Going to parties is always fun, but planning a party can be downright stressful. Figuring out location, seating, food and drinks, and how to entertain people takes a lot of time — often time you don't have. The good news is you can hire a professional party planner to make your event unique and a smooth and seamless production, no matter how large or small. The beauty of party planners is they help with all kinds of event planning, not just celebrity-scale productions. Most people don't even consider hiring a professional event planner for anything other than their wedding, but party planners can make your life much easier and can be much more affordable than you might think. Party planners help coordinate any kind of gathering you can imagine: children's birthday parties, teen parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, corporate events, company holiday parties, fundraisers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings, high-school and college graduation parties, memorials, holiday events, and much more.
Party planners and wedding planners can be worth their pay in many ways. They free up the time you would spend researching ideas, coordinating vendors, sending invitations and making party favors so you can tend to your work and family life. And they're far more efficient at these tasks than you, since it _is _their career. They can save you money through industry discounts and vendor relationships — often to the tune of 10 percent of more. You're also relieved of the pressure of throwing a spectacular party; you can relax knowing your parents' 50th anniversary will be perfect in the hands of a pro. Nationally, the average cost for party planning services ranges between $500 and $750. Common party planning tasks that clients request help with include finding and booking vendors (such as catering), coming up with a vision for theme and decor, coordinating setup and cleanup, designing and installing the decorations, designing and creating floral arrangements, making party favors, coordinating things the day of the party, and much more. Even if you're only inviting 25 kids for your son's third birthday party, can you imagine what a relief it would be to have someone else handle the decorations, setup, entertainment and cleanup?
You can also decide just how much help you need a party planner to provide, creating the opportunity for you to keep within your determined party budget. For minimal help, consult with a party planner on an hourly basis to fine-tune your theme and decoration ideas, then do the rest yourself. For larger parties, you can hire a party planner to handle the vendor contracts, manage the caterer, coordinate with the venue, and book any entertainment — freeing you up to deal with invitations, decorations and day-of logistics. Another option is hiring a party planner to handle your event from top to bottom. The party planner can take all the work off your hands, arranging food, entertainment, venue, decor, parking and transportation, bartenders and bar orders, setup and cleanup, and day-of coordination. Full-service party planning costs more, but your only job is telling the planner what you want and helping make design decisions. The sky's the limit when it comes to party planning, with no job too big or too small. Hire a party planning company to help with a community fundraiser with thousands of guests or an intimate gathering with 20 close friends. You may encounter a handful of payment models when hiring a party planner. Some party planners charge per hour, some charge a percentage of the total party budget, some charge a flat fee and others earn commissions.
Here are the considerations for hiring a party planner or event planning services that can affect the average total cost.
Many party planning companies offer consulting services and small-scale party planning services on an hourly basis, with rates ranging anywhere from under $50 to over $150, depending on the company. Consulting with a party planner on an hourly basis is ideal for the DIY host who needs only a few final details sorted. There are a variety of ways to make the most of a party planner's consultation services. One helpful way is in honing your vision before you begin the planning process. Say you want to throw a Sweet 16 for your daughter, but aren't sure how to make it unique and fabulous. Consulting with a planner can help you determine how many guests you can accommodate with your budget, identify the appropriate vendors, consider the need (if any) for a venue rental and possible locations, and narrow down a theme — complete with decor suggestions. You now have a professional plan you can execute on your own.
Another way to work with a party planner on a hourly basis is to get help with one aspect of the event. Say you have everything handled for your parents' anniversary party, from food to location, but you just can't deal with decorations. A professional can help handle the details you don't have time for. You can turn decorations completely over to a party planning company, and even have them come in and do decoration setup the day of the event if you're strapped for time.
The average hourly rate for party planner services will depend greatly on geographic location. For example, an event planning business in California's Bay Area may charge an average of $125 per hour for party planning consultation. Conversely, a party planning business in a part of the country with a lower cost of living will likely charge a lower hourly rate. Hourly rates are also affected by company experience and reputation. It stands to reason that Beyonce's go-to party planner will command higher rates than someone in their first few years as a professional planner.
Percentages and location
For more involved party planning services where you need multiple vendors (caterer, entertainment, service staff, rentals, etc.), companies may earn a percentage of the total party cost, often between 15 and 20 percent of the event budget. As your overall vendor costs go up, the cost for the party planner also goes up. This model can save the client money over paying a party planner's hourly rate when events become quite large or when multiple party planners from the company are assigned to work on your project. In general, party planners are very transparent with their pricing models, so be sure you understand what percentage you will be charged for their services. Geographic location can affect percentage-based party planning costs because different regions have different vendor prices for the same types of services. A BBQ service in Napa Valley, California or New York City will typically cost more than a BBQ service in a small town in Iowa.
