Special events consultant, Bon Appetit at The Art Institute of Chicago
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN EVENT PLANNING?
I knew before graduating from the journalism program at University of Illinois that I wanted to pursue the events world. My first job post college was at Levy Events catering in the Loop. Within a year I landed at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Café Brauer events office. Then, Bon Appetit at The Art Institute of Chicago scouted me! They literally wrote in their email, “we don’t want to step on any toes, but we want you!” I worked hard; full time at the Museum and part time for two independent planners. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work alongside the best in the business here in Chicago. Those mentors from the very beginning run events at the most amazing venues of this city.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
I love being able to see the bigger picture of how powerful an event can be. At The Art Institute we’re surrounded by world famous art and influencers. I’m in an environment of creativity and forward thinking, that energy is contagious. Catering is an art and we put together the best celebration possible from the second guests walk into the door to their last bite. I’m always excited to be a part of laying the template for a celebration. An unforgettable party starts with the venue. Did I mention that our executive chef is a celebrity? Chicago’s own Tony Mantuano inspires our menus and they’re designed to promote sustainability. Our culinary team is amazing!
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE EVENT YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED IN AND WHY?
I’m involved in each one of my events from start to finish. We facilitate a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and ideas; each one becomes a memorable experience. I’m part of our social market, and we host breathtaking classic and modern weddings. But I also work with clients from the American Society of Interior Design, Time Out Chicago, Factor Women Model Management and have hosted fundraisers for Chicago non-profits. In the past year, our team catered for The First Lady, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Roy Lichtenstein Exhibition and so much more. We’re now preparing parties for the Picasso in Chicago and Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibitions.
WHAT’S THE KEY TO THROWING AN UNFORGETTABLE EVENT?
It’s about creating what is most important to the client, and to be able to tell their story. Every client has a story and a personal connection to their celebration. We are the glue for their ideas and vision. Experienced vendors are a huge part of a seamless event. I get to work with artistic and talented planners and designers. I think innovative décor makes a lasting impression and who doesn’t love an Art in Miniature dessert display and a Super Premium open bar? [Laughs] The menu is key!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN ASPIRING EVENT PLANNER OR CATERER?
I would first clarify that it’s not all about the glamour – we get our hands dirty. We have to take control and absorb mass amount of opinions and demands. It’s our job to get to the root of your vision and make it come to life in a way that makes sense logistically. If you’re comfortable with that pressure and expectation, then my advice is to dive in! You have to prove yourself – that you are detailed, hardworking and most importantly passionate.
WHAT SKILLS AND TRAITS ARE NECESSARY TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THIS INDUSTRY?
We go out and we think about transforming any space into a fabulous party! Not kidding; it becomes obsessive. We’re also the world’s biggest people pleasers. If you’ve met an event planner or designer that’s said “I don’t care what someone thinks of me or my product” they’re lying! We care about what you think and that the end result wows you, every time. We’re meticulous, control freaks [Laughs] Really if you obsess about details, timelines and love the challenge of creating an event, then you’re on the right track!
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER THE DAY OF AN EVENT?
First off have every hard copy of your plans accessible. The floor plan, the menu, the linen confirmation, the timeline, vendor contact information and so on, all in one place. You don’t want to miss a beat and there may be questions flying from the vendors and staff. The second most important thing to remember is that anything can happen and you always have to be composed. You have to know your event like the back of your hand, and be ready to think quickly on your feet.
WHAT IS THE ENERGY AND PRESSURE LIKE BEHIND THE SCENES OF AN EVENT?
The pressure is always high and I feed off of that! I crave the high energy and I don’t view the pressure in a negative way. Working with other event professionals behind the scenes helps to ease any anxiety. We’re excited to finally execute what we’ve been creating for months. I genuinely enjoy making our clients feel like they’ve made the best choice by choosing to book here. So, we hold our team to a high standard to make that happen.
WHAT ARE SOME TIPS AND TRICKS FOR ENTERTAINING ON A BUDGET?
We would all love to hire high end designers and have the most lavish party – they’re fabulous, but unfortunately not always within your budget. Take your dream event and focus in on the priorities first. Be realistic about what you can afford for those priorities. When you switch focus to the final details it becomes the smaller touches that make your event special for your guests. Get creative and remember that scaling back on the guest list can create a more intimate, flawless party.
THE LIFE OF AN EVENT GIRL IS EXHAUSTING (WE’VE BEEN THERE!) HOW DO YOU UNWIND?
It’s hard to unwind! I like to keep a busy schedule professionally and personally. I find myself entertaining and seeking entertainment in this city. I usually try to steal a couple of hours downtown, attend performances, spend time with family and friends. I’m inspired by blogs and of course fashion magazines. I write independently on the side, too. And I hate to say it, but can I also consider attending events a way to unwind? I’m a social events caterer for a reason! It never ends!
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO GO OUT AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THIS CITY?
Since I’m putting together menus constantly I love to stay up to date on the latest restaurant and lounge openings. If there is a “top 10 restaurant list” out then I have to hit up every spot. Right now I’m impressed with Balena, La Sirena Clandestina, Arami and Aviary and I have a long time love for Café Ba-Ba-Reeba, Toro Sushi, Blackbird and The Violet Hour. I’m smitten with Chicago because the energy and reliability of this city really pushes you to succeed. We’re intimate enough to support each other but big enough to set yourself apart.
All photos by RUMALA for L+C