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Professional Party People

Edmonton’s event pros go the extra mile to create standout experiences

Think outside the box! A perfume bar is memorable, impactful and entertaining.

Cakes suspended from the ceiling. Custom perfume stations. Impeccably costumed entertainers. It’s all in a day’s work for Edmonton’s event professionals.

In an industry that relies heavily on referrals and repeat clients, constantly outdoing yourself is a must. Event hosts and their guests are always looking for new ideas, themes and elements to create experiences so incredible they’ll live on in memories, conversations and photo albums long after the house lights are turned up, the cake crumbs are swept up and the last guest has gone home. It’s a lot of pressure, but event entrepreneurs and professionals in this city are up to the challenge. We caught up with three of them who shared their biggest challenges and triumphs, how they stay ahead in a demanding industry and the event trends you can look forward to as you plan your next personal event or corporate function.


Anything you can Dream up, With Icing on Top

If there is one name synonymous with stunning, large-scale events in Edmonton, it’s River City Events. The event planning and rental business has been pulling off fearless fetes for over a decade now, but according to corporate event consultant Vania Asenova, there’s no falling into a rhythm. Clients’ tastes change all the time, and the only thing they’ve come to expect is the unexpected.

“Event creators are seeking out less traditional options to wow guests. Creating one-of-a-kind experiences is definitely the main focus,” says Asenova. “The integration of interactive stations is definitely on the rise, from oxygen bars to virtual reality experiences, to personalized gifting lounges and even mobile perfume stations where people can mix their own scent. These are experiences that are driven by event attendees, their personalities, styles and desires.”

“Our clients think outside the box and challenge us,” says Asenova. “I worked on a movie-themed event where the client requested that the costumes of the entertainers must look exactly like the ones in the musical. We couldn’t source the costumes so we actually printed scenes from the movie and we made them. It was a small detail, maybe not evident to the event guests, but it was important to our client and their event story, and I think that’s what’s important – their event story and how we can help them tell it to their guests.”

Jacquelyn Steeves knows a thing or two about turning visions into reality. As the owner of Cake Affair, her custom cake requests run the gamut from fairy tale characters to graphic prints to towering floral masterpieces. “In many cases these items are a focal point,” she says. “They are photographed and talked about. People are often in awe that we can create art with food.”

“We recently hung a cake from the ceiling to mimic a chandelier. That was pretty neat,” Steeves explains as she describes the unexpected requests that come with working in the cake business. “I thrive on chaos and I’m not sure I’m ever truly prepared for the unexpected, but I welcome it with open arms. I love a good challenge and I just dive in.”


Sometimes Less is More

Of course, taking an event to the next level doesn’t always mean going over the top or relying heavily on a novel theme. When Ricky Dhanju and his brother took over their uncle’s established event business, Meridian Banquets, less than a year ago, they quickly learned that sometimes the most memorable events are the most understated. “What I have seen is that people are trying to scale back a lot. I think a lot of people have done over-the-top events, so they’re trying to do something different now.”

Though the desire for a simpler soiree is often a matter of taste, it can also be the result of budgetary limitations. Whatever your motive is for wanting uncomplicated elegance, Meridian wants to make sure the experience is consistently high quality, so they take steps to make sure their venue is stunning enough to make an impression without any added accoutrements.

“We’ve upgraded our facilities so guests won’t need as much to make their event look great,” says Dhanju. “We’ve put in dimmers on all of our chandeliers so you get a nice soft glow. We work with clients on cost-effective options, so you can make the event look really nice without having to add a lot of extra decor elements.”

When the frills are scaled back and the decor is decidedly unfussy, it leaves more room for some of the other event elements to shine. “One thing we believe should always stand out is the food,” says Dhanju. “Our food is by far the best. The chefs that we hire, the quality of ingredients that we use—we don’t take shortcuts. It’s the most important thing for us because everyone remembers the food.”


What’s hot Right now

So what favours, feasts and flourishes have been captivating guests over the past couple of years? According to Asenova, it’s all about engagement and interaction. “We’ve noticed that corporate events put a huge emphasis on social engagement. This trend is a massive market opportunity and really activates your guests as your brand ambassadors, event promoters and marketers,” she says. “For example, technology like Instagram stories and Facebook Live encourage your event attendees to broadcast their event experience. We also see a lot of social media walls. Twitter or Instagram feeds that are visible to everybody really generate real-time excitement and encourage attendees to post and share their event experiences.”

If you think all that intense social media posting will have your guests working up an appetite, there are plenty of trendy treat ideas to help them refuel. According to Steeves, the hottest dessert tables are stocked with donuts and mini pies. “And we can’t forget the unicorns,” she says of the trendiest dessert decor motif.

Steeves is also quick to point out that sometimes what starts out as a trend actually has a much longer shelf life. “There was a lot of talk of cupcakes not being popular at weddings anymore but they are still going strong,” she says. Of course holding on to a favourite doesn’t mean eschewing novelty altogether. “New trends for cupcake design seem to pop up often,” she adds.


It’s all About a Personalized Experience

Whether your event is personal or corporate, big or small, over the top or understated, our event experts all agree that one key element should always be present: the personal touch. “When people gather, having something unique brings them closer together,” says Steeves.

“The first thing we ask our clients when they come to us is what story do you want to tell and how do you want your guests to feel?” says Asenova. “Storytelling and personalized experiences are at the heart of a successful event, so my advice to event hosts is to create your complete event story.”