the national aquarium in baltimore, maryland

National Aquarium in Baltimore

When I was a little girl, our family visited the Monterey Aquarium in California as part of a family vacation. I remember that the aquarium staff was setting up for a wedding that evening. I was fascinated – my little girl wedding daydreams had never featured an aquarium. What a unique idea! (Although I was a big fan of The Little Mermaid and wanted to get married on a boat just like Ariel, so an aquarium isn’t too far of a stretch…)

I had that in my mind as I toured the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, which hosts hundreds of private events per year. Naturally, hosting an event in a building full of live (and sometimes endangered) animals has some logistical challenges. The hours are limited – they won’t close the aquarium to day guests to accommodate events so it’s almost exclusively just available for evening events, and the start time is a strict two hours after the aquarium closes. And you have to use red disposables instead of glass and china (the red is so it’s easy to find if an errant cup makes it into the water), but that’s because the aquarium staff understandably can’t risk anything that would be dangerous to the animals. But it’s worth it to be able to host an event in such a majestic environment.

There are numerous potential venues at the Aquarium available for rent. The most exciting ones (aka the ones that have the most access to the aquarium residents) are the Blue Wonders exhibit and the Pier 4 building, which is home to the dolphin exhibit – who doesn’t love dolphins!

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give strolling receptions a go

give strolling receptions a go for your wedding or special event

Not every venue is conducive to a sit-down dinner. Or you may want to invite just a few too many guests that can fit comfortably. If either is the case, you may want to consider a strolling reception for your next large event.

A strolling reception is usually done in lieu of a sit-down dinner or buffet. It’s also called a cocktail buffet or simply a heavy hors d’oeuvres reception. The menu usually consists of a variety of passed hors d’oeuvres combined with several food stations or displays.

The benefits of a strolling reception are variety, creativity and space. Instead of choosing a single menu, caterers can work with a variety of ideas and cuisines. It’s not uncommon to offer multiple styles of food through different stations, for example, an Italian station, an Asian station and a Mexican station. In terms of space, since you don’t have to provide a spot at a table for every single guest, this set up takes up less space. This also works well in venues that have plenty of space, just not a large room where everyone can sit together. It’s a popular choice in historic venues without a large ballroom.

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healthier menu options for conferences

healthier menu options for conferences and meetings

I’m excited to share a guest post by Megan Quinn, a certified health coach. As an event and meeting planner, I personally have struggled with how to offer healthier menus for guests, especially for conferences when you are trying to keep guests attentive and engaged for hours if not a full day! I’m excited to try some of Megan’s suggestions.

Full disclosure: I am not a conference planner and I don’t pretend to play one on TV.  My name is Megan Quinn and I’m a certified health coach.  I work with busy, motivated women to help them uncover the food and lifestyle choices that fuel their lives and support their full potential…one simple, savvy step at a time.

The common denominator here though is I attend conferences, my health coaching clients attend conferences, WE ALL attend conferences!  It comes with the territory of being a professional these days, regardless of your industry.  And as a guest, myself, of countless conference throughout the years, I do know one thing for sure: Everyone’s gotta eat!

So with today’s post, let’s discuss some tried-and-true tips to offer healthier food options that won’t break the bank or leave your guests dozing off during the keynote speaker:

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friday favorites – best event & entertaining ideas of the week

In this week’s edition of Friday Favorites, I continue my s’mores obsession, share a way to make haybale seating even easier (it’s possible!), have a cute DIY and more. Enjoy!

(5) DIY Drink Umbrellas

DIY Drink umbrellas [best ideas of the week]

How much do you love those cute little tropical drinks with the umbrella in it? Does it remind you of sitting under a palm tree, watching the ocean or pool? Well there’s nothing wrong with popping one of those bad boy in any drink and pretending that you’re beachside, but to make it even easier, Parties for Pennies has shared a really easy DIY version of the drink umbrellas. I can’t wait to try them!


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candles 101: what you need to know about incorporating candles into your events & parties

candles 101: how to use candles in your wedding & event decor

I love candles. I love using them as part of event décor – there is just something about a flickering candle flame that adds a lovely touch to evening events. But using candles in your decorating isn’t always as easy as it looks – there are some things you need to think through before you show up at a venue with a bunch of things that could potentially cause a fire.  Especially if you want to incorporate candles in a more unique way  – votives are usually pretty easy to work with, but floating candles, pillars and tapers are not – there are a few things you should remember.

