A major takeaway of last year’s Catersource + The Special Event was that back of house and front of house need to work together to succeed. This year’s Opening Keynote speaker, “eventista” Marcy Blum, is exactly the person to pave the way for this collaboration.
Photo courtesy The Collective You
Blum has produced the weddings of several A-list celebrities, from the likes of Savannah and LeBron James to Billy Joel to Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent. She launched Marcy Blum Associates in 1986, and since has been named a top international event planner by VOGUE, Harper’s BAZAAR, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and has been named one of the country’s top planners by The New York Times. She’s also been featured on several TV shows, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, and The Today Show.
But before she was a highly recognized innovator in the events industry, Blum was in the catering business.
Blum graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, starting her career in restaurants and catering and eventually moving into events planning. Blending the elements of catering with event planning created a holistic approach that Blum takes into every aspect of her work.
Blum also comes from a performing arts background (a graduate of the Performing Arts High School), which plays into her theatrical designs. “I’m a storyteller and I like to figure out how someone’s going to understand what I’m talking about, but especially because we’re pitching ideas all the time—they’re not only crazy expensive but sound absurd.”
What may sound absurd is part of Blum’s success. As an artist taking inspiration from the world around her, she’s not afraid to push the envelope. “If you stay safe, you’re not only not good for yourself, you know, you’re not good for your clients,” she told Special Events (SE). “You really need to push things, and to push things you have to take risks, and it can be scary. Sometimes it takes another iteration to make it work if you’re trying another way.”
But risk taking is how Blum has brought some of her absurd ideas to life. For her, some of the best moments in her planning career come from not being 100 percent certain about her ideas. “When you come up with a concept that even though you sold it, you’re not 100% sure it’s gonna happen...and you walk in and you’re like ‘Oh my god! I dreamt up this really weird thing and it happened! And it not only happened but it worked!’ That’s really fun.”
A world of inspiration
It’s easy to see that Blum is an artist, although she protests the use of the word. “I’m a really good plagiarizer,” she insists. But what she calls “plagiarizing” is really a great sense of taking inspiration from the world around her. “I try to be extremely aware of what is around me and see if I can pick up anything that I can plagiarize,” she says with a laugh.
“I’m very adamant [that] most of my ideas...come from restaurants or activations or stores; I try very hard—obviously we’re all Instagram addicts, but I try very hard not to just pick up something and drop it into my idea board. I’ll look and say, ‘That’s a pretty idea, I wonder if we did it like this or like that.’”
Not only does Blum find inspiration in the world around her; she practically avoids taking ideas from event trends.
“I rarely, almost never, read bridal magazines; I’m much more interested in Architectural Digest or India Art N Design or whatever, otherwise...if you look on Instagram, all our stuff starts looking the same.”
For Blum, wherever she is holds opportunity for inspiration. For instance, at a restaurant, she’ll take note: “that was a cool way to serve the salt, or what they do with the olive oil or whatever.” For Blum, all these little borrowed details add up to a new, unique creation. “You amass enough of those; you get something interesting.”
Inspiration also comes from places that have nothing to do with the events industry. “I’m looking at a mobile here at Saks with seashells, and I was like, ‘Well, it’s a little gaudy, but I bet if we colored it this way, or did that, I bet that would be an interesting thing to hang in a tent.’”
A way with words
Laughter is something that comes as quickly to Blum as inspiration. “I am not only funny, but I find humor in just about everything, and if [clients] find that disrespectful that’s not gonna be a good fit. Humor and elegance are not mutually exclusive.” Her quick wit and depth of industry wisdom are clearly contributors to her successful additional careers in writing and speaking. (She’s the author of the best-selling Wedding Planning for Dummies and The Wedding Kit for Dummies and is a sought-after speaker.)
Blum is excited to be back speaking at Catersource + The Special Event this month. Her first encounter speaking at CS+TSE was when Catersource founder Michael Roman, who mentored Blum, enlisted her to take the stage. Now, she’s ready to share what she’s learned over the past 20 years since her first appearance.
Her mission? Make planners and caterers realize that a holistic, collaborative approach isn’t just good etiquette; it’s good business.
“I understand the back of the house, I came from back of the house...I’m hoping to educate both sides of the event on how to upsell and how to help each other upsell. Because at the end of the day this is not about kumbaya; it’s about business and money. I’d like to show people how easy it is, or at least give them a shot at selling something.”
Blum wants fellow planners to realize the importance of food and beverage, “not only for the greater good of the event, but also how much money is left on the table because no one is paying attention.” She describes the old cliché of a chef throwing a French knife at the front of house staff, telling them to get out of the kitchen. “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a common goal?
“You can’t just rent beautiful China without consulting with the chef what he’s putting on there, because it may not work at all. You rent a beautiful soup plate with a huge rim and they can’t stick the filet on there and that’s a problem and they hate us for it. You have to try to do it collaboratively and that’s how you can sell an extra course; you can sell a salad and cheese course, you can bring in sommeliers, there’s so many things you can do if you collectively and collaboratively get the clients on board.”
Learn her Secrets at Catersource + The Special Event
Blum’s Opening General Keynote Session on Wednesday March 29 at 9:00 a.m. will dive into details and teach planners and caterers her techniques for collaboration and for creating a collective plan for upselling.
Join us at this premier event prior to the opening of the Exhibit Hall. Join Marcy Blum for an inspirational presentation that will empower both caterers and event planners alike to attract and retain luxury clientele. She’ll be sharing insider tips on how to increase your food and beverage revenue, go above and beyond for your clients, and give them a truly unforgettable experience.
Key takeaways will include:
- The buzzwords that will help you get high end clients
- How to present prospective menus to luxury clients
- What is the concept of "unreasonable" hospitality, and how to utilize it in your business
- What is a pre-tasting and why it's a very good idea
- How to read between the lines for what a client is looking for
- How event planners and catering salespeople can work together in mutually beneficial harmony
Click here for more information.