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Planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah from Start to Finish - Part I: Getting Started
You've got a date, now what?
Depending on where you live, you will usually get a date for your child's Mitzvah 2-3 years ahead of time. Although this sounds like a ton of time, trust me, it goes very quickly, and getting things done little by little helps tremendously! So, where to begin? First off, take a deep breath and remember, this is a happy, special occasion and it will all work out in the end (I promise)!
Ok, so you have your date. Great. What next? If you live in an area where you know several kids will be having Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, you may want to check whether a local mom has organized a spreadsheet of dates so you can see if another child shares a date with yours. Thankfully, I was made aware of the one for our school from another mom so I didn't have to worry about it. If there isn't a spreadsheet in your town, and you want to be a hero, consider running it yourself (click here for an example).
What happens if you discover that someone has the same date as your child? Is this a huge deal? Honestly, it depends on several things, like how big the school is, whether there are several mutual friends, and whether you are doing parties at the same time (one could do a luncheon and the other an evening event). There happened to be 3 other Mitzvahs the same weekend as my son; it turned out that one (a girl) was someone my son didn't know, and one wasn't having a party. The last was a girl that my son didn't know, but who happened to have several mutual friends. The services were at the same time, but we did a luncheon and they did an evening party, so most kids were able to attend both. Had we not been able to connect through the spreadsheet, it may not have worked out as well. I have heard of other people even changing dates to accommodate other events; whether you choose to do this or not, it is nice to be armed with all of the information.
Your date is now settled and you have decided on a time for your party (keep in mind that you will save money by doing a luncheon or having your event on a Sunday) - what's next? You may be thinking "but I have 3 YEARS!" Yes, that is true, and there are many (many) things that you won't do until the final year, or even weeks, before the big day. However, there are a few things you may want to take care of as soon as possible. Mazelmoments has a FREE downloadable checklist which is a great place to start. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so you won't need/want everything on this list, but it is nice to get a general idea of possible things you need to do/buy before the big day.
First, although it may be dreaded, you need to consider what your budget will be. Even though the odds are you will spend more than you think (it's just an unfortunate fact), setting specific amounts for things will at least give you a general idea of what you need to save, and what things you NEED, versus those you just WANT. I personally was amazed at how many things I needed that I was not aware of, and how things added up VERY quickly. This downloadable budget was a great help. I customized it to my own needs/wants, and it was a great guideline during the planning process to keep me on track and to plan ahead financially.
Next, consider mailing or emailing a "save the date" to guests you know for sure you will be inviting (especially family and friends that do not live in your area). You can do this right away, or wait (we sent ours about a year in advance). You don't need to spend any money on this, and can simply send an email; this email can be just an email (consider writing a cute poem or something clever) or a bit fancier if you like. Consider online sites such as Evite or Mitzvite, where you can send an adorable FREE Save the Date!! If you want something more formal, I love Tiny Prints; Vistaprint is also a great less expensive alternative. If you know you have a large number of people traveling to come to the Mitzvah, consider calling a local hotel to reserve a block of rooms at a special rate. If you do this, be sure to include the information in the save the date.
Still with me, or are you totally overwhelmed? If all this got you excited to start planning, fantastic! However, if this made you sick to your stomach you may want to consider hiring an event planner who will do most of the work for you (you'll still need to make decisions, of course)! While wonderful, planners can be VERY expensive. If money isn't an issue and you want the help, word of mouth is the best way to find that perfect planner. Ask your friends and family who have already thrown Mitzvahs, throw out the question on Facebook, etc. Once you've gathered some names, contact several and choose someone you genuinely click with and feel "gets" you and, especially, your child. This will absolutely have an effect on your event. If you choose not to hire a full time planner, I would highly recommend hiring someone for the day of the event. This was an absolute godsend for me, and I LOVE to plan events. I wanted to enjoy my son's big day and not have to worry about anything - essentially to be a guest at my own party. The day-of planner provided just this service, and thought of tons of things I would never have considered (mints in the bathroom, earplugs for some of the older guests, asking kids to check their purses and coats for gift envelopes, etc.). I attended the service, then walked into a fully set up room where I could mingle with my guests, dance, and fully enjoy the party. Just something to think about!!
The next biggest thing you should consider is venue. Keep reading for some great tips.
Choosing a Venue
You've got your date, considered a budget, and secured a block of rooms for your out of town guests. The next thing you should think about is choosing a venue. This is probably the most important decision you will make, so take some time to really consider all of your options. First, sit down with your child and discuss what he or she wants (is there a special place he/she really likes or relates to, does he/she want an indoor or outdoor venue, etc.). Certainly, some ideas thrown out may be impossible due to cost or location, but it is very important to get a feel for what your child likes, as you may be surprised (I was)! If you have decided to use a planner, he or she will help you compile a list of venues based on your wishes, and will take care of contacting them for full information which will then be presented to you so you can make a choice. The planner will then let you know what you need to do to secure your choice. If you are not using a planner, keep on reading...
After you have spoken with your child, make a list of possible venues. Remember, this is just a list, so include every possible option, even if you aren't sure you can afford it, because you never know what deal you can get. Consider places you've been to parties at and restaurants, country clubs, or hotels you've visited; ask your friends and/or post on Facebook asking for ideas - it's amazing how much information comes from friends and family! Don't forget your synagogue! Ours has a brand new, gorgeous community room that holds 250 people and looks as fancy as many hotel ballrooms; plus it was so convenient to walk right from the service into the party. Keep in mind, however, that if you are doing an event at the temple you may have to bring in everything from tables to linens to dishes/flatware which may make it more expensive than having it at a facility that includes these items.
