As APW’s junior staff member, I am one of the few people on staff who has never planned a wedding. So when it came time to plan APW’s Ten Year Anniversary Party, I got my first taste of what you all go through. And OMG NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY Y’ALL ARE SO STRESSED.
So let me tell you a little about how I planned APW’s (killer) Ten Year Anniversary Party in a month:
- First Step: Panic a little because of high expectations.
- Second Step: Think about all of the great resources I have at my disposal.
- Third Step: Panic a little more over budget and timeline. (For a little context, I was working with about four weeks of time before the event. And lucky for me, I live in the Bay Area where venues are plentiful, albeit pricey.)
- Fourth Step: Get on with it.
Given my short planning timeline, it seemed like I only had a few options. Fancy dinner party, adult sleepover in a baller Airbnb, or a party in our studio. All of these have been done before, and well, this was APW’s Big-Deal Ten Year Party, and I wanted to do something cool and different. So, as I was walking through our well-stocked prop closet, I found a pair of Meg’s roller skates hiding in the back and a light bulb went off. I needed to call up the local roller rink, which unfortunately happens to be non-existent in the Bay Area—or so I thought. That’s when I remembered my friends telling me about this super-cool roller rink in a converted church in San Francisco. After a quick Google search, The Church of 8 Wheels popped up, and I knew this was our place. Our target party date was available, so I booked it before we lost the venue.
So, I had a venue. What’s next? A million questions of course! (Spoiler alert: There is a reason you should ask a million questions before booking a venue.) Because it was APW’s Ten Year Anniversary Party, it had to be extra. I was imagining a fabulous sit-down dinner at the roller rink with an epic balloon installment, photo booth, and fancy decorations. So I gathered my list: What can I actually pull off within my budget? What is capacity for this space? Can I bring in food? Can I serve booze? Can I decorate? How much time do vendors have to set up and break down? Can I have balloons? Alllllll the questions, so many questions.
While The Church of 8 Wheels is actually affordable—freakishly affordable for the Bay Area—I found out firsthand that a good price (always, inevitably) comes with limitations. Yes, we could bring in a catering team, but all the food needed to be pre-assembled (no hot plates or portable oven allowed). But we could serve alcohol. No decorations—which was actually a blessing in disguise, because that was one less thing to worry about.
And then I learned the kicker: we were only allowed 30 minutes for setup and 30 minutes for breakdown. WHUT. Had I know what the limitations were beforehand, I probably would have shied away from this venue and the whole roller rink idea. (Though given how well it worked out, maybe it’s good I didn’t think to ask before I booked the place.) But lesson learned: before you start your venue search, you need to figure out what your own limitations are, and then start with that list of questions… not go in blind and then freak out and try to reverse engineer your party.
When I came to terms with what my limitations were (no extra decorations, no sit-down dinner, no long load-in and load-out time), that’s when I realized that the focus of this party was going to be all about roller-skating. Everything else after roller-skating was secondary. As soon as I shifted my expectations, I really hit my planning stride. Guests were joining us to celebrate ten years of APW (aka, a lifetime in internet years) and to get a taste of nostalgia.
With the limitations I had, I knew I had to go big where I could. The food had to be amazing; we needed a delicious cake and a kick-ass photographer. Shifting the focus to these things and making them extra special truly made the night a spectacular one.
Once I got over the party we were not having (because yes, a dinner party in a deconsecrated Catholic church turned roller rink would have been cool, but it’s also not the party I was able to plan), I was really able to get into what was happening. No sit-down dinner? That’s fine, we had amazing passed appetizers from Fogcutter, including their delicious chorizo albondigas and adult grilled cheese (I’m still craving them). We also had a delicious chocolate cake from The Whole Cake that left our guests going back for seconds, with some of the tinier guests at the party licking their plates clean. And we had the amazing Laurie from From SF With Love capturing all the special moments of the party. And it should be known that ALL of the vendors in attendance ended up throwing on a pair of skates. (Special shout-out to the staff from Fogcutter serving and skating, WE SEE YOU.)
I also learned quite a few things along the way:
- Fewer people know how to roller-skate than you think! (But it does make for a good conversation starter, and a little booze helps along the way 😉.)
- If you’re throwing a party where kids will have fun, invite the kids, even if at first it seems like it should be an adults-only event.
- It takes a BILLION people to make a roller rink feel full, so you can have a ton of people and still have it feel empty. Embrace that as the cool factor… after all, when else will you have a roller rink to yourself?
Limitations be damned, we made this party work for us. And it worked because we were flexible with our planning and able to let things go that just didn’t really matter at the end of the day. While I might not have been able to get the balloon installation of my dreams or a photo booth or a beautiful sit-down dinner for our guests, we still got a crazy cool party. And guess what? Those things didn’t matter in the end anyway.