Creating the Theme: ‘The Goal Is Fun’

A bat mitzvah girl’s love for dolphins turned into Arielle’s Aquarium. (Arielle’s Aquarium photos by Sweet Dreams Photography/Design by Innovative Party Planners)

For Heidi Hiller, owner and creative director at Innovative Party Planners in Owings Mills, creating a theme is all about the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl.

“I personally want every single kid’s party to reflect them as much as possible,” she said.

And she tries to go deeper with the themes. If a kid likes baseball, she’ll ask what he enjoys more — the statistics or the players, and she’ll then try to incorporate that into the theme.

“We try to involve the kid,” she said. “I pay a lot of attention to the kids’ reactions when we’re talking and presenting ideas to them because I want this to make them really happy.”

The theme comes together in a number of places, such as the signage, table linens, place cards and table names, but they really shine in the table’s centerpieces.

But some go way beyond the centerpieces. Her company did one bar mitzvah where there was no music; the dance floor instead was turned into a gaming area. Another party, for a TV- and film-loving bar mitzvah boy named Max, was IMAX. There was a red carpet, and Max had a director’s chair to sit in.

“Every element can have a theme,” Hiller said.

For caterers, the themes extend to the food.

“My first question is, ‘What’s your vision? What would your child like to see? What would you like to see?’” Alan Weiss of Catering by Alan Weiss said. “I first help create a menu that works along the lines of the theme.”

An IMAX bar mitzvah was perfect for Max and his love for films. (Max photos by Amy Raab/Design by Innovative Party Planners)

If there’s a sports theme such as ballparks, Weiss will have a slider station with hot dogs and burgers, fried chicken, boardwalk fries and gourmet cotton candy. He can do an international theme with food from five countries — including a taco station, a pasta station with chicken marsala or chicken piccata and an Israeli station with falafel, hummus, Israeli salad and pita.

Weiss, who has an extensive kosher menu, even gives the appetizers their own themes, with options such as a Lower Eastside New York station with meat-carving stations, potato knishes and a matzah ball station.

“The theme is definitely the way to go these days, I find, for bar and bat mitzvahs,” Weiss said. “Everything for bar and bat mitzvahs seems to be theme-specific.”

Bobby Pressman, an account executive at the Classic Catering People in Owings Mills, said sports, travel and camp have been big themes lately.

“One theme that is much more popular than ever before is tzedakah, and the kids have a project; centerpieces are donated sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes [tzedakah] will go to Levindale or some other Jewish fund.”

For Classic Catering, the menu also has to reflect the theme — “not to have food for food’s sake or just to have food on the table,” Pressman said.

For camp themes, they’ve done s’mores for dessert, and when they’ve done NFL stadiums or ballparks, they’ve featured signature foods from the various cities whose ballparks are featured.

“They all have these one- or two-food items — like we have crab cakes here — that are signature to their city,” Pressman said. “So we try to reflect that.”

Street food themes are big too. Classic Catering has done dim sum bars and Mexican taco bars with a server mixing fresh guacamole at the cart.

“The goal is to be fun,” Pressman said. “And the food has to reflect that too.”


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