3) organization or serves the purpose of political pursuits. If you are invited to a fundraiser, please expect to make an investment and dress according to the stated code.
  • Festivals, retreats, showcases and screenings are events that generally are as transparent as they sound and provide detailed instructions pertaining to attendance and participation.
  • Celebrations generally implies contributing some type of gift. Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and graduations all fit in this category. An emerging trend is to hold celebration of life events over funerals.

Ideas of grandeur can taint our vision from time to time. However, when it comes to events, it is wise to remember that they are an increasingly essential brand extension. An appropriate description of your event is appropriate and necessary; especially if you want to gain or increase your organization’s credibility.

10 Ways to Remix Your Boring Event

The new year celebrations are long gone, but there is a full year of other events to come. Much like an annual celebration of New Year’s Eve, other annual events can become boring quickly. If you plan or manage an annual event, you might be taken aback to discover that more than likely your event has become boring.

Boring events happen by choosing the same routine year-end and year-out including the venue, set up, color scheme, food and the same ol’ everything. The first year was good, but years two, three and four could have been cancelled. When something is perceived as a success, oftentimes the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality governs the day. This formulaic mindset is ideal for repetitive business functions, however; it is not so fabulous for social, professional association and corporate occasions. When it “ain’t broke” is the perfect time to remix it.

Four tangible signs of an event losing its beat include 1) a decline in guest R.S.V.P.’s, 2) reduction in time spent, 3) deviations from the dress code (usually more casual than previous times) and 4) decreasing enthusiasm during the festivities.

We all appreciate the predictability of routine. However, when it comes time to learn, network or celebrate; diverging from the norm is an ideal platform for a new experience. The world evolves. Dynamics change. Styles shift. Let your event, even one steeped in tradition, breathe in new ideas and perspectives that synthesize a rhythm that is alluring to guests. Humans love surprise and delight with glittering sounds and mesmerizing lights.

Here is my 10-point list of considerations to facilitate the creation of something new, fun and meaningful:

  1. Are you really ready for a change? Be honest with yourself and any participating team members. Even those with the best intentions can easily revert to the same routine out of fear or lack of imagination. Those are temporary moments. If you work through the trepidation and embrace the opportunity with positive energy and enthusiasm, you will experience a creative adventure.
  2. Is your timetable realistic? Time is an event planner’s friend. It avails you the chance to brainstorm or daydream with freedom and affords you the convenience of clarity. The amount of time devoted to an event reveals itself in the presence or absence of difference-making details that show up in the final performance. If the event involves numerous logistical details and hundreds to thousands of people, a solid nine months to one year is ideal.
  3. Is the budget realistic? Last year’s line item isn’t necessarily this year’s number. Every year, it seems like everything we buy has an upward price adjustment. If your guest list and event goals expand, then is it realistic for your budget to reflect those expansions. Establish a realistic budget with these two pointers in mind and add a 20% buffer to that number.
  4. This again? Sometimes tradition may need to hold sway to a needed update. Open up to some new ways to accomplish the celebration of job performances, build teams, launch new products/services/processes, announce mergers or acquisitions, roll out a new location or coronate new alliances. People love the thrill of the surprise so be the one to give it to them.
  5. Are you reheating the food? Most households fall into a meal trap, i.e. the same meals served weekly. Resist the temptation to transfer home habits to event planning. Events are an ideal environment in which to explore new tastes. Let the experts imagine some new menu mashups for your group.
  6. Is the venue programmed in the GPS? We can all attest to how comforting familiar locations and even seating arrangements are especially in group settings. Nonetheless, if the same space is on replay, it is time to stretch the boundaries. Sure, there are limitations to the number of venues that can accommodate certain group sizes, room arrangements and food and beverage. Even if you have no other choice but the same location, try a new room configuration. Room configurations are silent partners in setting the flow of the experience. You can create the feeling of a new venue by selecting new surfaces, table styles (round versus rectangle), and configuration flows (continuous U’s versus individual rounds).
  7. Is the plastic still on the furniture? Room décor is a visual trap that, when corrected, is instrumental in transforming an event’s energy. Imagine people walking in to the space gasping for air with excitement. Rental companies have many new furniture and accessory options available that will literally rock a room.
  8. Are the same resources contracted? Resources include music playlists, presenters, performers, themes, topics and timelines. It is natural to gravitate toward favorite and reliable resources. However, it is completely acceptable and becomes necessary to seek out and vet new sources of expertise. The key is to keep an open mind and have fun meeting new people who can help you produce an original event.
  9. Does the event happen at the same time? Perhaps you can put a twist on an event by changing the time of day and even the season. Turn dinner into breakfast or bring breakfast to dinner. Spring into fall or bring summer to winter. Shifting speeds can generate fresh experiences.
  10. Are we engaging the senses? An event with food and high-top tables in a large empty hall leaves plenty of room for lots of creativity and sensory engagement. The most successful events engage all the senses. If you want a memorable gathering, include an element that touches each sense to mix magic.

