Perfect Party Planning

Perfect Party Planning

Last Updated: 19 Dec 2013
Jade Just

From electronic invites to deciphering dress codes, this is your guide to planning the event of the year.

First thing's first: pick a date. Forward thinking is key. While Saturday is the obvious choice for an event, for instance, there are only so many Saturdays in the year, and function venues often book out well in advance. You'll also want to make absolutely sure that the date you settle on doesn't clash with other events on the social, sporting and arts calendar. You'll have some very reluctant party-goers if you accidentally plan your wedding on AFL Grand Final day.

The best place to check for details of possible competing attractions is on Scoop, here. The largest events database in WA, it's a lifesaver for anyone trying to avoid awkward date clashes. You can search events by date or by category– if your friends are fans of ballet, for instance, you'll be able to check if there are any productions on the date you're considering for your party. You can also search by location, which is handy if your event is outside of Perth. Large regional events such as car rallies, festivals or parades also bring the possibility of road closures or heavy traffic, so make sure you inform your guests about any potential travel delays. For extra peace of mind, it's a good idea to sign up to Scoop's weekly newsletter, which details all new and upcoming events that could possibly affect attendance at your function.

Business events – unlike social get-togethers such as engagements, weddings or birthdays – are best held mid-week. Guests can come straight from work if necessary. It's difficult for anyone to summon up the enthusiasm for a work function on a Friday night or a Saturday, when the working week is over. Better to catch people when their minds are still on networking, rather than when they are in wind-down mode or exhausted.

Once you've got your date fixed and are ready to start sending out the invites and looking at venues, head to the Functions & Venues database at here. You'll find an extensive collection of venues, caterers, decorators and event planners from all over WA. The broad catalogue puts everything you'll need in one place, saving you hours of searching on Google.

Guest List

When it comes to your guest list, remember, you can't please everyone, so only invite the people who you would most like attend.

'Plus ones' can be tricky. You need to make it clear on the invitation whether or not partners are welcome. A good rule of thumb is only to invite partners whom you've met before, with the exception of new partners of close friends and relatives, or long-term partners of friends from abroad who (for obvious reasons) you haven't had a chance to meet.

Corporate affairs are a different kettle of fish. Create your list by inviting a mix of guests who will achieve your event aim. Are you looking to create anticipation about a new product, or to broaden your scope of clients? Be ruthless with your guest list. If your colleague down the hall has a reputation for dancing on tables, leave her off the list. On the day or night of the event itself, even if you're tipping the popularity scale, expect 20 per cent of your guests to be no-shows. Even if people have RSVPed, unforeseen circumstances do happen. Keep that 20 per cent in mind when you're speaking to caterers and other vendors that require numbers. So, for a 100-person function, expect about 80 people to show. Many chefs place their orders and start initial food preparations well in advance, and it's easier for them to work with an increase in numbers rather than a decrease.


Invitations set the tone for an event and, done correctly, can establish a buzz and air of anticipation about your function.

Are you likely to be more excited about Sarah's 30th that you heard about on Facebook (complete with a hero-shot of Sarah after too many cocktails), or Jenny's 30th, for which you received an embossed, stylish and glossy invite?
Corporate events (barely) get away with electronic invites, but if yours is a personally planned do, endeavour to generate a positive response by hand-delivering or posting formal invites. If it's a business function, consider invites that are 'non-transferrable' so there won't be any surprise attendees. You'll still have guests asking if they can swap their invite, but at least you'll be kept in the loop.

Once you've decided on your style of invitation, aim to send them out six weeks before your chosen date. For weddings or events that require travel, however, you should give at least three months' notice. If your event is at your house, let your neighbours know you're having a party and that they should expect noise and cars – even if it's a dinner party (they're notorious for rising noise levels and raucous laughter as the night wears on and the wine kicks in!).

Dress Code

Don't want guests rocking up in boardies and singlets? Then make sure your invitation specifies the level of dress you expect.

