04 Sep Go Behind the Scenes : Event Planning 101
Event planning is one of my first loves and I am really good at it. I fell into it quite naturally when an opportunity to plan a community Earth Day event while at McWhinney opened up over 13 years ago. Looking back, I had really been “event planning” most of my life; arranging all the behind the scenes details so that the guest experience was at its best whether it be parties, holidays or date night. Since that first event (which was snowed out btw) I planned farm dinners and festivals for Grant Farms, a Farm to Fork ‘parking lot’ dinner and tons of family-friendly events at Whole Foods Market and everything from weddings to graduation parties at The Farmhouse. It would be easy to fill one’s schedule with nothing but events from April to October; it is thrilling and utterly exhausting.
Since forming Cultivate, I intentionally incorporated event planning into my offering of services, but it is not the main focus of what I do, or want to do. I am very particular about the type of event I plan now; it must further our connection to local food and each other through a unique experience. The only event planning client I have right now is the Gardens on Spring Creek Garden a’Fare Beer and Wine Tours. Until now.
I met Mindy Bryant at a women’s business networking event in January and we hit it off immediately. She was considering forming her own event planning company and then she did. Hive Theory‘s niche is to create events that have an element of giving back to our community. So, when Mindy approached me about planning a blindfolded dinner, I was intrigued.
I had read about dining in the dark experiences before and did more research before I committed. I always loved the episode on Hell’s Kitchen each season where the want-to-be chefs stood there blindfolded while Gordon Ramsay spoon-fed them asparagus and mushrooms and they failed miserably to guess. I replicate this experience in the kids cooking classes I teach at The Cooking Studio sometimes (watch the short clip below). We eat with our eyes first and have a pre-conceived notion about how something will taste; taking away this sense lets us experience our food and flavors in a whole new way.
Up for the challenge, Hive Theory and Cultivate set out to bring the first blindfolded dining experience to Northern Colorado in a way only we can!
First, the greater good. Mindy and her husband, Mason own Edge Optics and he is also the optometrist. Sight, or helping people see better, is at the heart of what he does and there is a story behind it (come to the dinner to find out). We selected Ensight Skills Center, which helps those losing their vision transition to a world without sight…can you imagine?!
Next, we had to figure out what to call it. Mindy has a vision to do more “sensory” events such as night hikes and wanted a brand to go with it. We came up with NonSense by Hive Theory as well as Lights Out in a brainstorming session. Then it was on to the fun part; design. Here are the logos I created for the Hive Theory and the event.
Now, we needed a venue and chef. We thought of Locality Kitchen and Bar for several reasons: the Chef, Matt Smith, puts out great food and has a passion for sourcing local, seasonal ingredients, and the atmosphere and size of the restaurant were just right for a dinner of this kind. Their private back room seats 40; perfect for our event. In a meeting about Garden a’Fare with Chef, I casually mentioned the blindfolded dinner to test the waters. His eyes lit up and said he would like to know more. We set up a meeting with Chef, Michelle, the event coordinator, and Jim, the owner, to see if we could make it a win-win.
By the time we had our meeting in early July, everyone all of the staff was buzzing about the event and we had a great meeting. Chef presented a well-thought out menu that took into account the physical component of being blind (no steak knives or soup) and also the sensory component of flavors mixing well together and scents that would enhance the experience. We practiced reaching for our wine glasses with our eyes closed and what the format of the evening would be. They were all in to sell out the restaurant on Thursday, September 21st with 90 seats….gulp.
They suggested approaching their wine provider, BreakThru Beverage, as a possible sponsor of the event to donate the wine. Hillary Siebels, formally of Cafe Vino, and now the Fort Collins wine rep for BreakThru is a friend and I emailed her to present the idea. It turns out her supervisor has her own personal experience with sight loss and was on board.
Event name, check. Date, check. Beneficiary, check. Restaurant partner, check. Wine partner, check. Now we needed sponsors, both in-kind and cash. While these kinds of events are not significant money-makers for us, it would be nice to deposit a little something for our efforts with the big chunk of money going to Ensight. Sponsors are key to making this happen and showing them value and making sure they receive full recognition before and during the event are key.
We reached out to partners we have both worked with for in-kind help, Business Card Factory for printing, Flexx Productions for rentals, Wilburs Total Beverage for the welcome champagne, Exposure Selfie for the photo booth and Paul Wood Florist for flowers. Next we sought out cash sponsors and created various levels – eye mask, photo booth, silent auction, champagne toast and were fortunate to have Edge Optics, US Bank, Eye Center of Northern Colorado and Wealth Management & Associates come on board.
Onto to creating the poster. I used to give my graphic artists such a hard time about how long it took to create a poster for an event at Whole Foods Market. I was now feeling their pain of creating something eye catching, getting every logo sized just right and all the details on the poster without it feeling too cluttered. Here is the final cut:
We posted the event on Hive Theory’s website and Facebook and we asked our partners to share the event as well. We created detailed FAQs and what to expect since dining in the dark might feel intimidating for some. Mindy has images and a posting schedule to make sure we recognize all of our sponsors. We needed more though. We needed to show people what to expect.
We asked Locality if they would help us with a photo shoot and they agreed. We asked some friends to help us out as models for a free lunch in exchange and I got behind the camera (thank you to Emily of Good Day Designs, Robby of Sibi, Inc. and Clancey of Clancey James Creative). It was also a good “trial run” to practice seating people with blindfolds on and to get feedback on the experience. Chef brought out four beautiful plates of food, not the actual event menu, and some were easier than others to eat (cherry tomatoes are not a good idea). Here are some of my favorites.
Creating an event is the definition of being vulnerable. Much like an artist, you envision and create something that you put out into the world and then you wait for people to like it enough to purchase a ticket. It is nerve-wracking and anxiety provoking. I heard about an technique on a podcast called a pre-morbidity exercise. Basically, you say out loud the worst case scenarios and then you list all the solutions you can think of so that it doesn’t happen. I am not personally a fan of envisioning the worst or putting my energy into that outcome, but there was a sense of relief just admitting that this could happen (not enough tickets are sold, the night is a total disaster, people hate it) and then following through on everything you can control to change this outcome. At the very least we can say that we will have done everything we could have to make the event a success.
So we have our list things to do and this newsletter is part of the promotional strategy. Hopefully, it also gives you some insight into what planning an event, big or small, is like, whether you are an aspiring event planner or just an event goer. If you live in NoCo, love food, wine and unique experiences, I highly encourage you to purchase tickets soon because we are definitely going to sell out!