Once you evaluate these considerations, you and any team members are on your way to remixing an event of any genre.

10 Tips for Behaving Like a Gracious Guest

The tables are set with beautiful centerpieces, the candles are lit, a welcome drink is awaiting you at the door and the music is pulsing with the party beat. The thrill of walking into a party still makes people’s heart beat.

Invitations to personal or business events connote an element of importance, favor and acceptance. In today’s lax environment of anything goes behavior, it is my belief that we could all benefit from a refresher on showing more appreciation and respect for invitations and to possibly relearn how to be a gracious guest.

Here are my tips for behaving as a gracious guest:

1.      Most invitations contain a  R.S.V.P. which is a French phrase, “répondez, s’il vous plaît,” which means “please reply.”  A final guest count is important for a host for numerous reasons. These include:

a)   Responding to a caterer for food count.Whether the caterer is on-site or the host orders and picks up from a restaurant, both will require a final count to accommodate preparation timelines and to confirm the host’s food costs. An on-site caterer will need time to secure an adequate staff to facilitate the planning, set-up, presentation, management and clean-up of food. This process requires a lot of work and organization. Additionally, most caterers will quote a price based upon a start and end time. If the timeframe is extended due to a variety of reasons, the host may have to pay them more.

b)   Responding to a bartending service firm for staff and/or purchasing enough alcohol and/or non-alcoholic beverages to accommodate the guests.

c) Adhering to a venue’s maximum capacity as set by local law.

As you can ascertain, these three factors alone require planning and coordination. It is less stressful for the host, if a planner is not hired, to avoid having to make lots of last minute adjustments due to a lack of timely R.S.V.P.’s. Besides that, hosts and guests want to keep the party fresh and alive with plenty of food and libations for all.

Conversely, if you R.S.V.P., it is completely acceptable to inform your host that your availability has changed and you will not be able to attend. We all know the feeling of anticipating guests and then not seeing them.

2.      Rentals. At times, it is necessary to rent tables, chairs, linens, dinnerware, etc. If that is the case, then the host will need an accurate attendance count for the rental company so that they can fulfill the order as needed.

3.      Dress appropriately to honor your host, yourself and the venue. It is a matter of courtesy and respect. Once you R.S.V.P., you are a participant who agrees to partake in the host’s planned festivities. Have some fun and make some fun (please see tips five and six).

4.      Bring a gift. Like a R.S.V.P., a  gift is a gesture of gratitude. A gift does not have to be expensive. Something relevant and thoughtful is ideal.

5.      Avoid overindulgence. Yes, the memo on this topic is still is either unknown or ignored. Please be conscious of the amount of food and especially alcoholic beverages you and your guest(s) consume. A free (open) bar is not a license to overindulge to the point of behaving belligerently including acting aggressively and slurring words. I have seen grown adults lose their bodily functions at professional events and it is never a shining moment for them or the host. Please demonstrate some discipline while at celebrations.

6.      Act responsibly. This includes not damaging the venue, whether it is an employer’s private residence or a local venue. It also includes socializing with the other guests and participating in the fun.

