In some good news, several top planners say that budgets for children's events seem to be on the upswing since the sharp falloff in 2008. But the days of "top that party" are gone.
"Budgets are slightly larger than they were two or three years ago, but I am noticing that even when I work with families who can afford to spend a great deal on their child's party, they request to keep things lower key, not opulent or over the top," says Penny Rabinowitz, head of Save the Day Events in Englewood, N.J. "They aren't looking to one-up their peers as they did in the past."
In the same vein, Cindy Hassel, president of SRO Events of Tarzana, Calif., points to a "slight uptick" in the size and budget of the mitzvahs she produces. But this is not all good news.
Hassel must cope with clients who spend "an inordinate amount of time—primarily on the Internet—looking for newer, seemingly trendier, less expensive elements for their parties, and we are being charged to vet their finds, which—for the most part—rarely pan out," she explains. Also, many venues now offer packages that include linens and chairs, while DJs may sell lighting—"all of these were traditional sources of revenue for event production companies like ours," she says. So despite the better budgets, "We are spending more time producing events and having to find new sources of revenue."
Rabinowitz recently helped some clients keep costs down by creating one event for three boys traveling with their families to Israel at the same time to celebrate their bar mitzvah.
"Coincidentally all three boys' names began with the letter 'J,' and so the theme they chose was 'The J. Crew,'" Rabinowitz explains. "Invitations, logo, table decor, signing boards, candy displays and food stations, etc., all had the preppy J. Crew look that made this 'Jerusalem' event very unique."
THOUGHTFUL THEMES These event experts note that themes are still an essential part of children's events, and popular culture—movies, TV shows and music—is still a big theme driver.
But as Hassel notes, it's no longer enough to simply paste a theme onto decor.
Kids today "want to capture the attitude--edgy, cool and popular," she says. "But, they all want to be understated and classy at the same time. Because teens--and their parents--are so much more exposed to popular culture, there is a greater pressure on them and us [as planners] to be unique. And herein lies the rub: If it were unique and cheap, we’d all be doing it, and then it would not be unique!"
As an example of a richly developed theme, Alisa Zapiler, head of Denver-based Creative Events and Occasions, and the design team at Denver-based Newberry Brothers to create a pool-theme bar mitzvah for a boy who loves to swim. At the event, the dance floor was reimagined as a lap pool, acrylic "bubbles" floated above dining tables, and guests departed with custom-embroidered towels saying "Dive In with Joseph." The event was nominated for a Gala Award last year.
Along with the trend toward more subtle, sophisticated theme interpretations at children's events, Zapiler points to a growing sense of altruism at the events she creates.
As an example, Zapiler is working on a "go green" bat mitzvah for an environmentally conscious girl that will include trees "growing" out of tables. Using the theme "Go Green with Lauren," the event will include a gobo of the earth on the dance floor.
She is not alone.
"Events that I produce and design for kids invariably consist of at least one element of charity, be it in specific acts of kindness they coordinate for them and even their friends to work on in the months leading up to their party or having their guests donate to one or several charities they like in lieu of gifts," Rabinowitz says.
"I see this more now than I have in the past and in many ways feel that parents may be infusing better values into their children and attempting to take away that 'all about me' mentality we've seen so much of in the past."
Don't Throw a Party Without It: Essentials for Kids' Events
Kim Atwell Martin, CSEP, and Dawn Collier, event architect and director of business development respectively with TCG Events of Charlotte, N.C., list these event essentials for children's events today:
It's my brand: Kids and teens love to brand themselves. Monograms and event logos are "everywhere" these days, "and with companies like Etsy, everything is available via custom order."
Just shoot me: Not only are photo booths a must, but they should offer social media interactivity, so guests can post pix ASAP. And even before the event, "Teens like to have photo-shoots prior to their event and then splash their pictures on invitations, event art and decor, and Facebook and Instagram." And of course, establish a hashtag for the event to make sure the brand is easy to follow.
Cakes in crazy shapes: "Thanks to the Food Network, everyone wants a funky, elaborate cake. No better way to punctuate your theme than with an over-the-top cake!"
Worthwhile favors: "Favors are either very material or gift-card focused. The days of a small DIY bag of random junk are gone."
Generation Z saves the world: "The teen generation—17 and younger—is inquisitive and globally aware. They are interested in solving problems, "So make sure to add elements to their events "to do just that."
My cell, my cell! Kids just cannot deal without mobile phone service at their events, Hassel says. "We are surprised at how unnerved the teens get when their cell phones don’t work at venue," she notes. "This is for the most part an area we don’t have control over but it is a curious phenomenon we’ve noticed."