Manicurists, hairstylists, accountants, personal trainers, housecleaners...chances are you have at least one professional on your bankroll. But how do you know when to call for reinforcements from the party professionals?
There are three factors to consider - time, money, and talent. Namely, how much of all three you have. Unsurprisingly, money is the primary factor. If you're short on cash, you'll need to spend more hours and your (or your friends') skills in executing the perfect party.
Time and talent are tied for second. If you've got a little more in the bank, are taking a week off before the party BUT are the world's worst cook, you should probably call a caterer. Likewise, if you're a whiz in the kitchen but will be putting in a 60 hour work week, do you yourself a favor and leave it to the pros. It's all about reducing stress!
Let's look at the various options in detail:
Can't cook? Don't want to spend hours in the kitchen? Want unique offerings that aren't obviously from the frozen-food section of your local warehouse store? Then hire a caterer! Know your limits. I know I can provide appetizers for a party of 25. Any more than that, and I get stressed out. Your threshold may be different. Depending on the food, expect to pay a bare minimum of $10 per person for a cocktail party with light appetizers. Most parties will cost more than that.
Ah, it's SO freeing to have someone else do all the little things during your party. You know, collecting discarded plates and glasses, emptying garbage cans, refilling the ice, clearing empty hors d'oeuvre trays, tending bar...you can truly be a guest at your own party if you hire someone to take care of these tasks. And really, who wants to handle trash when you're all gussied up? Not me! Average cost is about $30/hour. For a party with under 50 guests, you'll need two people if you want one to be a bartender. Otherwise, one person can handle it.
"Day of" event coordinator
This is for a bigger event with a lot of little details to cover, for instance, a charity fundraiser or a wedding. If you don't want to be the point person for all the vendors ("Flowers over here?" "What time should the band start?" "Um, the police are outside...something about the elephant getting loose?") then hire a DOC. You'll probably meet with them once or twice to cover all the details, and from there, you can concentrate on mingling with your guests! Cost varies widely, but is typically under $1,000.
Time to call in the big guns! If you want all the assistance of a DOC plus professional guidance on vendors, etiquette, trends, design, etc., hire an event planner. Again, costs vary widely but even the cheapest will be upwards of $1,000. Note that some event planners don't do design, and some event designers don't do logistical planning. Be aware of what you can expect from your event planner.