7.     Adhere to food etiquette. Do not put your hands in a platter of buffet food, stand over a buffet and begin eating, take multiple helpings prior to fellow guests receiving their first, use multiple plates when one will do, ask for containers to take food home in or stuff food into pockets or purses. This is disturbing behavior that I see at nearly every event. This is not your personal meal or kitchen space. The food is accounted for and set for numerous people to enjoy. I have also seen a brazen, arrogant guest put their fingers in a pan of cooking food at chef-attended private functions. This behavior is disgusting and inappropriate. Let’s stop being so self-focused and show some respect for everyone, starting with yourself.

8.      Do not hover over or block pathways of chefs, caterers or other staff that are in the process of setting up food. Wait away from the area for the set-up to finish. Then wait for announcement that dinner is ready for everyone.

9.      Clean-up your area. Even though staff are usually at an event to help with clean up, it is completely acceptable to take a moment to clean up your personal area and gather your plates, napkins and cups for disposal. If you dining with china, await the staff to gather your plates and silverware. There is a system for collecting dishware and disposing of food.

10.  Thank you host upon leaving and mail a personal note of thanks. In your note, you can mention some of the event highlights for you and your guest(s) as a wonderful way to further build your relationship with the host and share happy memories.

Events are meant for everyone’s enjoyment. When we all do our part to behave like gracious guests, then more fun is typically had by all. When you host an event, you’ll appreciate your guests abiding by these same tips.

Group Dining Etiquette from Bars to Buffets

One of our greatest joys is to celebrate life moments surrounded by food and friends. Whether we celebrate casually or formally, good manners are essential. After designing and working hundreds of events from restaurants to large group functions, I’m inspired to share some key dining etiquette tips to make sure everyone enjoys both food and friends:

Appetizer Platters or Offerings

Appetizer platters at restaurants or bars usually come with some side plates, utensils and napkins. What is usually missing is a serving utensil. If this is the case and you have a large group, ask for a serving utensil or designate one clean utensil that the entire group can use for food service.

Here’s a real story to help illustrate this point. There was a group of professionals, including an ER physician, who met up to enjoy some libations and appetizers including a large bowl of guacamole. When the guacamole bowl arrived, the ER doctor dug into the guacamole with his fingers and knuckles to scoop up a large portion for his plate. Do you still have your appetite? Probably not. Listen, we love our friends, but there is a limit to what we should and can accept when serving ourselves in a group. Let’s keep the spirit of celebration high with equally high etiquette and sanitation standards for everyone.

Passed Hors D’oeuvres

Passed hors d’oeuvres, aka appetizers, give guests a range of tastes with a traditional touch of semi-personal service. Some passed hors d’oeuvres are offered on a stick and/or with an accompanying dip. It is acceptable to pick up the food with your hands and use the provided utensil to drizzle the dip over the food. At times, it may make sense to skip the utensil and just dip your food directly into the dish. Remember, if you touch it, it is yours!

If you choose to partake of these types of hors d’oeuvres, please note that it is not appropriate to put your used stick on the serving platter after consuming the food or double dip your food in the accompanying condiment. If you put your stick back on the serving platter, you’ve contaminated the entire platter and the rest of the food for other guests. Therefore it is best to keep your sticks to yourself, find a trash receptacle or wait for a server to come your way to gather your trash. This action shows respect and courteous to yourself, guests, host and servers. Contaminated food must be thrown out which could possibly impact the event food supply.

Family Style Dinners

Family style dinners are the type of dining experience that most often happen during holidays. Families and friends sit around a large table to enjoy an abundant banquet of food. The family sits down to eat and the passing of bowls and platters commences. When a platter arrives at your seat, please use the serving utensil and take a moderate portion to ensure that everyone at the table has an opportunity to enjoy each dish. You can always scoop up seconds once the platters circulate.

By the way, always pass to your immediate right first. Yes, the proper way was to pass from your left but this practice has been modernized with counterclockwise movement.

