Party planners say we’re entering the new Roaring ’20s. Here’s what to expect

Party planners say we’re entering the new Roaring ’20s. Here’s what to expect

Photos: Kristin Byrum, courtesy Katrina Hutchins

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After months of Zoom hangouts, elbow bumps and smiles covered by masks, people are ready to party.

The big picture: One year ago, Charlotte party planners were dealing with mass cancellations and devastating revenue losses because of the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Now, they’re inundated with calls and emails for the return of parties.

  • The local planners I spoke to are already booked up for 2021 and most of 2022.

We’re entering the new “Roaring 20s,” event planner Katrina Hutchins tells me, a nod to the party-filled years after World War I and the influenza pandemic of 1918. “We’re ready to go.”

As vaccine distribution ramps up, Hutchins has seen an influx of requests for social events. Earlier this month, she planned a 40th birthday party for 50 guests, most of whom work in the medical field and were already vaccinated.

The biggest difference from pre-pandemic parties she says is how grateful guests are for every small thing — from a hug to a dance floor.

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  • “One guy was running around saying ‘This is the best night of my life!'” Hutchins recalls, chuckling at the memory. “Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun party. It’s just people are desperate for happiness.”
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The party was held while the state was still under a 10pm curfew so the napkins reminded guests the party ended then.

What to expect: RSVPs might already be rolling in for postponed weddings or make-up graduation parties, but expect invites that aren’t tied to a specific occasion, too.

What does a party look like in 2021?

(1) They’re small. Events planner Ivy Robinson says party size comes down to personal preference and local restrictions. North Carolina’s indoor gathering limit is currently 25, and a tented event outside can have up to 50. This doesn’t apply to religious events like a marriage ceremony.

  • Small doesn’t mean cheap, though. Robinson tells me a private party typically starts around $5,000. Larger parties can cost $50,000 or more, she says.

(2) Safety measures will be in place for a while. Robinson planned a party where guests wore different color wristbands depending on their comfort level: yellow was for those OK with hugging, blue was for handshakes, and red meant strict social distancing. I think of it like the pandemic-era stoplight party.

  • Most planners said temperature checks and even coronavirus questionnaires are commonplace.
  • The planners I spoke to haven’t utilized rapid testing for guests, but The New York Times reports, they’re common in lavish areas like the Hamptons, costing a cool $500 per test.

(3) Buffets are out. The pandemic forced events planners and caterers to retool how they serve food at events. Expect more staff-run food stations or full-service dinner parties instead.

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(4) Dance floors are going to be “fuller than full,” planner Dina Berg Blazek tells me. Even at gatherings with 20 people, furniture is getting pushed out of the way. Enthusiasm is much higher than it has been in the past, she says.

  • “I’m going to cry when I see that first full dance floor,” she adds. Me, too, Dina. Me, too.

(5) Parties will go late. No one wants to leave, Berg Blazek says. During the pandemic, Robinson tells me she’s hosted brunch parties at her house and guests sometimes stay as late as 10pm … for brunch. (For the record, she’s not complaining.)

What’s next: There’s still a long way to go for corporate events and charity galas, which tend to be much larger than private social gatherings. The planners I spoke with are overwhelmingly hopeful, though, that this year will be a lot better than the last.

“People are just so ready to do something,” Hutchins says. “I believe that the event industry is going to have a blockbuster year.”

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