Recently, we met on Zoom with seven expert Atlanta mitzvah vendors, and more than 50 mitzvah parents, for a great dialogue. We tackled the future of bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, how to navigate planning through COVID19 and what parents should do right now if they have a rescheduled or planned bar/bat mitzvah in 2020 or 2021, or beyond.
Here’s our recap; a must-read for mitzvah parents:
Convention Visitors Bureau – Alpharetta CVB, Hala Shell
DJ – Atlanta Fever Entertainment, Cathy Schwartz
Venue – The Hotel at Avalon, Vanita Vaswani
Event Planner – JDV Occasions, Amy Ackerman
Invitation/Personalized Items – Paper Matters, Robin Zusmann
Caterer – Talk of the Town Catering (TOTT), Lindsey VanRaemdonck
Décor/Event Design – Your Event Solution (YES), Cathy Taylor
By When Do We Need to Postpone and Reschedule? What Are the Refund Policies?
Atlanta Fever: We’re as flexible as we can be, and we have even changed a date the day before! Because we have a large team, as long as we have notice we can accommodate a new date. We’re applying all deposits paid to a rescheduled date, there are no additional fees. Deposits are non-refundable but can be applied to any sort of event you like. For example, if you decide not to go forward with a dance party bar mitzvah, you can apply those funds to a birthday party or holiday event booking.
TOTT: We haven’t had any issues with rescheduling dates, and final guest count isn’t due until 14 days ahead of the event. We need that two-week timeframe because we are ordering food and securing staff and rental equipment. Those who need to postpone find that timing works well because it gives a reason to reach out to those who haven’t yet RSVP’d. It shows your guests you’re thinking about them! And if you do postpone, all deposits easily transfer to a new date.
JDV: Time is on our side, so nobody has to make a decision right now for fall. One thing that all planners are encouraging clients to do is to keep the service on the original date, or on the new rescheduled date, even if you can’t have the party at that time. We want to see these kids become bar/bat mitzvah as soon as possible and we can handle party down the road. Yes, a Zoom bar mitzvah service can be made special, too! (More details on this further down.)
YES: Every scenario is a bit different, but know that we’re in this together, wanting to make it happen for your family! We’ve shifted many dates from spring into fall or into 2021. But please know that rescheduling more than once may not work out for your original plans because venues may be booked when you jump two dates in future. For décor, we’re very flexible in adjusting and shifting dates and can handle more than one event per date, so it’s not a problem. If there are any costs involved for items ordered, those costs are not refundable. You’ll be able to use the items on the date you celebrate!
Paper Matters: With invitations, we have to decide a bit earlier. Families should go ahead and send their invitations if they think they’re going forward on their original date. We can print additional cards for last minute changes. Clients who have moved dates after invitations are sent have lots of options for date changes. We’ve done electronic and printed change the date/details information, keeping with the same theme. (Paper Matters has plenty of examples to share for inspiration!)
Hotel at Avalon: You have plenty of time! We’re want your August/September events to happen and are working hard to make sure they will. We’ll continue to be very flexible for date changes in 2020, but the sooner you make plans to move dates, the better your options are. We encourage clients to keep their 2021 dates, as celebrations certainly seem likely. We are concerned that you may not find a new date that works for you and your guests if you move too many times. We’ve got event bookings into 2022 at this point.
ACVB: Hotels typically don’t charge attrition on weekends, so you won’t be charged for rooms not used on a weekend you’ve blocked them. The hotels I work with will release those rooms for booking. If you’re thinking about moving, you should move your hotel room block quickly to keep same rate. Please note that in addition to all the people rebooking for October – December this year, venues already had bookings for those months so there could potentially be less availability on some dates. Let us know if you are rescheduling, so that we can help you move your hotel block as well.
Note from Shelly: Vendors are eager to work with your family. If at all possible, they will be there! Deposits are the funds you pay to hold your date and ensure no one else can take it. Those funds apply to the final bill, but in all cases they’re non-refundable, and that is noted in your contract.
What are My Options if I Printed/Sent Invitations but We Need to Make Changes?
If you’re wondering whether you need to reprint invitations with new dates, the answer is NO! Robin of Paper Matters says everybody understands the current environment so an insert card which details the new date and other changes, like updated hotel block information or RSVP dates is appropriate. Asking for your guest’s email addresses so you can contact them quickly is recommended as well. We can also do an electronic communication, designed to match your invitation suite.
Those planning on printing invitations for the first time should consider adding a line for guest email addresses with RSVPs. This will make it easier to contact people if you have last-minute changes.
How Can I Interact with Vendors/Venues Now?
Many venues are doing site visits by appointment, including the Hotel at Avalon. But they also offer Zoom appointments, where they can walk you through the property and rooms on video. If your preferred hotel isn’t doing video or in-person tours, Hala says the CVBs have all the information on room sizes and features and can help you with remote decision-making on spaces for parties and/or services.
Caterers like Talk of the Town are taking individual tasting appointments, with only one client at a time. But Lindsey notes that if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can order food to bring home or have delivered. Planners are doing Zoom meetings to connect families and vendors from home, and you can view work samples easily on video says Amy of JDV.
