Birthdays are for celebrating. After all, it’s the only day that’s all about you. As such, it should be a perfect representation of who you are — elegant or casual, light-hearted or more serious, stay-up-all-night or mid-morning brunch. And while the celebrating is easy, planning a celebration can be hard. Luckily for you, we recently had the opportunity to gather tips and ideas for milestone birthday parties from event planner and lifestyle guru, Colin Cowie. Cowie has been producing iconic, memorable experiences for more than 30 years through his event planning company, Colin Cowie Lifestyle. Here he offers advice for making guests feel welcome, expressing your personality, and more.
When planning décor and entertainment for a personal celebration like a milestone birthday, how do you infuse the guest-of-honor’s personality into the event?
First of all, I believe that anything ending in a “5” or a “0” is worthy of a beautiful celebration. My design process always starts with the client’s DNA. After all, you’ve been “turning 50” for the last 49 years. I schedule our first meeting for the end of the day and pull out a bottle of red or white wine, or champagne. Something happens by the third glass — I start learning where you vacation, your favorite color, and many other preferences. I also like to go to my client’s house, go to cocktails with them, in essence, really get to know them.
At the end of the day, I am a storyteller. For a recent 80th birthday party celebration, I spoke with the birthday girl’s children and grandchildren and we came up with “80 Reasons Why We Love You.” The list was printed on the back of every menu. We had fun putting magnifying glasses on every table and opera singers performing before dinner. I like to weave together all of the guests’ senses with the client’s DNA for a very personal celebration.
You recently partnered with Stephan Baroni to launch F.O.O.D. Inc. (Food of Overwhelming Distinction), which offers catering through partnerships with award-winning chefs. What do you encourage hosts to consider when choosing a caterer or chef?
I always advocate for the design first. Once we’ve established the big picture for the celebration, we can choose our creative partners. Working with the exact same partners over and over creates events that start to look homogenized. Instead, I consider who’s the best chef for this particular food, the best baker for this specific cake. It helps me build something unique and authentic every time.
What are your tips for making party guests feel welcome and included?
I want to make sure that every guest feels like they’re the only guest. First, that means no waiting. They should be able to find their name immediately and get a drink right away. As the host, the attention is on you, but also as a host you must be gracious and welcome your guests and make them feel comfortable. For example, I never do festival seating. We work with the host to be thoughtful about where each guest is seated and who with. The right seating plan makes for a great party.
Lastly, with such a growing and thriving business, which parts of the actual event production do you most enjoy and ensure you stay close to?
Everything. If I can’t 100% control it, I can’t guarantee it. From the time the client walks in the door to the end of the celebration, we are responsible and in control. There’s a potential for a weak link when we’re not. I like the host to be able to leave everyone’s needs to us.
All images sources from: www.colincowie.com
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