A few other rules of thumb include 1) turn your head and pass food along if you have to sneeze or cough, 2) continue passing if it is not what you desire as long as your guest to your right has free hands to accept the dish and 3) position platters as close to the center of the table to keep food as conveniently accessible to all and uncontaminated as possible.


Ah, the allure of a buffet; all-you-can-eat dining customized to your palate. Buffets are wonderful ways to feed a large group of people in cascading courses and order. However, there are some necessary refreshers to enjoy the buffet while keeping the food safe for you and your fellow event attendees.

  • Use the provided utensils. Do NOT put your fingers, hands, personal utensils or other items in a platter to portion your food.
  • Once you pack your plate, move away from the area. Do not eat or talk over the food or stand next to the buffet blocking the flow. Be excited to see someone, but move the party away from the line.
  • If food falls out of the serving utensils, leave it where it is. Do not put that food back into the serving vessel or on your plate.
  • Try to avoid spilling one type of food into another type’s platter.
  • Avoid placing your trash, dirty plates, glassware or trash on the buffet by the food the group is accessing to eat. Frankly it is gross and tacky. My bet is that neither one of these are your style.
  • If you are short on space, make sure that the buffet is kept away and separate from places where people may eat. For instance, I was at an event where the food was served on the dining room table which was dressed with chairs. Since there was limited seating throughout the space, people choose to sit around the table thus, sitting directly over the food. Well, people sitting at the table were eating, breathing and talking over these platters of food which made the entire set up both unsafe and inappropriate, Keep serving and dining areas separate unless it is a family style dinner.
  • Food needs to be kept at a certain temperature to be safe. Therefore, food on a buffet needs to be rotated to keep the good eats flowing while retaining the integrity of the food.

Although these tips may seem like common sense, these are actual behaviors witnessed by people from all backgrounds, age groups, social structures and education levels. My recommendation for hosts is to hire professional caterers and servers who maintain the quality and integrity of the food in order to prevent unnecessary illness that can arise from the innocent mishandling of food. If you are attending an event, then please do your part and bring back class to these types of celebrations.

Cheers. Bon appétit!

P.S. Wash your hands first and other great reminders delivered in a humorous manner can be found in this video.

Big Style ~ Small Space Free Presentation

Microdwellings, in various forms, have been a part of numerous European and South American cultures for years. Within the past decade, Americans are becoming familiar and embracing the movement to reduce their living space and explore alternative dwellings in which to inhabit. The recent recession has spurred both necessity and desire to explore this way of living throughout the country from dense cities like Manhattan to the rambling fields of the Midwest and green hills of the South.

In Phoenix, sustainable living and microdwelling pioneer, Patrick McCue, plans an annual exhibit at Shemer Art Center and Museum featuring design features of modular structures, sustainable living tips and workshops.

According to Mr. McCue, “The goal of the movement of Microdwelling is to infuse the community with ideas about availability of building materials and resources, affordability, and to demonstrate hands-on construction techniques. It is the desire to of the organizers of this series of events that Microdwelling will be a springboard for a groundswell of activity that takes sustainable living to a new, more widespread level within the community.”

Some people may feel like sacrificing space means sacrificing style. That is not true. Learn how to maximize space and reflect your style in a small structure. Join me on Saturday, February 28, 2015 from 1:00pm to 1:45pm for my free presentation about interior design ideas from furniture to technology for microdwellings.



10 New Year’s Eve Glam Decor Ideas

It just seems like the clock turned on 2014 and now it is time for the annual ruckus of ringing in a new year – in style. As with any party, select your party color scheme and theme and rock the details from there. Here are 10 ideas for banners, bars, balloons, party hats, pop-ups, photo booth backdrops, to add some extra glam to your celebration. Bring on 2015!


HNYBannersweetloulou NYBannerAnthropologie NYEBannerartenseniasetsy  NYEBarCarforrent NYEBalloons NYEFreePrintables-HauteChocolate  NYEPartyHatsGirlInspired NYEPoppersbloglovinNYEOversizedGarlandnotonthehighstreetNYEDIYGarland

Image credits from top to bottom:, Anthropologie, Artesenias on Etsy,,,,,,