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How Hollywood Party Planners Target the Wired Crowd

Variety logo Variety 1/6/2017 Kathy McDonald
© Provided by Variety

The limited attention spans of partygoers are a challenge for Hollywood event planners. One can blame the hashtag generation’s fixation with smart phones, but Hollywood players have always been fickle when it comes to fetes. Savvy planners must work harder to keep people in the room for person-to-person networking while at the same time harnessing their impulse to share online.

Going big works: witness Disney’s Hollywood mega-premiere for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The full-scale, X-wing fighter in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard followed by storm troopers wowed the almost 3,000 fans who attended and the hundreds of thousands who Facebook livestreamed December’s red-carpet premiere.

Star power also entices attendees. Few could resist Annette Bening’s thousand-watt smile at a December “20th Century Women” screening pre-party. Ben Affleck was front and center at “The Accountant’s” launch, engrossing press and fans.

Social-media sharing is a key element to party planning; the food, beverages, décor, and setting must be photo ready, or more specifically, Instagram or Snapchat ready. Planners are tasked with making it so.

“We create a lot of vignettes and experiences within the event to generate social postings,” says Nicki Berthelsen, director of special events at the soon-to-open Dream Hollywood hotel (DreamHotels.com).

Photo booths must be ultra-sophisticated, complete with event-themed props, and if there’s room, 360-degree motion-capture technology. Live performances are a given; performers can range from DJs, live bands or wandering performers including the charming LA Follies (lafollies.com) who sashay glamorously through proceedings before their kicky dance numbers.

“Neon signs are having a moment too,” says Berthelsen, adding a glow to step-and-repeats.

“We spend so much time working on and talking about presentation; we have to make the food and cocktails look good,” says Stephane Bombet, Los Angeles restaurateur (Hanjip, Terrine, Faith & Flower) and in-demand caterer. His team customized menus for 800 at Desert Trip’s Outstanding in the Field dinners. Per Bombet, seated formal dinners are out; much more fun, interactive, family-style plating is in.

“The cocktail portion of the evening is much more important,” he notes, and guests trained in craft cocktail consumption are willing to try creative blends.

Meaningful interactions with chefs and mixologists are expected at private events, says Ana Alvarez, director of special events for Wolfgang Puck Private Dining Los Angeles. During awards season, her team organizes 30 functions per week on average, ranging from 12-person tasting dinners to cocktails for 500 at Puck’s L.A. eateries Cut, Spago, and Wolfgang Puck at L.A. Live.

At a recent, flower-filled luncheon booked by Geary’s (the tony Beverly Hills home decor store) not only did the chef present every course while citing the sustainable ingredients’ local sources, but Spago’s mixologists also set up a farm-to-table bar that looked like a chic farmstand so guests could pluck fresh garnishes for their beverage.

Key word or phrase hashtags on private dinner menus are often requested. Alvarez notes that deserts can be branded too, shaped into company logos or imprinted with hashtags or handles directly onto the sugary delights, reminding guests before taking a bite to post. Despite the company’s reputation for satisfying Hollywood’s plethora of exceptional dietary requests, there’s one trend Wolfgang Puck won’t abide, says Alvarez.

“Per Wolfgang, we won’t make a gluten- free pizza.”

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