Friday, January 21, 2022

Event planners are trying to balance client dreams with the realities of supply chain shortages. The flowers a couple wants for their wedding may not be available. The linens and paper goods in the colors and brands the bat mitzvah requests may be stuck in a port, or not even manufactured this year. Parents are shocked to find that costs have escalated even in the last six months. And now the surge in COVID cases caused by the omicron variant is leading some hosts to call off wedding and bar/bat mitzvah parties completely.

Andrea Ceasar, owner of Paper Works and Events, just had her first COVID-related cancellation since the early days of the pandemic. A COVID case in the bar mitzvah’s grade led a cascade of guests to decline, until the family had no choice but to cancel and reschedule the party. They offered to have rapid COVID testing on site, but that didn’t solve the problem. Many guests did not want to get tested out of fear they would test positive despite having no symptoms, or be in proximity to someone who tested positive, and then be stuck in quarantine. Ceasar was able to save 125 customized sweatshirts made for the party, after Herculean efforts to find a manufacturer who could get them in the color and time frame she wanted, by printing the new date over the old one.

Ceasar said she often has to contact several suppliers to fill an order. Invitations, the main part of her business, have generally proceeded well due to the advance planning required. Most have some wording about taking COVID safety precautions. But more timely items are in peril. Ceasar was recently burned by a paper supplier who said they could fill her order for a program and menu. The company accepted payment, and then told her at the last minute they did not have the paper she ordered in stock—and couldn’t get it. She was able to produce a substitute, but the struggle added to an already stressful situation.

Whether the trickle of cancellations becomes a flood will depend on how long the latest surge in COVID cases lasts. But the supply chain shortages started by the pandemic show no signs of diminishing. Ceasar is urging all her clients to plan as far in advance as possible. But some are pushing the pause button until they see where this latest COVID bump is headed. Planning for a simcha in Israel has come to a complete halt.

Chava Drizin started EllaEventsNY during COVID, so she is used to advising clients to be flexible. She doesn’t like to plan more than three months in advance to avoid getting locked into choices that may not be ideal on the date of the party. But the need for novelty is also bumping up against a changed market for party supplies. “I like to look for something new and different for clients, but not a lot is coming out quickly now,” she said.

“It used to be that every six months there were tablecloths and accessories. Now, paper goods and rental companies are not importing new merchandise. They got hit during COVID lockdowns so they’re proceeding cautiously and holding back on ordering.” Drizin said there is a “crazy” shortage of flowers, with white roses few and far between—and expensive when available. She estimates the cost of a simcha has gone up about 25% since the summer.

Drizin, who specializes in high-end parties for children, teens and adults, and arranges many bar/bat mitzvah parties, works with clients to get a general picture of the color scheme and décor they want. but she requests the freedom to be innovative. “Some planners give very detailed proposals but I tend not to. Customers hire me for my vision and aesthetics, and they’re good at letting me run on my own.”

Rena Soclof Events remains cautiously optimistic about the outlook for simchas. Most of Soclof’s calls are for spring and summer dates. There is fierce competition for venues, with many weddings rescheduled from the lockdown and a fresh crop of weddings being planned. But she is also responding to rapidly changing conditions for smachot happening now. One client who planned a bat mitzvah party in Israel kept hoping things would get better and the show would go on. She finally had to grasp that the date was rapidly approaching and Israel’s borders were closed to U.S. residents. Soclof did the ultimate pivot and arranged a local celebration within two weeks.

Whether the party is in two weeks or six months, Soclof’s clients give her the freedom to plan according to current conditions. “Some people say ‘Rena, just do it’ while some give me ideas,” she said. “And when you’re under the gun, planning at the last minute, the client has to make decisions quickly. There’s not a lot of time to ponder and research. There is a level of trust when you hire an event planner.”

By Bracha Schwartz


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