You’re planning your son’s bar mitzvah. It’s your first time planning a party that’s this significant. Even if you’ve done this before, a million questions are swirling through your head (I know…I’ve been there. I’ve planned three!). But the most pressing one probably is: WHERE DO I START?
It’s common to feel confused and perhaps overwhelmed. You need to decide the venue, the food, the theme, the decorations, the invitations, the entertainment, and on and on. I assure my clients that the first decisions they make regarding their big event are the hardest, and the farther we get in the process, the easier the decisions become. But to make it easier, I’ve narrowed the millions of choices down to the three most important things you need to know first. The rest will fall into place.
ONE: THE GUEST LIST
The first and MOST important decision you make, the one that will really guide every decision that comes next, is WHO. WHO do you want to invite to share this incredible simcha with you? Do you want a small, intimate family gathering with only your immediate relatives and closest family friends, or do you want ALL of “your people” there, which might mean a few hundred guests? Either way, you’re making the WHO…the PEOPLE…the most important thing.
Once you decide WHO you want to invite, it’s nice to know how many to expect will actually attend. In general, these are my rules of thumb regarding attendance:
Under 50 invited: 10% decline
75–100 invited: 10% – 25% decline
100+ invited: 20% – 30% decline
150+ invited: 25% – 35% decline
As you can see, the more people you invite, the larger the percentage of people who can’t or won’t make it. If you think about it, this makes sense. With a smaller, more intimate affair, you’re likely limiting the guest list to the people you’re closest with. Those people tend to make more of an effort to attend special occasions such as this. As you expand the guest list to include more casual friendships or business relationships, those people tend not to make your event their priority. It’s not personal; it’s just life. But understanding these general rules can help you with your next decision: HOW MUCH.
TWO: YOUR BUDGET
The next thing you need to know is how much you can afford to spend. Put another way: What’s your budget for your event? The most effective way to do this is to prioritize. Start with the three most important things you want at your event. These can be things such as a specific venue, live music, a particular DJ or photographer, a special menu, etc. Creating this short list of priorities will help you focus your budget on the things that are most important to you.
One thing you should keep in mind as you’re preparing your budget is: will this work? My suggestion to you is to be realistic as you’re trying to figure out how much to spend as costs can easily get out of hand.
The best way to be realistic is to do some research. The internet is full of resources to help you get an idea of what things cost in your area. Create a spreadsheet for each of your priorities then add in other things you would love to have. Pretty soon, you’ll start to have an idea of what you can and cannot afford and can prioritize what’s most important to you.
Now that you’ve decided WHO to invite and HOW MUCH you’re willing to spend, you can start to think about WHERE to have your party.
One reason why the first two steps are so important is because you don’t want to book a venue with a maximum capacity of 75 if you’ve got over 150 people on your guest list. Conversely, venues with high minimums may not be worth the cost if you’re only inviting 75 people. But once you “pencil in” your guest list and you know how much you’re willing to spend, you can start looking for venues that will fit your budget.
The venue you choose will eventually dictate the rest of the details of your bar mitzvah. For example, a large hotel ballroom with lush carpeting and decorative drapes and wall treatments will require different décor than venue at a local summer camp. Similarly, a venue on the beach with large windows overlooking the ocean will provide a very different feel than a venue at a local bowling alley or other kid-friendly locale.
There are two ways to narrow down your search for an appropriate venue: by LOCATION and by TYPE OF VENUE.
If, for example, your bar mitzvah service is at the synagogue near your home, you may want to consider a venue that’s a short distance away so your guests don’t have to travel too far between locations. However, if you’re having the ceremony and party at the same venue, you could venture a little farther away.
Regarding the type of venue, are you having a banquet with a meal and dancing or a kids’ party where the location can be more informal?
The easiest way to find potential locations is through an internet search and by asking your friends for recommendations. Blogs of local event professionals are also a great place to search for ideas because many of them write about local venues and post pictures. That way you can get a feel for the venue as it is being used. Finally, schedule a site visit. But before you go, find out as much as you can before you go so you don’t waste your time looking at a place that won’t fit your needs.
Once you nail down these three elements, the rest of the details of your party will quickly fall into place. To help you get started, get my FREE “BIG PARTY GUEST LIST SURVIVAL GUIDE: How to stay sane when 100 or more people are celebrating with you!” by clicking here: FREE SURVIVAL GUIDE.