Whether you’re planning to go large or go small, formal or relaxed, there’s a lot of research to be done if you have a bar or bat mitzvah party on the horizon. We spoke to experts at the top of their game in each of the big elements of putting the event together: party planners, flowers and design, photographers, invitations, and, finally, entertainment.
THE PARTY PLANNER
Planning an elaborate party in New York City can quickly become overwhelming, which is why many parents choose to hire a party planner to take care of the details. Doing so allows the planning process to be more enjoyable for the family—and is actually surprisingly cost-efficient in the end.
Alysa Katz of Events Extraordinaire describes the party planning process as one that is hands-on, engaging, and customized for each individual client. “I am with them through the entire bar mitzvah—from the beginning, through the party, until the very end,” she says.
So what exactly goes into the party planning process? A good party planner will be surrounded by the best people in the business and already have plenty of party-related contacts, according to Katz. At her own company, she does everything from helping clients choose music and flowers to sending out invitations and booking hotel rooms for out-of-town guests. “I am there for anything they want me to do,” Katz says.
Hiring the ultimate party planner can be a challenge in itself, as it’s tricky to find the perfect person to fit your needs. When meeting with potential party planners, Katz advises, “you have to see if you click and if they’re someone who can respect your vision (but your vision also has to be reasonable).”
Having specific ideas in mind from the start is definitely a plus, since there are tons of key details to consider. “Decorating a room is more important to me than anything else. If you create a beautiful atmosphere, that’s what people will talk about,” she says. And while many parents might be inclined to cut expensive lighting from their budget, Katz emphasizes that having the perfect mood lighting can make all the difference.
Ambiance aside, the most significant thing to remember as you plan is to keep your child’s wishes in mind and to communicate with the boy or girl of the hour. Most kids are now choosing to forgo a traditional party theme, opting instead for soft lounge furniture without assigned seating. Katz’s proudest accomplishment yet was recreating MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants play, for a recent bar mitzvah in a gymnasium. “I worked very hard with lighting and sound people and we got it right. People were just mesmerized. It was phenomenal.”
That said, you don’t want to overdo it and wind up with an excessively elaborate event—there is such a thing as too much. Katz finds that the most common mistakes occur when parents want the party to be too over-the-top. “You simply can’t have everything,” she says.
Some party planners charge a percentage of the entire cost of the party, but others, such as Katz, charge a flat fee of about $10,000 from beginning to end. “You don’t have to use a high-end, expensive party planner to do a New York party,” she says, adding that parents should do some research on their own before creating a budget. And although wanting to host the perfect event is understandable, Katz urges parents to be realistic, because “there’s no end to the amount of money that you could spend on a bar/bat mitzvah.” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732-299-5545
THE FLOWERS & DESIGN
After booking a venue, the real creative fun begins. To achieve the room design of your dreams, it’s vital to work with a designer who understands your vision, says Jennifer Gould of Diana Gould Ltd.
“I think the most important thing is that the designer listens to whatever it is that the client is interested in,” Gould says. Distinctive visions may be hard to put into words, but the right designer will know just how to bring someone’s wishes to life. “For each client who I meet with, essentially their party is custom-tailored to them. All phases of design that go into their party are unique.”
Basic décor elements include floral design, room transformation, graphic design logos, and custom linen fabrics, but there are plenty of elaborate options, as well. “We have: a fabrication department where we make 3D fabricated artwork centerpieces both in Lucite and as structural photography; a furniture design department where we build furniture for events; and a lighting department,” Gould says.
So what are some new and popular trends in décor? “More apparent this season is to create more of an environment for the kids as opposed to just having some lounge seating,” Gould says. “I also see more collections of glassware, vases, and floating candles. There are more streamlined florals that are a little bit more architectural in style—less traditionally lush.”
Gould also notes that pervasive themes aren’t as big of a deal anymore. “It’s been more about bringing in reflections about the bar or bat mitzvah child, which I like to do in a photographic way, as opposed to making a very themed centerpiece,” she says.