White Tie
A white tie soiree calls for the highest level of sophistication and elegance. Ladies should pay extra attention to hair and makeup, while the fellas need to look slick and well groomed.
Men: Tail coat and trousers, cummerbund or vest, white bow and white gloves.
Ladies: Floor-length gown, with understated but chic accessories.

Black Tie/Formal
A black tie event demands formal attire with a dash of flair – femmes fatales can be slightly more experimental with jewellery and hairpieces than at a white-tie event.
Men: Bow tie with a dark tuxedo/dinner suit.
Ladies: Floor-length gown (cocktail dresses are often accepted, but don't hold high hopes of gracing the social pages).

Ladies should be oozing glamour but can be adventurous with accessories and footwear. Men can match their tie to their partner's frock. Think cocktail attire (see below), stepped up a notch.
Men: Suit and tie (don't be afraid to include a pop of colour).
Ladies: Long gowns or cocktail dresses that fall below the knees. Play up your personality with bold colours or patterns.

Although the hem-lengths are raised, you don't need to embrace your inner Paris Hilton. Stickto a fun frock teamed with statement jewellery and heels. Guys can relax a little and roll up their sleeves once they take their jacket off.
Men: Suit pants and jacket, and a long-sleeved shirt, with or without a tie.
Ladies: Knee-length (or slightly above the knee) stylish dresses. You can't go wrong with a LBD (little black dress) and a great pair of heels.

Business Attire
To avoid looking bland, ladies can make a small statement with classy peep toes, and men with a patterned tie. Overall, aim for a blend of style and sophistication.
Men: Tie, and a suit in a dark hue (opt for dark blue to stand out from the crowd).
Ladies: A blouse that covers shoulders, with smart pants or a pencil skirt and inconspicuous accessories.

Just because the word 'casual' is mentioned, don't go running to the cupboard for the jumper your Nanna knitted you. In a nutshell, you should look fashionable and neat. Jeans are okay, just make sure there aren't any rips or holes.
Men: Pants and a button-up shirt (long or short sleeves) and boat shoes or smart trainers.
Ladies: A casual dress, and wedges or modest heels. If you go with jeans, team them with a strappy silk or chiffon top.

When in doubt…If you've been asked to an event and are unsure of the code, ask the host/hostess. If all else fails, it's always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Event Planners

If you value your time yet want your function to flow without a hitch, engaging the services of an event planner is a smart solution. There's nothing worse than getting home at 7pm, already stressed out and tired, and spending the rest of your evening deciding on colour schemes, decorations and venues. Professional planners do all the running around for you, leaving you to enjoy the excitement of the lead-up to your event. Keep in mind that many planning professionals have organised hundreds of events, and are often able to get quotes and prices you wouldn't have access to if you were doing the leg-work yourself. They offer a range of services, with most event planners going way beyond the call of duty, just to ensure you have the absolute best. And, of course, when your function rolls around, you'll be free to mingle with your guests while someone else makes sure everything runs like clockwork.

"Without the aid of an event stylist or planner, clients will often underestimate just how long everything takes to set up and prepare," says Vanessa Fordham, owner of Villa Kula. "We tell all our suppliers to be there well in advance of the guests' arrival."


Set a budget and stick to it. Sounds easy, right? Not always! Your budget will more than likely blow out during the event-planning process. To start on the right track, decide on a figure, then add ten per cent. You'll more than likely spend that extra amount, usually on last-minute decisions (often weather-related).

Once you've got your budget finalised, make a list of everything you could possibly want, right down to your deepest, darkest desires. Yes, even that ice sculpture. Budgets are often exceeded if you make constant additions to the event. Look at your function from every angle and there's a good chance that you won't miss the kind of detail that wasn't accounted for in your original budget (the kind of detail that can come back to haunt you).

Next, prioritise everything on your wish list, and cull items that are at the bottom of your priority scale. When it comes to quotes, try to get at least three before you spend your hard-earned cash. And remember, it may seem like a no-brainer, but you'll get the best quotes by smiling and being polite.