Here is a cheat sheet for adding candles into your event décor:

Know your venue’s rules: Before you purchase a single candle, make sure the venue allows them. Venues usually fall into three categories: all candles are fine, candles are fine but no open flame, and no candles or flames at all. Most of the venues I have worked with fall into that middle category, which means that you can have lit candles but the flame needs to be enclosed within glass. Votives are most common, but you can also use candles in hurricane lamps and other containers, as well as most floating candles.

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how to succeed as a nonprofit event planner

how to succeed as a nonprofit event planner

Did you know that my day job is event planning for an amazing nonprofit organization that I love? I probably mention it every once and a while. Well this month I wrote about how fulfilling it is to BE a nonprofit event planner – or really to do what you love for a mission-based organization whose mission you love. Head over to Social Tables to read my article, as well as some other fantastic posts they’ve had lately.

You can find more of my event planning tips and articles here, or follow my “Event Planning How-To’s” board on Pinterest.

bridal bellhop: saving washington dc-area brides time & headaches

wedding planning made easy for DC area brides

When Grace Lee started to plan her wedding a few years ago, she was completely overwhelmed by all the information out there. “I was in the midst of planning my wedding and I had a new job and a new house. I got caught up in finding vendors and all of the back and forth to find out pricing and availability.” While Grace was able to find all of the vendors for her wedding eventually, after her wedding day she wondered if there wasn’t an easier way for brides to find vendors. Thus the idea for Bridal Bellhop was born.

Bridal Bellhop is a concierge service that matches brides-to-be with vendors in the Washington, DC area. Instead of having to shop around and reach out to vendors individually and start over when the initial search yield results out of a bride’s price range or unavailable for her wedding date, Bridal Bellhop does the work for her. The bride simply fills out a request form online and within 24 hours Bridal Bellhop promises to get back in touch with potential vendors that match the bride’s specifications.

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wedding & special event trend: family style meals

wedding & special event trend: family style meals

One of the biggest decisions to make while planning a wedding reception (or any large event) is whether the main meal should be plated or buffet. Each has its own pros and cons and certain circumstances make one more or less expensive than the other (the cost of food versus the cost of service depends on your market), but there is another service style that is making a big comeback this year in weddings and other formal events: the family style service.

Family style service is when all of the dishes are served on large platters in the middle of the table, enough for the whole table to share, and guests serve themselves.

Why would this be appropriate for a wedding? Does it sound a bit too casual? The reason it’s becoming more popular is because weddings are becoming smaller and more intimate. Even if couples aren’t trimming their guest counts, they are looking for ways to make the experience more intimate. Sharing food from a common plate creates a shared experience among guests – by physically passing the platter around, guests forge a bond with one another (or at a minimum have a great conversation starter).

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i’m making my webinar debut! you should tune in!

register for a FREE event planning webinar

If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably already know that I am pretty passionate about event planning. If you haven’t realized this already, let me direct you to all of my event planning how-to articles! One of my favorite parts about my day job as an events manager for a DC area nonprofit is the time I get to spend mentoring and teaching other event planners, building their skills and helping them improve their events.

So I was naturally pretty excited when etouches approached me about leading a webinar! I’ve already done a few blog posts for etouches, which is a cloud-based event management software, and I’m already pretty comfortable writing about event planning. I’ve also taught seminars and workshops on event planning. But this is technically my first debut into webinars. How exciting!

The webinar topic is “Building Relationships with Suppliers to Make Your Event a Success.” I’m going to cover tips and tricks for developing a relationship with vendors and suppliers, from the bidding stage, through the event, and continuing after the event (perhaps the most crucial stage!). It’s a topic I’m passionate about so I’m excited to spend 30 minutes talking about it!

The webinar is FREE and I encourage you to tune in! You can register here. The webinar will air on Wednesday, July 9th!

Do you like tuning in to webinars? Are there any topics you’d like me to cover in another webinar some time (in case I get invited back!)? Or are there topics you’d like to see covered in an article? Let me know – when it comes to event planning, I’ll talk/write/yammer on about almost anything!

Thanks for your support!

Photo Credit – and yes, that photo looks NOTHING like me! { My Blast Off }