The décor gives guests an opportunity to experience the bar or bat mitzvah child’s likes and interests, and incorporating his or her personality as Gould likes to do not only has more meaning but also leads to a more unique party. For example, Gould recently designed a tent party for a foodie bar mitzvah boy that had concession stands ranging from a lobster shack to a pizza creation station. “It was really amazing and effective,” she says.
Some parents bring in furniture or games on their own to save money, but Gould advises against it. “I would say in every situation, furniture has come in dirty or ripped. It has not been placed properly, and it doesn’t become a cohesive part of the décor element—which is so critical,” she says. “Your most cost-effective solution is to use the venue’s rounds and do a linen. You can step it up by renting maybe half rectangular tables, and then do a custom linen on that table.”
No matter how you decide to design the room, all that matters is that you’re satisfied with the outcome. “It’s the first thing that you see, and it’s what you’re seeing all night long. It’s such an important part of the event,” Gould points out. Contact: dianagouldltd.com or call 212-629-6993
Finding the right photographer to capture every moment of your child’s bar or bat mitzvah is a time-consuming but worthwhile task. Although the event itself may fly by quickly, your special memories—and photos—will last a lifetime. Event photographer Michael Jurick is a pro when it comes to documenting all aspects of the rite of passage, even starting months before the big day.
“Typically we’ll do a pre-shoot with the family so that there’s a comfort level there,” Jurick says. Those photos typically end up being featured in the sign-in book and other elements of the party. “It’s an opportunity to create heirloom-quality photographs of the bar or bat mitzvah boy or girl in a moment of time looking their absolute best,” he says. “We can also use those images to blow up in the room and use them as art and decoration.”
When choosing a theme for the photo shoot, creativity is highly encouraged. “I recently did a ‘Saturday Night Live’ shoot with the iconic-looking imagery that reflects the host of the show idea,” Jurick says. Fun themes may be exciting, but Jurick is often proudest of images that are taken inside the synagogue. “New York City has some of the grandest and most beautiful sanctuaries in the country. Capturing those hundreds of years of architecture with the boy or girl is amazing,” he says.
Prior to the event, Jurick likes to meet with his client’s party planner or designer in order to understand the physical parameters of the space, the flow of the night’s events, and the overall décor. “I study [everything] so that my team and I are where we need to be at all times. There’s just so much going on, and you don’t want to miss anything,” he notes.
The pre-party research goes further. “The most important thing to me is getting a list of the key family members so that I can make a schematic of all of the people and combinations for family portraits beforehand. I really take my time with that to make sure that I get everybody,” Jurick says. “And the room has to look gorgeous, so I take my time to photograph it when nobody’s in it.”
To find the right photographer, you’ll want to ask around for recommendations and do a bit of research on your own. “A referral is key. Look at their website for fresh content on their blog, which indicates that they’re doing cutting-edge things,” Jurick says. Ultimately, “The most important thing is how comfortable you feel with the photographer when you meet them.”
Other recommended photographers: Gruber Photographers: gruberphotographers.com, 212-262-9777; Heidi Green Photography: heidigreen.com, 212-545-5304; Sarah Merians Photography & Video: sarahmerians.com, 212-633-0502
The invitation sets the tone for the fabulous event to follow, so it’s important to get it right. After all, that pretty piece of paper is giving your guests a sneak peek of what to expect in a few months. Nanette Marks, founder of Notes by Nanette, is an expert on the creative design process for bar and bat mitzvah invitations.
During an initial meeting with parents, Marks tries to understand their goals and make sure that everyone is on the same page. “I get an idea of what the party is like and how the invitation is going to reflect that,” she says. Early on, they discuss quantity as well as price range. “There’s definitely something for every budget.”