All vendors can talk on video chat about the possibilities and show you samples or videos of they can do for you.
Will We Have Guests on the Dance Floor Together?
The short answer is yes! Vendors are working on creative ideas for bringing guests together safely. YES is working on ideas like logos or circles on the dance floor to ensure guests stay six feet apart and programming lighted dance floors to show guests which colorful boxes they can boogie in. Safe spacing of guests can be done through games as well, like inviting two table numbers to come out and dance at certain times with competition between groups.
Atlanta Fever has ordered tons of masks to keep guests, and the entertainment team, safe. Cathy S. notes that at Atlanta Fever bar mitzvah parties in early March, they did horas with upbeat directions that kept people from touching, but the vibe was still high-energy and fun. “There will be good times on the dance floor!” Choose DJs and MCs who are pros at creating a memorable celebration and are up to speed on how to ensure guests are safely partying.
What Changes Will We See in Party Room Layouts and Decor?
Cathy T. of YES says they’re using software for seating charts that allows for room design with tables spaced six feet away from each other. They’ll include fewer guests per table so that chairs can be farther apart. Sanitizer stations within a party room can match themes and “melt” into décor.
Amy of JDV Occasions notes that teen lounge areas will be more spread out and there may be more use of wall space for Zoom projections and similar “big” tech-influenced elements. “We may not be high fiving in grand entrances, but we’ll have many creative new ways to get guests of honor into the center of party.” There may be more special effects like bubbles, colored fog and light effects.
What Safety Standards/Practices are Vendors/Venues Putting into Place?
YES is building food stations and retrofitting bars with shields to keep protective covering over food and drink and distance between servers and guests. These elements can even help brand the party, enhancing decor while keeping guests safe. Every element brought in for an event is prepared and cleaned according to the latest guidelines, says Cathy T. (You should always know the policies of all your partners.)
The Hotel at Avalon is implementing new procedures that come from Marriott. Vanita notes that there are many new tools, processes, and guidelines. When you touch an elevator button or outdoor door, it’ll self-clean. All employees will wear masks. There’ll be distancing guides in lobby, hand-sanitization stations throughout property and a waiting period after guests check out before rooms will be deep-cleaned and available for check in. “It’s on us to take care of you,” says Vanita. “We are taking every precaution.” With large ballrooms, they can accomplish set-ups with a lot of space and do one- way traffic in and out of rooms.
All TOTT managers and most servers have food service safety certificates, says Lindsey, and the teams are well-versed in safe food handling and protection (more on catering changes down below.) “We don’t let people pick things up and put them back. Our staff has a careful eye on that.”
Big attractions are about to open with new rules and guidelines in place for safety, notes Cathy T. “By the time you get to August and September, all your vendor partners will be well-versed in putting together all the pieces needed for safe celebrating.”
What’s Changing in Menus? Will We Still Have Buffets/Stations? What Happens to Kiddush Luncheons?
“A plated dinner is the most popular choice right now,” notes Lindsey of TOTT. But her team is also working through modified buffet ideas. This most likely involves servers plating for guests, so they don’t handle utensils.
Robin of Paper Matters notes that you may want to speak with your caterer about offering entree selection on RSVP cards if you’ll be moving to a plated meal.
Kiddush luncheons may change a good bit from what you’re used to. Lindsey says challah may need to be pre-sliced, or rabbis may have food service gloves to tear it traditionally.
Buffets are not out of the question for The Hotel at Avalon, where they’re preparing stations with Plexiglass shields and other safety measures.
Lindsey says that some of the changes in food service moving forward will be creative and exciting! “We’re working on sourcing individual meals and containers to accommodate normal menu items to be served in different way.” For example, the popular grazing boards with cheeses, fruits, nuts, crackers and other treats may become individual servings on mini boards. Small themed containers can create individual portions with style. “We’re shifting in a positive way; the opportunities are endless to theme your food presentations for each guest.”
What If We Hold Our Service on The Date We Have, But Our Synagogue Isn’t Open?
If you are booking a venue like The Hotel at Avalon, your event manager will be happy to secure service space for you, for a nominal fee, says Vanita.
Hala of the Alpharetta CVB says the convention and visitors bureaus can help with finding the right space with the right set-up to hold your service. Finding a place to do this outside the synagogue won’t be a problem. Plus, Hala notes, the ACVB’s services are free.
Cathy S. says that Atlanta Fever can provide A/V equipment, lights, etc. for service support, in any location.
How Do You Make a Virtual or Really Small Service Special?
Treat it like it’s special, says Amy of JDV Occasions. Use your vendors to make the service day a memorable occasion, no matter if it’s just your immediate family in the room.
Are you using your synagogue? Or is it taking place at home or a different venue? No matter where you are, utilize your photography and videography vendors to capture the special moment. In the synagogue, décor vendors can provide bimah arrangements. At home, décor can transform your house and backyard into a one-day-only special event venue. You can also have guests in small groups come by for staggered time celebrating, maybe hiring a food truck to serve a special menu outdoors.
