It’s always the right time of year to plan a soirée, whether it’s a wedding, a shower, a party to celebrate a significant milestone or “just because.” This time of year, however, holiday parties are on the radar, as are weddings planned for the late winter and spring of the upcoming year. So, whether you’re putting together an oyster roast for 50 or a wedding for 500, there are some basic tips and tricks that are universal. We talked to four local event planners for their advice on planning events your friends will talk about (in all the best ways!) for eons.

First things first. Everyone concurs that the first thing you should do is choose a date, and make sure it doesn’t conflict with any other major social events that might impact your circle of friends or colleagues. And, when setting the date, go ahead and nail down the time the event will begin and end.

Once the date is set, make your budget and take all the details – whether it’s at home or another venue, formal or casual, number of guests, etc. – into consideration.

Formalize the guest list and begin small, with the most important people at the top, and add others as you go. Will “plus ones” be welcome? If you have to narrow the list, begin by keeping the people you can’t imagine not having at the event, and eliminate guests that you will miss, but not to the extent that their absence will make your party a failure in your eyes. And don’t forget, 15% – 20% of people will not RSVP.

Once these things are in place, choose the venue, prepare and send invitations and start planning the activities and/or entertainment, which can be as elaborate as a live band, or as simple as a DJ or even a smart device providing music via a well-curated playlist.

Next on the list are tables, seating and tableware, followed by decorations, including table coverings, flowers, candelabra and other eye-catching accessories.

Finally, it’s time to plan the food and beverage menu. If you’re hiring a caterer, finalize what’s being served and the head count for the event. If you’re doing the meal prep yourself, create a timeline and prioritize the foods by what can be prepared ahead of time, and what must be done closer to the last minute. If you’re stocking the bar yourself, plan on each person in attendance consuming 3-4 alcoholic beverages. Make sure to have plenty of water, soft drinks and mixers available as well.

The best tip for a successful event is planning, and our experts agree.

Caroline Weidhaas

Senior Event Designer, Sea Island Co.

top tips:

• Planning! The biggest key to a successful event is to plan, plan, plan. Don’t be afraid to dive into the details … supplies lists, layouts and timelines are all helpful tools to ensure things run smoothly. Remember to think through every possible scenario, specifically inclement weather, so you’re ready for whatever is thrown your way on event day.

• Prepping! Event days can get busy, so it’s best to get a head start. Folding napkins, pressing linens and staging hard goods are all small things you’ll be glad you knocked out early.

• Engaging entertainment! Whether it’s a gala dinner with a live band or just a game night get-together at home, be sure to think of unique ways to engage your guests. A fun activity I use at home is a game I call “Song Roulette.” Pass around your phone and let each guest queue up a song of their choice. As each new song plays, try to guess whose pick it was! At the end of the evening, create a playlist of the songs and share it with your guests so they can relive the party over and over.

memorable moment

It’s hard to choose just one “favorite party,” but since it’s the holiday season, I’ll feature a winter wedding that was held on the Black Banks Terrace at Sea Island. Before sunset, the lush ceiling greenery and custom draping were the design focal points. Then, once the sun went down, a specialty lighting install allowed guests to dance under the stars. A perfect day-to-night transition. So much thought and care was poured into every little detail of this wedding. The color palette, textures and finishes encompassed the bride’s style while also remaining true to the season. This soirée is one I won’t soon forget!

making events special

Something I always encourage my clients to do is incorporate a personal element into the party. A bride once shared with me that her late grandfather owned an orange orchard, so we added fresh citrus accents into her event design as a way to honor him. Personal touches like this bring a level of meaningfulness that your guests are sure to remember!

Elizabeth Killgallon

Event Manager, Ocean Forest Golf Club

top tips: • Have fun! If you aren’t having fun during the planning process, take a step back and evaluate the current plans.

• Find great vendors that you trust and you feel comfortable making decisions for you. Vendors should fit your personality and design style and also be able to come together as a team to make decisions for you, should something arise that is out of your control.Designers, florists, bands, photographers, etc. do their best work when the clients trust them and allow them to “do their thing!”

• Don’t forget the “pause.” All events – large and small – come with a whirlwind of emotions, deadlines and details. During the event, don’t forget to pause, look around and just take in all the details that have come to life for you and your guests. You will always appreciate those moments.

memorable moment

I recently planned a wedding for a very special bride, who was dealing with a terminal illness. Every detail of that wedding was so special to me, because every detail reflected her and her vision. The entire planning and design team went above and beyond to create her dream wedding and I couldn’t wait to reveal the reception tent to her, because I knew she was going to love it.

making events special

The holidays are such a special time to celebrate and give thanks for friendship and fellowship. I love giving my guests little takeaways at the end of the night, with a special holiday message thanking them for being my friends/family. Christmas ornaments or charitable donation cards, listing a donation I made to a local charity in honor of them, are always so special and create a perfect finale to an event and holiday season.

Beth Williams

Owner, Beth Williams & Co.

top tips:

• Music. Never let the room be silent.

• Get proper management and control over both the budget and the guest list.

