James Donnan

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Top Tips


Unless you work in hospitality, chances are you don’t organise a wedding, birthday party or other gathering that often. Some venues will have planners or co-ordinators to help you through the process; on other occasions, you’ll be on your own. So, based only on my experience, here are my top tips for planning the perfect party:


#1 - Get organised...

The earlier you start to get everything organised, the more likely it will all come together for you. Make a list of all your decisions: a date, venue, food... and entertainment! It’s a good idea to run your proposed date past anyone you would consider vital - family, close friends etc. - so you don’t find out that your best mate is on holiday after you’ve booked the venue.


#2 - Think about your guest list... 

For some occasions, especially weddings, compiling the guest list can be quite tricky. I can’t answer the political questions of who to invite, but in general, more isn’t always better. Will your different groups of friends and acquaintances mix? Decide whether you are inviting partners and/or children, and make this clear on the invitations, rather than leaving it to guests to assume for themselves (or to put you on the spot by ringing you up to ask). Remember that the closer people are to you, the more likely they are to come. So you would expect your family and close friends to turn up - but Julie in the accounts department at work may only agree to come if she's nothing else to do that night. Bear this in mind when working out how many people you are expecting - and don't take it personally!


#3 - Choose your venue carefully...

You can decide on much of what happens on the night, but the location and the fabric of the building is fixed when you choose it. If you visit a venue during the day, think about the ambience for an evening occasion - for example, fluorescent lighting may not be on in the daytime, but can look awful at night. If a good proportion of your guests would like a drink, think about proximity to homes and/or good transport links, or availability of taxis / hotel rooms. Some function rooms are available for free; others charge room hire, or require a cost per head for food. Others will let you do your own catering. Don’t fall into the trap of going too posh! - always think about where you and your guests will be most comfortable, otherwise it can be harder to relax.


#4 - Don’t make an evening event longer than necessary...

There’s no point in inviting everyone from 7pm if they will just sit around till 10pm. Alternatively, if you have lots of families coming who will have to leave between 10pm and 11pm to take the children home, there’s no point in paying for a DJ till the early hours. There’s no right answer for every occasion here, so you have to think about your guests and the type of party you want to have.


For some occasions, for example wedding receptions, timings can be a little more set in stone. But here’s a practical tip for evening functions where there is a buffet: use it to break up the night. Before the buffet, people will tend to be getting drinks, circulating and chatting. If I’m DJing at a birthday party, I always recommend that after most people have finished eating, I ask the birthday boy or girl to come up so they can thank everybody for coming and we can sing Happy Birthday. This is a great way of saying to people, you’ve had a natter and some food: now it’s time to party!


#5 - Think outside the box...

If you want people to remember the occasion for years to come, think outside the box. Consider some extra entertainment - a table magician, a photo booth, or a live band. You might want a theme, with or without fancy dress. Sometimes the most random activities can be the highlight of the night, such as a cèilidh band to dance to, or a piñata to break open. This type of activity won't suit everyone - but think about what you would like!


#6 - Think about your music playlist

For the DJ or a band, it's important to have an idea of what sort of music you and your friends/family would enjoy. Hopefully you've already asked them about that before booking them! Try and give them some ideas without being too prescriptive - most parties have a wide range of ages and music tastes attending. A good DJ should try to cater for as many people as possible. The more people enjoy your party, the more you should enjoy it.


(I was once asked to play at a wedding where I was given a rather unconventional playlist covering the whole evening and told that under no circumstances was I to deviate from it. I gently suggested that the music wasn't going to be to everyone's taste, and was told, "we don't care, it's our wedding". I decided not to accept the booking. A friend who attended told me afterwards it wasn't a great evening and that the bride and groom were disappointed that people hadn't had a good night...)


#7 - Create a buzz 

Get your family and friends talking about your occasion, both beforehand and afterwards. There's lots of ways to do this. When I got married, we put disposable cameras on all the wedding breakfast tables, though not many of the photos we subsequently received were suitable for the family album... The more up-to-date options might include a Facebook or Instagram page online for sharing photos, or even a Twitter hashtag. But make sure you set the privacy settings to approve posts first, as someone posting a video of the groom falling over may not go down well with his mother-in-law.


#8 - Don’t forget to have fun!

As a DJ, I see so many organisers rushing from group to group, trying to be a good host. Your friends should want you to have a great night, too. If you want to spend all night on the dance floor, then do so - your guests can come and dance with you if they want your attention. By all means have a little circulate and say hello, but make sure you have fun - it's your party!



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