Tips for event planning – Dinner & Drinks

You’ve been asked to plan your best friend’s engagement do, help with your parents’ anniversary or maybe you’re planning your own birthday dinner. It’s fair to say some people naturally rise to challenge of organising an event whilst others would label it a worst-case scenario, but it doesn’t have to be so daunting. I’ve worked in the events industry for about 5 years organised everything from weddings, Christmas parties to corporate exhibitions and meetings. They are individually all very different but all follow a very similar pattern when it comes to organisation. Below are some tips and tricks I’ve used both professionally and socially to make planning a little easier. This is based on a dinner and drinks event for 20 people, but the same process would apply to larger gatherings.


Budget: unless you’re the Kardashians.

It may be considered vulgar to talk money, but without knowing the budget or at least where the budget is coming from i.e. are people paying for themselves, It’s difficult to begin the planning process. Write a list of everything that you would like to be included for your guests with estimated costs, using your own knowledge of local restaurants and bar tariffs will work for this and will help you work out the cost per head, you can then cross off the non-necessities to suit your budget. Red carpet and gold leaf dessert anyone?

  • 3 course meal – £30.00
  • Private room hire – £200.00 (not all venues will charge a room hire cost)
  • Half bottle of wine – £10.00
  • Arrival or toast Prosecco – £6.00
  • Cake – £45.00
  • Names cards – £8.00 (for 20)
  • Flowers – £15 per centerpiece 


Food: Know your audience.

If you are a food lover or the person you are planning the event for is, this is very crucial. I’m not saying only 5 star will do but really try to get to know their preferences. Are they a sucker for a gastro pub or more into hipster fusion menus served in a bucket? (deconstructed equals better, right?). Even something as basic as being vegetarian could mean ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ for a venue. Booking your vegetarian friend dinner at a BBQ meat shack….. yep done that! Try and pick a venue or a menu which reflects their lifestyle and you’ll have one happy customer.

F R E S H F R U I T (2)

Drink: Red, white, rosé aren’t the only options.

I think drink preference is way more personal than food so I would personally go less is more on this one. For past events, I’ve put on an arrival drink (you can’t go wrong with classic Prosecco for this) and then guests have brought bottles of wine between them or switched to their favourite pale ale. I am the type of person who would love to cover the cost of everything but I would rarely have the budget to do so and I know you can never please everyone when it comes to alcohol. The wine fiasco of 2013 still haunts me to this day. If you’re paying for someone’s meal they should be more than happy to buy a tipple to go with it and if they’re not happy, perhaps you need to re-consider your guest list for future soirée! If you have big budget still go with an arrival drink and mid-range Red/White wine on the table, enough for 2 glasses or half a bottle per person and always ask the venue to put tap water in jugs on the tables, they won’t want to… but they will.

Planning: Use the force….

Okay… well not quite, but there are apps and websites out there, that are so handy it will feel like you have Jedi powers. One of my favourites is JotForm, this is great for collecting menu choices which whether you have a set menu or A La Carte, a venue will probably ask for. You can tailor the form and add as many choices as required. You simply then send a url link to the form, to your guests and they can select what they want. This is a huge time saver and helps reduce human error on your part as guests can take ownership of their order (yes you did order the Thai salmon Sharon!). your guests details can then be exported into an Excel spreadsheet to make your table plan. Making a Facebook event is a must in my opinion not only does it act as reminder but you can see who hasn’t replied yet and keep people updated with any information of changes. For those who need to collect payment form guests make use of Paypal’s ‘Paypal me’ function. It produces a handy link you can send to your guests to collect payment, which makes it easy to keep track of who has paid and saves you from having hand out your bank details time and time again. 

Know how: don’t be shy and just ask.

Many venues and restaurants who have facilities for private functions or large dinners will probably offer suggested menus, drinks, even room hire prices on their websites. This is because many people can be indecisive or simply not like making decisions, so having it all laid out for them is preferred.These options will give you a good idea of what the venue offer but they are still suggestions and there’s nothing stopping you from emailing or calling the venue to discuss alternative options or deals whether you want to get the room hire removed by offering a contracted minimum number of guests or minimum bar spend or want your favourite restaurant to do a set menu for your group. If you can guarantee the the venue a good spend there’s little they will deny you to get you in the door.


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