As far as trends go, shifting away from the large rectangular invitations that were popular for so many years, kids and parents alike are now opting for square-shaped or circular invitations made from thick cardstock. The modern look frequently features fluorescent colors and left- or right-justified lowercase text. Other popular design choices for unique and understated invitations include blind embossing, letter pressing, and colorful edge painting.
While most parents go into the process with a specific look already in mind, the possible design combinations are virtually countless. “A lot of times people will collect invitations to show me—and then they end up walking out with something completely different,” Marks says. Two of her most memorable creations came from parents who really chose to think outside the box; one of the resulting invitations was made of white Lucite, the other from stainless steel. While those were certainly unique designs, Marks’ proudest accomplishment to date remains her daughter’s glitter-backed invitation with a handmade soft pink and gold liner, which she describes as “simple and elegant with an element of fun.”
And when should you order your cards? Between three and four months before the event, at the latest, though Marks says that six months would be ideal. “You want to send them out to guests about eight weeks before, so work backwards from there,” she advises. Typically, after placing your order, it takes about a month to receive the cards.
The most common error is failing to order enough invitations. To avoid this pitfall, Marks suggests over-ordering in anticipation of a changing guest list. This often saves money in the end, because the higher the initial quantity, the less each invitation costs. You can also prevent potential last-minute issues by using a printer that will be flexible with proofs; Marks herself works with about eight different vendors who her clients can choose from.
Some budget-friendly tips: Include the party information on the main invitation, provided that it doesn’t clutter the card with too much text. Also, you can choose a less elaborate liner and a more affordable thank you note, both of which garner much less attention than the invitation itself. While a typical order of 150 invitations is likely to run you around $1,000, “everything varies with quantity,” Marks says. Contact: notesbynanette.com or call 646-262-1596
When planning your child’s bar or bat mitzvah, there are countless options for fun-filled entertainment. From music choices to sideshow activities, making the right selections can completely enhance the atmosphere of the event. Marc Jason, the owner of Total Entertainment, has some advice for parents on how to throw a memorable party that isn’t too over-the-top.
To really get the party started, dance-worthy music is a must. Before the DJ starts spinning tracks, spice up the cocktail hour with a novelty group or even an electric violinist. And when it comes to choosing the perfect emcee, Jason says, “you want someone who knows how to be a chameleon who can complement the whole family’s personality.”
In addition to live performers, the most popular activities offered by entertainment companies include interactive concepts such as photo booths and virtual reality machines. Social media integration is also hot right now, allowing guests to immediately post photos online and print images at an Instagram-style station at the party.
One notably delicious trend brings food-inspired kiosks—featuring some of the best treats that the city has to offer—straight to the sidelines of the dance floor. Total Entertainment often collaborates with popular brands, such as 16 Handles, to do this. “I think it’s exciting—if something’s hot on the street and people like it, it’s great to have it at their parties,” Jason says.
In addition to impressive food kiosks, DJ booths are now far from simple. “It’s like you’re building a nightclub on the dance floor,” Jason says. Your child’s interests can be incorporated into the interactive atmosphere in cool ways, too—from recreating Venice Beach segway tracks to building Sephora beauty product bars, Total Entertainment tailors its offerings for each individual party.
Detailed examples from past events, including filmed footage from prior parties, are important to note when choosing an entertainment company. “You want to feel comfortable and see that the owner of the company is engaging and quick to come up with ideas once you tell them some of the things that you want,” Jason says.
In terms of your budget, “sometimes it’s worth spending a little more to know that operationally things are going to click and happen at the right time,” Jason says. Organization is key, and quality definitely trumps quantity. If you want music and dancing to be the main focus, then you shouldn’t have too many games competing with that.
“Figure out what’s really important. What are the wants versus the needs?” Jason says. And to keep the entertainment selection budget-friendly, certain activities can be combined. For instance, an airbrush station can create sweatshirts, which then double as personalized party favors for the attendees. Contact: totalentertainment.com or call 201-894-0055