Confessions from the Party Planners

Not everything goes as scripted once guests arrive.

BY October 14, 2016

For most of us, throwing a party is a magical event: a wedding, a gala fundraiser, a graduation party, a parole hearing, whatever. But when something goes wrong, it feels like the entire world is crashing down around us.

Yet for those immersed in the business of celebration—caterers, florists, photographers, event planners, etc.—unexpected moments are part of the process. So for fun we decided to reach out to a group party professionals to hear their best/worst/funniest moments of when things either went horribly wrong, horribly right or totally sideways. Here are a few …

“I’ll take care of that.” It’s the phrase no planner wants to hear.

It means that someone else—usually the client—has placed themselves in charge of a portion of the event. Milda Vaivada of Soirée Celebrations heard it once from the father of a bride whose wedding she was planning in Naples. What dad failed to mention was that the band he hired was a non-traveling group based in New Orleans and that they had a gig the night before back home. So they hired a friend with an old limousine to drive them all night from Louisiana to Naples (approximately 815 miles) crammed with all of their equipment. The limo got 5 miles per gallon, forcing them to stop for gas regularly, and then it broke down. They rolled in 15 minutes before guests were to enter the reception and had to take quick showers in the locker room of the club where the wedding was taking place. There’s been no word whether the band lived happily ever after.

If that wasn’t enough to make you ask for a drink… One caterer, who wisely prefers to remain anonymous, has seen the damage too much alcohol can do. You see, toward the end of a fundraiser for a glamorous dance company, this caterer was moving supplies through the parking lot to his truck when he spotted a female guest fumbling for her keys. He thought nothing of it until he heard a horrible crunch of metal on metal. The guest was pulling out of her parking space and sideswiping the car next to her in the process. As the caterer walked over to offer assistance, the driver continued to back up her Mercedes, hitting the car behind her, before driving away as if nothing happened. The next time the caterer saw that woman it was at her victory party—she had just been elected mayor of her city!

On a lighter note, photographer Charlie McDonald has been a fixture at some of Southwest Florida’s most memorable events. But earlier this year he was asked to photograph Patty Baker’s birthday party. It started off with 250 guests enjoying a sumptuous meal at the Port Royal Club before everyone headed over to Artis—Naples’ Daniels Pavilion for the evening’s entertainment. No one knew what to expect. Certainly not Patty. But Charlie knew to catch the reaction of the birthday girl when she discovered that her husband, Jay, was surprising her with a private performance by none other than Billy Joel, who had snuck into Naples under the cover of darkness.

And speaking of darkness, before it was known as Artis—Naples it used to throw parties at new, spectacular model homes across the area as major fundraisers. Vaivada was hired to organize one at a huge, gorgeous mansion in Quail West for 350 people. “Because of having all the lights on and everything, the home drew so much power it shut down the grid for all of Quail West,” Vaivada says. “It went pitch black—all of Quail West went pitch black. … I happened to have this box of tea lights in my trunk, so I went to the bar and we grabbed all the empty wine glasses, put the candles in the glasses and gave them to all the guests. It was so beautiful. An hour later the lights came back on and people were like, ‘Awww.’”


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