Next to a wedding, a child’s bar or bat mitzvah is one of the most important days in his or her life, but it can also be one of the most costly. Families are faced with the challenge of planning a party that is entertaining and memorable, but also does not break the bank.
Take it from b’nai mitzvah parent Laurie Schimmel, who went into the event planning business three years ago for her daughter’s bat mitzvah.
“I think most people don’t know what they’re getting into until they start,” she said.” They don’t know what a realistic budget is.”
Schimmel works for Baltimore’s R&R events, which plans a variety of corporate and social functions. They coordinate each individual element of the celebration depending on how much help a family needs.
“We’re kind of like a boutique,” she said.”Some people come to us and are like ‘I only have $1,500 to spend,’ and we give them what we can for $1,500.”
Schimmel said R&R plans at least 50 mitzvah celebrations each year, and in some cases there are three on one day. She begins the planning process by meeting with the family and determining what their budget is and what elements of the party are most important. Schimmel said most families do not remember the food they ate but only whether they enjoyed themselves at a party.
“I am a firm believer that entertainment is what matters at the end of the night,” she said. “Having crab cakes is not the most important thing. Making it enjoyable for adults and kids is the most important thing.”
Schimmel also said it is better not to pick a theme for a child’s mitzvah celebration too early because his or her interests may change in a short period of time.
“One minute your child loves a sparkle, and six to eight months out we present the sparkle to the child and they’re like, ‘I hate that,’” she said.
Theme parties may be becoming a trend of the past when it comes to mitzvah celebrations, said Lorin Kotz of the Owings Mills planning company Celebrations.
“Themes are really nonexistent at this point,” she said. “People are not being very ‘themey’ these days. It’s really about sticking with colors or making it feel like a club.”
Kotz said a more popular option she is noticing is for kids to create a customized logo using their initials and incorporate it throughout the décor.
“I will say as a planner I kind of miss the themes,” she said. “They allow us to be a little more creative.”
Kotz said Celebrations caters an average of 15 mitzvah celebrations each year and can fit any type of budget, but smaller celebrations are the way to go for families on a tight one.
“The number of people that you have is the easiest way to increase or lower your budget because each person that you have has to pay for that catering, a chair, et cetera.”
Schimmel said many families spend outside their means on elements such as dresses they will only wear once and end up going into debt. She cautions families to not become caught up in what others are doing for their celebrations.
“You don’t know what you’re comparing budgets to,” she said. “They may have had a $10,000 budget, and you have a $2,000 budget.”
To see how one hotel is attempting to counter this “family competition” aspect of bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, one need travel to the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., which recently created a “Smart Mitzvah” package. It consists of a digital director, live video feed, a frozen yogurt bar and “Beverage Genius” among other things. General manager Alex Attia said this has been in the works for the past year and thinks this will allow families to destress when it comes to planning a celebration.
“We can make it very easy for you,” he said. “Here are some options without you getting too stressed about it.”
Attia said the package ranges between $90 and $150 per person depending on what kinds of elements the family wants.
Schimmel said in planning her daughter’s bat mitzvah she enjoyed every aspect of the planning process but had to remind herself to only invite guests she was close to. She said a common mistake among bar and bat mitzvah families is to invite too many guests who do not know the child or the family well.
“I would never have a party that was just a kid party, but I also want people who I will say hi to,” she said.
In two years, Schimmel will celebrate her son’s bar mitzvah and, said she is even more prepared. She emphasized that families must remember that the celebration is about their child and not the parents.
“In our industry we sometimes have three parties a day and we have to make someone feel their party is the only one that’s important,” she said.