Getting the Best Reception for Your Event Designs

Four Exercises to Help Pinpoint what the Client Wants

By Andrew Spurgin

If you are working with social clients, there’s a good chance they may never have talked to an event professional before. Let alone considered how to begin the daunting process of planning a wedding, a 50th birthday extravaganza or golden anniversary.

Quite a few years ago I realized that the process of designing an event can be convoluted, unfocused and, quite frankly, so all over the board that I would sometimes sit there listening to a client, scratching my head and saying to myself, “I really don’t think they know what it is that they want!” It was then that I realized to build a great building one needs a solid foundation, and that foundation is data.

I developed a simple process for our sales team that is not only fun for the client to participate in, but also a win-win for all. This four-step data-gathering tool is streamlined to help you give your client exactly what they really want. Utilizing this process, the client will actually help you create the right event for them. Think of it as verbal Pinterest board.

The Four Exercises for Success:

1. The List of Ten
2. Demographics
3. I Like, I Don’t Like
4. Event Statement

The List of 10 – The Important Questions to Ask

Ask the client to make a list of everything that lives at a party – venue, invitations, catering, bar services, flowers, décor, photography, entertainment, linens, valet, live flamingos, etc., you get the idea. You could even start them off with a list of the basics.

Asking your clients what is most important to them at an event might reveal some surprises, but will always point you in the right direction. Image: A lady in waiting at a Louis XIV event we produced. Photo: Robert Benson

Then ask them to list each item in the order of importance to them. With this list in hand, you can see right in front of you exactly where their priorities lie. Talk to them honestly. If Items nine or 10 will cost them more money, time and effort than how much they actually care about those items, then have them set them aside and go on to those that they do care about. Chances are that those live flamingos aren’t as important until they have all the other items in place. Then you can revisit the nines and tens together again and see if they are still a must.

We share with our clients that currency comes in many forms, whether cash, time or effort. Help them to refocus and spend their money, time and effort on what IS important to them. You’re never going to know what is important to them if you don’t ask, right?

Demographics – Who are you entertaining?

Diet Coke knows who’s watching NBC at 7 p.m. on Thursday nights, that’s why they play that commercial. Your client should also be aware of who his or her audience is, so to speak, and play to them.

Events can flop when they are designed to be all about the host. An experienced host knows very well that to make an event a success make it all about your guest, not yourself! If you “wine and dine” them and make them feel special, they will remember what a great party it was. And, believe me that’s exactly what they will tell their friends too. Best advertising you’ll ever get is word-of-mouth.

You may find that culinary presentation is most important to your client. Image: Hamachi, Finger Limes, Vanilla Sea Salt, Micro Cilantro, Olive Oil by Andrew Spurgin. Photo: Jen Dery

Let’s take a wedding, for instance. One side of the family is well- heeled, well-moneyed, well-traveled and live in “The City,” they have seen and done it all. The other side of the family are the nicest, warmest salt-of-the-earth type folks. Then add the relatives coming from Bulgaria and you have some really odd bedfellows. What do you do?

Or, your client might want more traditional fare such as steak and potatoes, yet still appreciate an inspired presentation. Image: Spice Roast Carrots, Parmesan Crumb, Pine Nuts, Bellwether Sheep’s Milk Yogurt Photo: Andrew Spurgin

Sure you have your work cut out for you, but find a common thread. Plan, design and create based on the ethos that everyone feels comfortable, are not intimidated and relaxed and ready to have a great time.

If I consulted with you on procuring the perfect dress, and I didn’t listen as to what you like, didn’t do my homework, then preceded to fit you for a size 12 yellow dress. You dislike yellow and wear a size two (lucky you). I did not do my job and here is what will happen: You’re going to be uncomfortable, tug at the dress all night, not have a good time. It’s the same with a party, you just weren’t into it, it wasn’t fun, and you just waited for the cake to be cut and left. I refer to this as “the party where I didn’t know which fork to use”.

When guests are uncomfortable or embarrassed they are not going to let their hair down, relax, sit back, enjoy the show and just have a great time! And when the party planets align, as the guests’ leave they will say “That was such a wonderful party, we all had such a great time”. Why? Because you listened and gave them what they really wanted, ALL of them! It’s imperative that your party is the right fit.

The Like, Don’t Like List – Your Shopping List

Of all these “exercises,” this is the one that is not only telling, but is one of the best things you can do to capture the mind-set of your client. It reveals what they really want, yet may not know it yet.


Sometimes clients don’t know what they like until they see it. Add the unexpected. This actress was our guest check in receptionist at a 1969 office party ala Mad Men. Photo: Andrew Spurgin

Ask them to grab a pen and piece of paper. If it’s a wedding couple, grab two – you will need both people for this.

Make two columns. Label one “I Like” and one “I Don’t Like.” Have part of the list all culinary, part all beverage. The rest of the list is completely random and abstract. Write down all that you like on the left side and all you aren’t so keen on the right. The more information you list = the better the event!

Examples – I Like: Oysters. I Don’t Like: Tripe. I Like: Elephants. I Don’t Like: Clowns. I Like: Pantone Radiant Orchid. I Don’t Like: Brown.

With all this data in hand essentially all we do is connect the dots to create the perfect event. It’s almost like someone hands you a piece of paper with some holes cut out of it, lay it over all that data and the words appear and say “This is the party you should be doing”. Like I said, it’s like a verbal Pinterest

Event Statement – What’s the take away?

Okay, so you’ve gone through these four steps with your clients. What is the final element to really honing in on getting them the event they want? I ask them to write down an “Event Statement,” like a mission statement for a business; only this one answers this one question — What do they want guests to take away with them?

With social events, we often think that the objective is simple – people are coming to celebrate a milestone event with the celebrant. But truly, to create a memorable event, get a lifetime client who will be back for other milestone events, you have to know the right questions to ask. Layer the answers into the party and most of all – LISTEN.

All event statements begin and end at doing your very best work. Image: Magret de Canard aux Herbes de Provence, Gnocchi a la Parisienne by Andrew Spurgin. Photo: Robert Benson

Your client may not know what they want, but if you follow this time tested approach to data gathering you well may hear them say “Wow, how did you know that this was exactly what we wanted?” It’s not rocket science, we just connected the dots…


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In his latest venture, ANDREW SPURGIN™, Andrews creates bespoke events from concept, styling and menu design. He has designed parties and menus, and overseen the production of events honoring dignitaries and glitterati for the past three decades. He has cooked for three US presidents and has designed menus and events throughout the United States, Canada, England and Mexico.

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