• Set the tone before the party even starts. For a wedding this can be your paper suite and welcome bags (pictured ) or selecting a unique cake design and placement like my clients did for the Jimmy Smeal cake pictured. The cake design was inspired from the chinaware and dinner plates that event designer, Kelly Revels, hand-selected. Welcome bags, pictured, Pic 1231, cake. To achieve this during a home holiday party, I would decorate or create a front entrance arch or greet my guests at the front door with a signature cocktail (give them the recipe as a take away). Make your guests say “whoa” before entering.

memorable moment

Recently, the mother of the bride had a special gift for her daughter. Once the bride got to her place setting, not only did she find her place card – she had a beautiful embroidered purse and letter from her sweet mom (pictured - 1189). During the holidays, the BEST party scene is when you know every single person in the room. Don’t venture out, especially during the holidays. Most of us have spent the entire year with strangers, whether it is for work or other personal obligations. Let a holiday party be your time to decompress and relax. Grab your people, start a fire, turn on the music – repeat as much as you can. Then, once you are tired of your family time, go out with a bang for New Year’s Eve.

making events special

When it comes to cooking, stick with what you know! Holiday parties are all about traditions. If my girlfriends come to my annual Christmas party with no poppyseed ham and cheese sliders in sight, I’m in MAJOR trouble. I am also a sucker for a delicious signature cocktail (or make it a mocktail). If making signature cocktails isn’t your jam, go to Pinterest for garnish ideas. Make a traditional cocktail and add a sprig of rosemary – call it a day. Don’t stress yourself out batching up cocktails and making the measurements perfect. Let your guests have fun with it. One year, I partially garnished all the rims on my stemless glassware. They were displayed at my self-serve bar to pick and choose from (a few favorites: peppermint crumbles, cinnamon-sugar, Tang, ginger salt, salted chili powder). I also LOVE adding dried cranberries to any holiday beverage. It’s festive without adding flavor.

Stacy Bass-Wellman

Owner, Straton Hall Events

top tips

• Don’t sweat the small – or big – stuff. Be flexible and surround yourself with people who will help you keep things in perspective. The marriage is actually the most important part of the whole wedding process. Everything is just not going to go exactly as planned on the big day. Weddings aren’t actual fairytales. It’s real life, and we’re humans. Sometimes, things can go out of control a tad. Let your planner handle it. You just need to cherish the day, every single detail, because it’s over in a flash. It’s how you react and roll with things that make or break an event.

• Practice self care. It’s a trending topic these days, but of utmost importance. Planning a wedding can take a year or more of your life. Remember to go on fun dates, and make any talk of wedding details completely off the table. Make time to stay in shape and work out. You’ll sleep better, reduce stress, feel happier and more motivated. And mercy, if you’re going to try anything new like Botox, do it months out in case it doesn’t come out quite like expected.

memorable moment

I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite party. We’ve been planning parties for 23-plus years now. I remember an especially fun wedding celebration that combined the couple’s summer favorites. Convertibles, croquet and cocktails! The real magic of any event IS definitely in the details. When couples let go of those preconceived notions that there is a right or wrong way, or things they should do or not, that’s where the fun begins. Ignore rules. This is one day they can do anything, absolutely anything, they want to do. I’ll try and make it happen. We’ve produced fabulous formal, traditional celebrations exactly like the couple wanted. And when Astros outfielder Josh Reddick and wife Jett wanted to combine their passions of pro wrestling and Spider Man, you do it, down to wrestling title belts for them both and a Spider Man cake at the reception. It was my first, and probably the only time, we’ll be featured in Sports Illustrated. And oh my goodness, never ever skimp on bartenders … have spent the entire year with strangers, whether it is for work or other personal obligations. Let a holiday party be your time to decompress and relax. Grab your people, start a fire, turn on the music – repeat as much as you can. Then, once you are tired of your family time, go out with a bang for New Year’s Eve.

The real magic of any event IS definitely in the details. When couples let go of those preconceived notions that there is a right or wrong way, or things they should do or not, that’s where the fun begins. Ignore rules. This is one day they can do anything, absolutely anything, they want to do. I’ll try and make it happen. We’ve produced fabulous formal, traditional celebrations exactly like the couple wanted. And when Astros outfielder Josh Reddick and wife Jett wanted to combine their passions of pro wrestling and Spider Man, you do it, down to wrestling title belts for them both and a Spider Man cake at the reception. It was my first, and probably the only time, we’ll be featured in Sports Illustrated. And oh my goodness, never ever skimp on bartenders …

making events special

I think it’s always a good idea to mix it up a bit, or a lot. Invite old friends and new. Mix generations, neighborhoods, even incomes. Makes things interesting! You can even have some simple, fun games planned to keep people stimulated and enjoying themselves.

When planning an event, it’s important to hire the right team to help you pull it all together. When you choose an event planner, you get their expertise, as well as the knowledge of the team of pros with whom they’ve chosen to work.

Beachview Event Rentals & Design | 912.510.3800

Beth Williams & Co. | bethwilliamsandcompany.com

Burnsides & Co. | 912.264.2646

Caroline Carter Events | 912.996.0003

Cocktails & Details | 888.720.5893

Designs by Jeana Rutledge | designsbyjeanarutledge.com

Elaine Deaver Solutions | 912.230.2675

Emily Burton Designs | 706.614.8627

Jekyll Island Club Hotel | 912.319.4349

Jekyll Island Convention Center | 912.635.6400

King & Prince Beach and Golf Resort | 912.638.3631

Maggie Hughes Events | 309.533.8522

Sea Island Co. | 912.638.3611

Sea Palms | 912.638.3351

Straton Hall Events | 912.275.8294

The Westin | 912.635.4545

Vixen Creative Marketing | 912.248.2587