Once you have your list, you need to narrow it down to a reasonable number that you can contact for more information. Show your initial list to the guest of honor and see if any venues stand out as definite a YES or a definite NO to help you eliminate a few and highlight a few others. You now need to contact those places for more information so you can weed out even more venues. The internet is an incredible resource, so be sure to use it. See if any of the locations have websites; many (if not most) will have a website and an information request form, which will make it simple for you to get more details. If you cannot find a website, call the venue directly. Here are a few things to ask about:
- Is my date available? (Because if it isn't, the rest of the questions are moot!)
- Cost (Is a deposit required? What are cost specifics from food, to staff, to equipment rental? Are there any special packages available?)
- Is food prepared on site or do you need a caterer? (If food is available, request sample menus!)
- Available amenities (How many people can it hold? Is there a separate area for appetizers? Is there valet parking?)
- Can the facility accommodate a Dj or band?
- Are there available references/reviews?
Attempting to contact venues often helps pare down your list right away; if someone did not get back to me fairly quickly or was rude/unhelpful they were crossed off my list without hesitation (first impressions really are important)! Going with your gut is often very helpful; if you haven't been to a location, go there (ideally with the Mitzvah child) and check it out. You may immediately get a sense of "OMG this is IT!" or "NO WAY are we having it here!" You can't get this from looking online or talking to someone on the phone.
If you're lucky, making your final choice may be simple, as various factors may all point to one venue as the best (the date works, the price is right, the amenities are perfect, etc.). However, you may wind up with a few that would work. Keep in mind that your theme/décor, entertainment, etc. will truly define the event, so if you love more than one venue and can save money by choosing one over the other, you may want to do this and put the money towards other things for the event.
Once you've made your decision, I recommend putting down the deposit as soon as you can, so that you don't lose the space to someone else and be right back where you started.
Ok, the deposit is paid and you have a venue, hooray! One big thing down. At this point, there are still a few things to consider before putting things on hold until the year of the big event.
DJs, Photographers, and Videographers, Oh My!
The other "big" things to consider when planning a Mitzvah celebration are whether you want to include a DJ (or band), a photographer, and/or a videographer. Let's first talk about the music...
A good DJ can make or break your event. Sure, the music itself is important, but keeping 100 kids in control and happy is not easy! Even if you have a planner who is recommending a DJ, ask around and get the 411 from friends and family members who have actually used the services. Compare prices and services so you know what you are getting and aren't surprised later. The DJ we wound up hiring hosts "family nights" twice a month for prospective clients. We were able to see the DJ, emcee and dancers in action, and sit down and actually speak to them before making our decision. Once again, trust your gut when checking out DJs. If you are uncomfortable talking to them, the odds are they aren't a good fit for you. Know your child as well - does he/she like to be the center of attention, or is he/she more concerned about everyone else being happy and having a good time? Is dancing more important, or is playing lots of games for prizes? These are important factors to consider when choosing a DJ. It doesn't matter where your party is; if your DJ is a bust it will affect your entire event. Case in point: we had 200 people for a luncheon at the temple following the service, and there wasn't a single person sitting down for the entire 3 hour party. This was all the doing of our fabulous DJ who kept everyone moving and involved the entire time.
What about a photographer? This is something else your planner will help with if you hired one. I admit, I personally got very lucky on this one. About a year after I got my son's date (2 years before the event) a friend said to me that she had just used this photographer for her son's, and he was unbelievable - that I absolutely HAD to meet him. So I did. And he and his portfolio were amazing. Even better, he essentially charged for his time, providing just the digital images and licenses for all the photos taken. He had options to purchase prints and albums, but it wasn't mandatory or even pushed. This was a fabulous way to save some money, as making the photobooks yourself saves a ton! We wound up hiring the photographer 2 years before, and he turned out to be worth every penny. Unfortunately, he has since been "discovered" so I will be paying far more for child #2! My point is that this awesome guy now books out 3 years in advance, so don't think you are too early looking for a photographer right when you get your date! Ask around, get references, look at photos to make sure the photographer has a style you like, and be sure to actually meet the person - personality makes a huge difference in a photographer, thus making a huge difference in your photos!
Finally, do you need a videographer? This was something I struggled with. I knew I wanted to have the service recorded, which was easy and inexpensive. What about the party? This is a personal choice that you will have to make; consider these things:
- Have you ever watched your own Mitzvah video if you have one? (I do, and I honestly have watched it once since 1986 - true story!)
- Are there several older family members that you would like to have video of to remember them by?
- Is cost an issue (are you trying to cut where you can)?
- Is this something your child really wants or something he/she couldn't care less about?
- Do you want someone shoving a mike in your guests' faces, asking them to congratulate the Mitzvah child?
- Would you prefer to just have your own special memories of the day, supplemented by photographs?
For the record, we chose NOT to have a videographer at the party, but that was our personal decision. If you do want to have the event recorded, the same advice applies: ask around, read reviews, look at prior work, and actually meet with the potential videographer.
Hopefully, you are starting to feel a bit less overwhelmed, and a bit more like "I can do this!" Whether you decided to hire a planner to guide you along the way, or to tackle this yourself, I guarantee that you will feel better once you have decided on a time and venue, and booked a DJ, photographer, and/or videographer. Sit back, enjoy your favorite beverage, and relax a bit, you've earned it! When you are ready to get back to planning, the next big thing to think about is your theme. For some great ideas on choosing and implementing the perfect theme for your child, be sure to check out Part II of this article (coming soon).
If there is anything I missed or that you would like more information about, please leave me a comment below and I will do my best to add it! Mazel Tov!!!
Poll - Bar/Bat Mitzvah Cost
How much do you think is appropriate to spend on a Bar/Bat Mitzvah (total for service and party)?
© 2014 Marcy Turner