Other budget considerations to bear in mind are:

  • Check the web for spreadsheet templates to help you manage your event budget.
  • Get more bang for your buck by finding out early if a venue provides complimentary extras such as table cloths, chairs and microphones.
  • When it comes to Ts and Cs, read the fine print. You don't want to get stuck with a $300 fee for not washing the hired champers glasses.
  • Get quotes in writing, save all email correspondence, and if there's been a decision made over the phone, create a call log that includes the date, time and what was discussed.
  • If your event is a wedding, you're likely to pay for a lot of it on plastic. If you haven't already got one, sign up for a credit card with flight rewards before you start your spending.
  • Money talks – paying in cash may give you a little more room to negotiate costs with some suppliers.


Choosing a venue is a personal decision, and one that will come down to factors such as weather, the age of your guests, number of guests, and most importantly the kind of event you're hosting… It might be a swanky launch for a 'who's who' of Perth, a corporate sundowner by the ocean, or a 50th birthday at a low-key restaurant.

Before deciding on a venue, plan to visit it when it's busy so you can get a feel for the ambience and acoustics. Although most event managers will bend over backwards for even the fussiest of hosts, the key to a smooth-running event is to form a friendly relationship with the manager from the get-go. This means reading the functions package from start to finish to avoid asking questions that have already been answered, and being prompt with payments, menu selections and guest numbers. Always be honest about attendance figures, how loud your entertainment will be and how much time you'll need to set up. A minor oversight (or fib) on your part could have a massive impact on your function because venues have strict guidelines to follow when it comes to capacity and noise levels.

If your venue is also undertaking the catering, arrange to sample the menu at least a month before selections are required (bear in mind that few venues will offer menu sampling as a free service). To breeze through the set-up on the day of your event, be sure to have a copy of the room layout (most venues can provide one), including where adornments are being placed, as well as a run-sheet with a timeline showing speeches, food service and arrivals (photographer, DJ, caterer, guests).


Many function glitches can easily be forgiven and forgotten… so what if the band was a little quiet, or the wine too sweet? But poor catering will be etched into the memories of your guests like Miley Cyrus's VMA performance.

The first thing to consider is, do you want sit-down or cocktail-style dining? Your
decision will come down to a combination of budget, personal preference and practicality: a cocktail party for Grandpa's 100th probably isn't a grand idea. Make your choice clear on the invitation. For example, 'light refreshments' suggests that guests shouldn't arrive ravenous, whereas a 'banquet' implies that there will be plenty of food. How much is too much? When in doubt, always over-cater. Your guests will be none the wiser if you skimp on the decor to make sure their tummies are full. For a cocktail party, aim for 10 pieces of food per person, and for a sit-down meal you'll need at least two courses.

If you opt for a caterer, remember the three 'S's –size, selection and staff. First up, the size of your function is important when choosing a caterer – make sure they have experience in dealing with the number of guests you have invited. Next, your caterer should help you with your food selections. When it comes to cocktail food, mix light canapes with starchy varieties, especially when guests arrive, when they'll be consuming the most beverages. Lastly, make sure there is enough staff on hand; follow the rule of one staff member per twenty-five guests, for both cocktail and sit-down events.

"The most common mistake made is not having a checklist," says Brad Wallis from Wallis Catering. "Using a checklist is highly recommended and most caterers have their own tailored lists to give their clients to help them through the process."


It's no coincidence that when the drinks are flowing, guests are at ease. There's plenty of mingling and laughing, and no one's too shy to shake it on the dance floor.

Create a relaxed atmosphere early on with drinks readily available on arrival. Most guests will consume two to three beverages in the first hour, and at least one every hour after that. The most common drinks supplied to guests at events are beer (including a mid-strength and a light option), wine, champagne, soft drinks, and ater. If your budget allows, however, provide a signature cocktail on arrival to begin on a high note. Corporate events should also include sparkling water, as well as tea and coffee towards the end of the event.