Flat fees and commissions
Some party planners charge flat fees or commissions. A fee-based party planner will meet with you in person or on the phone, evaluate your planning needs, and quote you a flat fee to accomplish all the agreed-upon tasks. If your party planner charges an hourly rate but you want to keep within a certain budget, one option is to cap the total number of work hours in the contract to ensure you never exceed a certain amount.
In a commission-based payment model, party planners receive financial rewards from vendors for selecting them over other vendors for job event contracts. This practice isn't as common as it was because it could potentially lead to conflicts of interest. Experts generally say that party planners should not receive both an hourly rate and a commission. Always be clear on what payment model your party planner uses and have a clearly outlined contract showing a breakdown of costs and payments.
Complexity of party
In addition to the number of guests you're inviting, another major factor in cost is how complex your party will be. Overall, the more elaborate the affair, the higher the cost for party planning services. For compex parties, planners need to supervise more vendors and orchestrate more moving parts, which results in more work and a higher rate to you. Coordinating vendors includes negotiating pricing, detailing contracts, confirming event details and deliverables, and overseeing vendors on the day of the event. Party planners also orchestrate all the schedules, meaning they work from the event timeline to ensure each vendor and decoration is in place at the proper time. Finding a venue also adds another layer of complexity. Party planners also manage communications with you, such as change requests or additions, and settle all necessary details with vendors and outside parties. They design and install the decorations and oversee the installation of any rentals, from furniture to lighting. Party planners are on hand in the final hours and days to make sure each detail is perfect when the guests arrive. This is why a seated formal meal for 150 people with theme-specific furniture, a live band, a videographer and photographer, and shuttle transportation for the guests requires far more party planning than a backyard children's pizza party for 20. Here are examples of three hypothetical parties and their average related costs from A'Reve Event Production:
- Princess-themed, high-end children's party: ~ $2,000-$2,500 total budget
- 20 (child) guests with 1-2 outside vendors
- $300 for food
- $300-$500 for entertainment
- $500-$800 for unique decor, personalized gifts and specialized elements
- $900 party planner fee to coordinate vendors, decor and vision over 12-15 hours of work
- Western-themed party: ~ $23,400-$24,400 total budget
- 150 (adult) guests with 5-10 outside vendors
- $1,200 for port-a-potties
- $2,200 for two bartenders, rental glassware, mobile bar and alcohol
- $4,000 for catering (BBQ, pig on a spit, all the details)
- $4,000-$4,500 for live band (can cost from two to five times as much as a DJ)
- $4,500-$5,000 for dance floor, lighting, generators
- $7,500 party planner fee to coordinate vendors, decor and vision over approximately 120 hours of work, including day-of coordination
- "Mad Men"-themed birthday party: ~ $20,000 total budget
- 15 percent to 20 percent party planning fee to source custom decor for a private event at the Frank Lloyd Wright Estate
- 45 hours spent by A'Reve Event Production to shop for and source furniture and decor to match the party and venue theme
- 65 hours more spent planning the event and day-of coordination, including setup and teardown
Follow these suggestions for hiring someone who will make your party planning process a success. First and foremost, research your potential party planners. Read reviews to learn about past client experiences. Depending on your local regulations, make sure planners have the appropriate business licenses and liability insurance. Next, find someone who has experience coordinating your type of party. If you hire someone who has never planned a children's party, they may not be as well equipped to deal with the problems that can arise as someone who's well-versed in the ways of kids' parties. If their experience and references check out, make sure you like the party planner — good communication is key. Whether you're working together for a matter of hours or over weeks, you want the process to be a positive experience. Personality is especially important if they'll be onsite for day-of coordination. Before hiring, be clear on their payment model and, unless they're working as an hourly consultant, have a detailed contract that outlines what services they will provide for the agreed-upon cost. Throughout the process, be clear in your communication about what you want and any concerns that arise, while also trusting the planner to do their job.
- The overall cost of a party will often be higher if you hire a party planner, but the service brings expertise, vendor connections and time savings.
- Look for a party planner with experience organizing social events similar in scale and scope to the one you're envisioning.
- Read client reviews and follow up with references to make sure you're choosing the right pro for your project. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.