Lindsey of TOTT notes that caterers are offering many different options for pick up or delivery and you can enjoy a special meal that day or night prepared by your catering team.
Amy also has plenty of ideas for where else a service could take place, like a drive-in theater with a big screen. Guests could decorate their cars in your teen’s colors and the catering team can deliver personalized and themed boxed dinners to each vehicle to make it special.
Wherever you hold the service, include guests by sharing your link for Zoom or whatever format you’re using, says Amy. People will be thrilled to be included!
What Should I Be Doing If Our Date Is In 2021? Or 2022?
If your date is in 2021, you should line up vendors and book them now if you haven’t done so already, says Amy of JDV Occasions. You might expect some changes, but overall keep proceeding. It’s too early to know what’s going to happen and you don’t want to be caught without plans in place.
With a date in 2022, book your planner, venue, photography, videography and DJ right now. Your deposits help ensure they can keep their employees on staff, so that they’ll have their full teams intact for your future party!
All families, no matter when your date, should do your guest list and organize montage photos. You’ll be glad you didn’t wait till the last minute!
Cathy T. of YES notes that vendors are willing to work out options that feel comfortable to you. If you aren’t okay with putting down a full deposit right now, ask about a payment plan. It’s especially important now to work with vendors who are known as part of the vendor community, and who are established and insured. Do your homework before signing a contract, she notes. The vendors who have a long track record of success are those you want to work with when so much is changing.
Families with dates in the next two years shouldn’t wait too long to secure the vendors they really want, notes Cathy S. Atlanta Fever is getting pretty filled in 2021, especially with families rescheduling from spring 2020. They’re now booking well into 2022 now.
More and more venues are requiring event planners, or at a minimum, a month-of coordinator. If changes to your event need to happen, an experienced professional can be a total game changer. Amy of JDV Occasions says, “We are used to last-minute changes and thinking on our feet to come up with creative solutions along with our vendor team at each event.” If you haven’t already locked a planner in, now is the perfect time!
I Already Invited Guests. What if We Have to Lower our Numbers?
Amy of JDV Occasions says yes, your numbers may need to change depending on when your event happens. You could inform guests that it’s now just family, or just a kids’ party, with adult friends and relatives on Zoom. Some guests who live elsewhere may opt out of travel on their own.
Be honest, she says. You can say something like, “Due to the current world situation, we’ve had to lower our guest list. We need to keep it to immediate family and our son or daughter’s best friends.” A lot of parents want to invite more people, like their coworkers. But if we’re having to make cuts, let’s make sure it’s not the VIPs in our teen’s lives.
If you’re mailing the change of plans announcment, send it with a mini bottle of bubbly or themed treat, Amy suggests. You still wants those guests to feel special and part the celebration! “We are working on a virtual event now where we’re sending guests the recipes for the signature cocktails and mocktails so guests can make them ahead of time and be ready to toast with you on Zoom!”
How Will Smaller Guest Counts Impact What We Can Do? How Can It Still Be Great With Fewer Guests? What Can You Do For “Remote” Guests?
With a smaller guest count, you can incorporate more special touches, says Amy of JDV Occasions. You could have fancier favors and bring more big décor elements into a room because you have more space. Smaller parties give an opportunity to treat your guests like real VIPs. For example, individual meals can be a knock-out presentation, brought to everyone at the same time, with old school white glove service. There’s the potential to make smaller parties even more special. Amy has many ideas for how to do this!
Cathy S. of Atlanta Fever says they’ve been working on live simulcasts during parties so “not in person” guests can see and feel a part of the event. They’re also preparing a Zoom station within the party so guests can talk to those not there. Everyone can feel part of the event virtually if they can’t be there physically.
YES offers livestreaming for guests not in attendance, says Cathy T. They can still be part of the fun!
That’s a wrap! If you have questions that weren’t answered here, or want more information about anything discussed, shoot me a message. We’re here to help!
Get a Deal from our Zoom Mitzvah Panel Vendors!
Alpharetta CVB: Book and actualize 10 hotel rooms at Alpharetta hotels through the ACVB and receive a matching freshwater pearl necklace and earring set after your event.
Atlanta Fever Entertainment: Get a Neon City package set or 1 extra crate of assorted giveaways ($250 value) with booking.
The Hotel at Avalon: Select your choice of perks at minimum food and beverage commitments, including Double Marriott Rewards Points, upgraded bar at standard bar pricing, complimentary parking for your guests, or one comp guestroom for night of your event. Call for details.
JDV Occasions: Summer Special! Sign a contract in June and receive $500 off any full-service planning package; new clients only. Also, JDV Occasions is now proudly offering planning services for Micro Mitzvahs, making Zoom services and virtual parties joyous, well-executed events! (These services available only for new clients with 2020 mitzvahs and no currently contracted event planner.)
Paper Matters: Get an additional 50 personalized napkins with an invitation and napkin order.
Talk of the Town Catering: Free ice cream sandwich bar for 50 guests! An on-site Chef will assemble ice cream sandwiches based on the guest’s choice of ice cream and cookie combination – Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Sugar Cookies.
YES: Complimentary linens with mitzvah booking of $5,000 minimum. Call for details.