We all love a big, fat party (except those of us who are eternal introverts – we see you and we salute you). Sometimes, it’s so we can rub shoulders with an elite group of guests we may never encounter in our regular lives. Other times, it’s so we can spruce up our small talk skills just enough to make some more small talk at the next event. Most times, it’s for the free drinks and food, even if it means waking up the next day to resolve (once again) that you’ll never touch a drop of alcohol anymore.
But what most of us may overlook is the amount of planning, preparation and production that goes into making it an occasion we’ll always remember (or forget, if too many tequila shots are involved). And while it's the party’s host that goes home with all the gifts and gushing compliments, there’s often an entire team involved in curating an unforgettable event. Enter: the event planner.
An event planner can usually be found doing the rounds in a state of frenzy, typically armed with seating charts, sticky notes, and a walkie-talkie to whip out whenever shit goes down. They’re also the ones privy to a lot of the behind-the-scenes information that us mere mortals may not have access to. And that includes all the ridiculously over-the-top requests that precede the party itself.
When it comes to curating the perfect party, a lot of elements come into play, from the theme to the decor to the food to the guest list. And it’s the event planner’s job to make sure that all their clients’ requests are executed seamlessly, whether they want their Wagyu beef blended so they don’t have to go through the arduous task of chewing it, or if they wish to display illegal, if exotic, animals to create a vibe. While the goal is to deliver perfection, some clients come with outlandish ideas that aren’t immediately possible to pull off.
“We had a client who wanted to do a conference in an airplane,” Harshad Chavan, the managing director of experiential marketing company Toast Events, told VICE. “It was a unique idea, but almost logistically impossible, given that an airplane would have no space for a stage and we wouldn’t be able to put up an LED screen for presentations.”
With over a decade of experience in the event planning industry for brands as well as private clients, Chavan has gotten many requests that are… out there. “We had a client who wanted to fly out Playboy playmates to do a 90-minute Coyote Ugly-style performance for an event dedicated to the brand’s biggest spenders in India,” he said. Most times, however, the actual event involves bringing clients’ lofty ideas down back down to earth. “Ultimately, we hosted a musical performance with a Michelin-starred chef instead.”
The responsibility of the event planner is to ensure a seamless experience that goes off without a hitch. No matter what it takes.
“We had a client who wanted a replica of Paris for a [wedding] proposal,” Taral Jadhav, the founder of luxury events company Do It Up, told VICE. “They not only wanted us to construct a massive replica of the Eiffel Tower and the lamps you see in Paris, but also replicate the cobblestones of the streets. It would have been cheaper for them to just fly to Paris for the proposal instead.”
Another time, a proposal also involving Paris – the real one this time – took Juhi, who runs a bespoke luxury travel company and requested to only use her first name to protect her business, almost half a year to put together. “The heir of a wealthy family that has a diamond business in Surat wanted to propose to his girlfriend in Paris,” she said. “We get a lot of such requests but for this one, he wanted a Michelin-starred chef to prepare a Jain menu, figure a way of flying her dog to the event in business class, and have fireworks go off just when she said yes. The funniest bit, though, was that he wanted us to get a top-notch sommelier to ‘create’ a non-alcoholic champagne because the family doesn’t drink, but he also wanted to portray Parisian authenticity. They paid almost $30,000 just for that.”
Sometimes, as Jadhav pointed out, what makes a request crazy is not so much the elaborate theme, but the tight deadlines within which they are expected to be executed. Especially when their clients change their minds at the last minute.
“We were doing a red rose themed event for a post-wedding celebration,” said Jadhav. “We had ordered 5,000 roses for this, which had to be transported in their own special car. But when we reached the spot and set it up, the client suddenly decided they wanted even more red roses and asked us to double the order so they could ‘drown in roses.’ Since most florists' orders are given in advance, we ended up calling every florist in the city and begging them to get thousands of roses delivered in just a few hours.”
In the event planning game, one of the main responsibilities of the planner is to manage a client’s expectations, and find a middle ground that fulfils their vision in a practical way. But then, there are clients who take things several notches higher. Quite literally.
“I had a client who hosted a baby shower on an airstrip,” said Jadhav. “The guest list was only about 20 people, but they spent around Rs 200,000 ($2,622) on the event. The to-be parents were flown down in a private helicopter, and landed on an airstrip decorated with life-sized parachutes, hot air balloons and massive teddy bears. It was probably the most over-the-top event we’ve ever done.”
Sometimes, it’s the themes and decor. Other times, it’s specific items on the menu.
“I had a client who wanted a specific cheese from a farm in southern France that wasn’t available in India,” a Mumbai-based luxury caterer, who requested anonymity to protect their business, told VICE. “We tried to substitute it with other cheeses but the client wouldn’t budge. Finally, they flew someone out from France and made them fill their check-in baggage with the cheese packed in dry ice containers so it would stay fresh.”
Another time, the caterer recalled, a client wanted to serve caviar on the menu, but wanted to cut costs too. “They got some authentic caviar and then asked us to mix it in with fake caviar, which was made with gelatin and food colouring, so their guests wouldn’t realise the difference.”
The caterer added that while many moneyed clients want an experimental food menu, they often try to cut costs by focusing more on the gimmicks than the food.
“I’ve noticed that most of our big-budget clients don’t actually care about how the food tastes. They just want to create a buzz with dry ice gimmicks or trending foods like truffles so that people will post about the party on their Instagram instead of revealing what the food actually tasted like. People do come with some pretty crazy requests and everyone wants to do something different, but that’s what makes them all the same.”