I enjoy The Apprentice. I have been creating events all of my life and the format appeals to that part of me, and one of the regular tasks has the teams organising an event. What advice would I give the candidates?
1. The danger of choosing a blank canvas
Some events are 'blank canvases' and creative people, and candidates excited by the opportunity to impress Lord Sugar, can get very excited at the potential. If your budget is limited then avoid these venues and choose somewhere where the theme is already set and paid for. Examples include aquariums, towers, museums and other tourist attractions.
If your venue is a blank canvas then you will need theming. I have seen this done very, very badly over the years. Fact: to effectively theme a room with decoration you need a budget of at least £5,000.
If your budget is lower then lighting is the key ingredient. You can use dry ice, lighting and perhaps an ice sculpture to great effect. However, if your theme is James Bond then bear in mind that the budget for Spectre was $245 million.
If you do choose to go down the themed route then always talk to a professional. If you choose a venue that is already themed then do not add more theming without good reason. They will already have thought of it and, if it is not already present, there will be good reason. Save the money for investment elsewhere. Don't gild a lily.
2. Drinks - wine is wine, until you spend more than £10 a bottle
Wine improves once you get to about £10 a bottle wholesale. Many wines at twice that amount or more are an acquired taste. Have a very quick wine tasting as a group, choose some acceptable wines and keep the cost down and the time spent short. The wines that win awards at supermarkets are often very good popular choices. Many cheaper wines are suited to the average palate.
It is important to serve wine at the correct temperature. In recent years there have been trends of challenging this 'rule', for example serving red wine chilled. For a large event this is probably a risk too far. In particular room temperature fizz will make a poor impression.
As with canapés if you are serving a risky concoction that needs to be explained to every guest by staff then you will probably shoot yourself in the foot. It may seem ingenious, but tasty always trumps risky and by the time your waiting staff have explained the same quirk hundreds of times even the best are going to be completely fed up and struggling not to let it show. KISS - Keep It Simple ...
A cocktail on arrival makes a great first impression and adds a lot of value. You can fund this with the money you save on wine.
3. Food is not just food
I cannot overstate this enough. Nothing is more important than food. By now you will have saved money on your venue and your wine, so you have some money to invest in the food.
Great canapés on arrival set the scene and send a strong message about the event to new arrivals. There are so many interesting things that can be done with finger food and tapas. This really is where you need to invest the money in your event.
4. Entertainment creates the party
A good band or fun entertainment will make your party go with a swing. Make sure that you understand the timing. For example a Murder Mystery lasts for about two hours. This is the optimum time in which people enjoy it; films and plays last a similar length of time. This means that if your party starts at 7.30 it will come to a conclusion at 9.30, which for many people is still very early. The inexperienced organiser might ask the actors to make it last longer, but that really is not the solution because it will pass the optimum time and enjoyment decreases exponentially.
Either have a DJ, or a band, to finish off the second part of the evening or position your party in a venue near a hot nightspot and finish the party there.
They key to a great party is not how much you spend, but how you spend what you have. A well thought through evening is what is important. Remember, invest in the food and don't gild the lily.