Steer clear of a 'help yourself' option, where guests get their own drinks. This not only comes across as sloppy, it also encourages guests to over-consume alcohol. For any event (especially those outdoors on warm days), be sure that water is available at all times. For example, offer water to guests before a wedding ceremony and let all guests know where water bottles or a water station can be found.

"If, as the host, you know your guests to be big drinkers then maybe increase your beverage order, as no one minds having leftover beer and wine anyway," says Liam Foad, Managing Director of Shaker Bar Hire. "When deciding what type of drinks to purchase, look at your male to female ratio and buy accordingly. To minimise over-indulgence, serve plenty of water and soft drinks, along with food or snacks."

Western Sounds & Power Music


Music sets the mood for your event, but with so many options available, it's hard to know where to start. When it comes to music, keep in mind that you usually get what you pay for; the price of a band or DJ more often than not reflects their popularity and experience. A band is a popular choice for a large corporate event or fundraiser, and it's a good idea to ensure that a particular genre of music (such as jazz, rock or cabaret) is played throughout the night. If you decide on a band, make sure you've seen them live – what sounds fantastic on a demo tape might make for a cringeworthy on-stage performance.

The flexibility of a DJ suits social events: they can play understated lounge music when guests arrive, to encourage socialising, then encourage dancing by slowly upping the tempo.

If you're playing your music from your phone or Mp3 player, chances are you'llfind that after a few drinks your guests will believe they can make better music selections than you. To avoid interference, locate your player somewhere out of sight and wire the speakers to the main area. Remote-controlled docks are a worthwhile purchase so you can alter the music without leaving your guests.

To ensure a packed dance floor, start playing your best foot-tapping tunes with two hours of the event remaining. Any earlier and you'll risk an empty dance floor well before close, with everyone already worn out!


If you wouldn't say it to your Nanna, don't say it in your speech… not a bad rule to follow. The best speeches are short and sweet (two minutes in length), sincere and with a few laughs. When you're writing your speech, use your personality and draw from your best traits, the ones that your friends admire, such as kindness, honesty or humour.

A common mistake is to use a speech as an opportunity to be someone you aren't normally. If you aren't known to have your friends or colleagues in stitches on a normal day, avoid turning your speech into a comedy routine.
When you're deciding on speakers for a personal event such as a wedding, birthday or engagement, play it smart. If your father is adamant about giving a speech, but he's an awful public speaker, suggest that he does half the speech and your mother does the other.

For corporate events, spokesperson selection is crucial. It's likely that your guests would rather listen to nails on a blackboard than an awkward speaker (picture Mr Bean giving a speech). Confidence is the key, and if your director avoids speeches like the plague, don't force him to give one. Suggest that he simply thanks everyone for their attendance and proposes a toast.


Whether they're capturing the best day of your life, taking pictures of irritable politicians or snapping away at glammed-up socialites, an event photographer needs to be able to adapt to any situation. At around $4000 for a package, event photography isn't cheap but the ability to look back at the memories is priceless, and great photographs can really raise an event's profile and chances of success.

Choosing the right photographer is critical. Aim for one who will make you and your guests feel naturally at ease; a playful personality will also go a long way because there's nothing worse than mutterings of "cheeeese" followed by fake smiles.

Before you make any decisions, arrange to meet your potential photographer for a coffee or drink – that way you can gauge if you're comfortable around them, as well as run over costs and packages. A meet and greet is also ideal to check that you're both on the same page when it comes to finer details – for a corporate function you might assume that the photos will be full-body shots of the attendees, but the photographer may envision shoulders upwards. Specifics like these need to be decided before the event. If your photography budget is on the light side, you may consider cutting costs with alternatives like a photo booth or hiring a budding photographer such as a TAFE or university student (just remember to be realistic about your expectations). There are also online companies who hire out Polaroid cameras, which can be delivered straight to your home or office, along with the film.

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