by Event Expert and Planner, Maya Kalman, of Swank Productions
An amazing Bar or Bat Mitzvah takes a lot of careful planning, creativity, design and plenty of logistical footwork to make it all come together to perfection. Delivering a theme that truly engages, entertains and immerses your guests takes more than just a phone few calls to your favorite catering hall. This is a once in a lifetime event, and we believe in going the extra mile (without breaking the budget) to make it something special, something different…something extraordinary. Trust me, your child (and all their friends) will thank you for it.
1. Pick a theme that appeals to everyone.
Yes, this party if for our budding man or woman, but we still want the adults to enjoy themselves and be engaged. Regardless of the split crowd, I find it best to start with the child’s passions, interests and favorites, and use that to design the theme. BUT, don’t be afraid to be outside the box, and mixing it with pop culture helps the cool factor with kids and their friends. Think movies, music and media instead of just hobbies (Twilight and Katy Perry have been popular lately). From there, make a list of what about the theme appeal to each audience to get a gauge of how well your theme will work. That list will also serve as the starter for the activities and entertainment you’ll be planning for both the adults and kids.
Check out our Big List of Bat & Bar Mitzvah & Party Themes
2. Making choices that feed the theme.
From the venue to the caterer to the entertainment, you’ll want to select options that play into your theme and don’t distract from it. For example, Alice in Wonderland / Mad Hatter theme is difficult to pull off well at your typical catering hall. The layout and décor of most halls won’t provide a good backdrop for the theme. Instead, choose a location with a more playful, or even baroque design that lends itself to the look and feel of the Alice theme. When in doubt, a blank canvas (like a Midtown NYC loft) can work well. Just remember you’ll need to expand your décor budget to fill that empty loft to create a rich look. Conversely, a venue that suits your theme will help you reduce your décor costs.
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3. Kick it off right.
The invitation sets the tone for the event, and is the first impression a potential guest will have. Also keep in mind your son or daughter’s friends are probably all turning 13 as well, so it does get a bit competitive in Bar/Bat Mitzvah land. Make your invite the one they accept by kicking it up a notch. I try to work in a 3D element (like a top hat for a Mad Hatter theme) to really make it come alive. Evites can be a great option for lots of parties nowadays, but I don’t recommend them for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. This is a major event on many levels and deserves a bit more effort. You can use evites for reminders or special instructions, but not, in my opinion, for the main invitation. Always remember…If the invite is that great, the assumption is the party will be that great too.
4. Use your 5 senses.
We all experience life through our senses. What we taste, smell and touch can make a big impact on how we relate to each experience we have. As my mother always said, “we eat with our eyes”, which is a prime example of what I’m talking about. The way food (or any element) looks, and is presented, has a great impact on what it tastes, or feels like. One of my biggest tips (and something I do every time) is to use your senses and walkthrough your event as a guest. Examine each point from start to finish and visualize what will be occurring and how it can/will stimulate your guests. There are two big advantages to this. First and foremost, it helps you see areas you could elevate the moment to enhance the experience. Serving cool lemonade when guests first enter on a hot day, or offering each guest an umbrella for an outdoor ceremony in unexpected rain are good examples. Secondly, it will help you flush out the flaws, pitfalls and issues, and can make the necessary adjustments BEFORE your event begins.
Events and parties often have unexpected issues that pop-up and have to be solved. Sometimes it stems from vendors, other times from the party space, and lets not forget weather and acts of g*d. The key is to be prepared, know the area, and have a plan B. From parking details, nearby stores like pharmacies, traffic scenarios, other nearby venues that may have events that day. Weather can be unpredictable, and so can presidential visits and power outages. Pay attention to the time of year your event is at and what goes along with it. A Halloween party might be great, but are all the trick-or-treaters going to make it impossible to get to the location on time? Caterers and DJs are important, but small things can derail an event before it even starts if they are not planned for and controlled.
6. Be conscious of catering.
Always a big consideration, food is more important than ever. I never underestimate kids’ palettes and assume they only want “kid food”. Today’s kids are quite sophisticated and typically ask for Sushi stations, caviar bars, and elaborate dessert displays. Also consider that adults and kids often eat at different times. The kids are constantly being pulled into the entertainment at the party, which allows the adults to mix and mingle. You can work with your caterer to handle this and serve at different times to ensure everyone’s food is presented at its best. Buffets are an option, but don’t mistake a buffet for a way to escape full seating. Adults will always be annoyed if they don’t have a seat to call home. More importantly, buffets dry out food and make it less than palatable in minutes. I would always opt for constantly passed small bites over a buffet. There are several NYC caterers who do amazing bite-sized foods that will blow your guests away and make it easy for them to sample everything you serve, and keep it at its best.
7. Entertainment for all.
It’s a classic Bar and Bat Mitzvah dilemma. Parents often want a more traditional spin on the music and entertainment, while the kids are focused on the latest pop star and single release. My advice is to have something for both, but focus much more on the kids. Kids and boredom are never a good combination, so keeping the kids engaged not only makes for a good time for them but ensures the adults can relax as well. Uncle Reuben may not approve of the kickin’ Hip-Hop DJ you hired, but keeping the kids dancing all night keeps everyone happy. I find adults have two main wishes at any Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Number one is that there be an extended Hora everyone can join in on. Number two is that the music not be so loud they cannot talk over it. I find that if you keep the music lower and then turn it up for the Hora, or better yet, make sure the kids are dancing in a different area, then you are good to go after that.
8. Plan the Pick Ups.
Many of your child’s friend’s parents won’t be invited to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, but their kids (guests) still have to get home. It is important to have a plan so youre not scrambling at the last minute. Shuttles, car services and family volunteer drivers are a great way to ensure everyone gets home with little hassle. It is also important to keep in mind that while the drop-off may be the temple everyone goes to, the actual party venue may be way across town in an area unfamiliar to your guests. Some areas of NYC lack subway and easy cab access, so again, make a plan!
9. Last but not least, be mindful of the Event G*ds.
You will be amazed at what family and friends expect from you at different points during the night. Normally smart, logical people will degrade into frustrated guests with wild expectations. We call this principal “Bow to the Event G*ds”. From expecting paid car services to take them to any destination they desire, to demanding security and wildly outlandish drink requests, guests will amaze you with their expectations. Big events often create an expectation in guests that, from the moment they step out their door, you are responsible for their every move. Normally accommodating Aunt Barbara enters the event and no sooner gives you a hug than asks you who is paying for the cab she arrived in. Think I’m crazy? If I had a nickel for every over-the-top guest request I’d be in the Bahamas right now. Seriously, don’t underestimate the event G*ds, and be ready for them. This is where your guest walkthrough and planning out each step will save you every time.
OK, so now that I’ve frightened you into thinking you’re way in over your head… have faith! With the proper planning, good design, attention to detail and backup plans everything will come together beautifully. Just be realistic that planning a party for 150 – 200 people is not a small affair if you want to do it right. It is a big commitment, but so is all the work your son or daughter has put into being ready for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The more time and focus you put into planning and creating the flow of the event, the better off the end result will be. You cannot over plan or overestimate the number of issues that can crop up, but you can be ready for them. And, if at any point you get overwhelmed, you can always an event planner, like Swank, to jump in and help!
Maya Kalman is the Founder & CEO of SWANK Productions, a luxury wedding planning, event design and production company. Featured on the TNT Television, Martha Stewart, Food Network, Geraldo Live and many more, Maya has planned and designed events for some of the top brands and personalities around the world.
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