an event metric of success or ROE

Recently I had an experience where I fired my client. We still provided rentals & custom decorating services but declined the day of planning services at the last minute, read more about it here.  And when we asked them how it had all gone after the event, everything had gone just ‘perfectly’.

Brides: there are two important lessons to be learned here:

1. Even if everything doesn’t work out exactly as planned, the next day it will still have been one of the best day’s of you and your family’s lives.

2. When your wedding is all said and done – how do you plan to measure your event’s success?

In this client’s defense, I am sure it had, because their value of success was much different than mine. As a party professional, I want you to look good because your party is amazing. Even though I am a professional event designer, I say this wholeheartedly: it is not just about the decorating! The flow, the food service, the timing, the seating, the heating, the power, the toilets, the set up of the slide show, the cocktail hour, the everything matters when throwing an event.

We measure success with specific variables like speed of food service, bottlenecked lines (or lack there of), engagement with the space (are people sticking around, noticing what they are supposed to, finding their way around easily). We know that your photographer and DJ are on a time frame so when the design is unrealistic or doesn’t allow adequate service, we guide you a different direction.

Brides have a tendency to measure things in different ways.  There is no right or wrong metric of success, but bear in mind that the long term consequences of what people remember about weddings has a lot to do with how comfortable they felt while they were there.

Real life example January 2015: It was very clear from the beginning that the actual service of the event was the last thing on their minds. By the time they came to me to order the linen, china, chairs, heaters and everything else that one would probably plan first in the party, they had been working on the decorations and the detail work for a year. The actual items needed to serve the guests and make the guests comfortable were not ordered until 5 months prior to the wedding.

(has anyone ever noticed those blogs never actually interview the guests to find out if they enjoyed being dragged to an unmowed, non air conditioned tent in July, in their nice clothes? From experience, I can tell you that they don’t. Why?

Think about it brides. What are you doing when you go to weddings? Noticing every single detail, especially the bad ones. Then you come meet with people like me and tell me everything you didn’t like about your friend’s wedding as you are planning your own.)

Anyway, back to the story, the day prior to the event there were close to 50 friends and family of the bride setting up the event, organizing the flowers, tables, chairs, linen. An undetermined number of other people were working on floral arrangements off site. I had a staff of myself and one other person to finish the back drop for the ceremony and remove the unwanted decorations.

The unheated, uninsulated barn was to be used for the ceremony site, then guests were to go into the heated building next door for cocktails while the room was turned over for the reception.  We had a specific design plan that would have allowed a staff of 10 people to turn over the room with preset tables (silverware, napkins, salt/pepper sets, water glasses) to the sides and pipe and drape covering the buffet. This interfered with the brides overall vision for the space.

Under her coordination, she did not preset tables, used 40 of the guests at her wedding plus her and the grooms parents to turn the room over. It took them about 45 minutes, according to the family. The food service area had only one entrance, slowing down the buffet lines.

This party was set for 500 people and there was food for 700 guests. We provided the china and silverware and only 220 sets of silverware were used, 240 water glasses and 240 dinner plates. Approximately 260 sets came back unopened and unused. That means that more than half the guests left before dinner (or they didn’t have a good system for RSVP’s).

Oh, and did I mention -18 degree weather? It was heated with portable propane heaters during the day. According to the client, that heated it up enough in the day and it was great all night long. Guests of the wedding have told me that wasn’t exactly true. This is always a varying opinion, since usually the bridal party is up and moving, engaged with the space. They are not the guests primarily sitting around, catching up with Aunt Doris, so their interpretation of cold is different than the average guest. We had suggested a last minute change into the neighboring building (where the cocktail hour was being held) for the reception and only have the ceremony in the cold area, due to the extremely cold weather, but the bride declined the suggestion.

Which brings me back to the metric for success and how it is interpreted. In my opinion, this event was somewhat of a flop – at least financially. Half of the guests that were planned (and paid for) did not attend and/or stick around. 20 percent of the guests that did stay were used for labor, having to haul tables and chairs in their wedding attire. And the overall feeling from guests that I have spoken to was that it was too cold and the food service was very disorganized. No one can really remember the decor except for vague comments about it being pretty.

The bride and her family were showered with compliments. I am sure pinterest or stylemepretty will love the aesthetics of the event, the rustic barn, the dramatic fabric (we had to be on top of 3 pieces of scaffolding to hang the fabric). And it was a beautiful idea and would have been an event to be envied, if it was during the summer or even fall. The pictures will do the decor justice, they just won’t tell the event’s entire story.

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what is an event designer?

What is an event designer? I mean, what do you actually do – specifically?

The simple answer is that we take care of all the big stuff and the planner takes care of the detail stuff. But that isn’t really a good answer.  Let’s start with defining a planner’s job (and likewise, things a designer generally will not do).

A planner will work with all your vendors and your budget. They will help taste your menu or design your wedding cake.  They will make your phone calls and coordinate your vendors. The planner is your go to person for all of these details. They are the engineer and the accountant of your life’s great event. Their focus is supervising all the details of the day – it is not (and should not) be design.

That is where the event designer comes in. We work with you to put all the details together in one overall, cohesive design. We are focused on the details of your event, the goals the design needs to accomplish. We don’t get involved in purchasing your dress or matching ties for the tuxedos.  We don’t make phone calls to photographers or limo companies. We just take all the elements you are working with and swirl them into our magic pot to create one unbelievable event design.

To quote from “While a wedding planner is strongest in the logistics and planning of your wedding, an event designer shines when designing the aesthetics of your wedding.  This is where the ‘wow’ factor comes in.  An event designer (sic), has the ability to create things from scratch.  If you’re envisioning a die-cut wooden cursive sign hanging above your custom wedding altar made of vintage doors and wrought iron gates, an event designer is the one who can make this a reality.  A great event designer has all of the tools to create the details to make your wedding unique, from a workshop to electronic cutting machines and the inside scoop on where to find the right props for the job.”

At Table 4 Decor, when hired for events we ask a series of questions designed to help us understand your style and how you are presenting this event. We take into account the basics like how many, where and when. Then we find out more – what other elements are being used? What is the goal of the event? Budget? Weird idea you were thinking about but weren’t really sure you could execute? Bring it on. A good designer will help you solve all your problems and probably some you didn’t even think about.

A planner is hired to coordinate all the details of the day. The planner does not lead the design meetings or set up the room decor. The planner makes sure we show up on time, have the proper number of items required and meet your specifications. They are the accountant, we are the construction crew. They will hold your hand and help you keep calm. We will take your breath away.

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Introducing designer Alayna Richardson

People like to think that South Dakotans do not have a good eye for design. In South Dakota it is hard for creative individuals to break free from the stereotypical views that have been pushed upon us. In fact, being in the wedding business has opened my eyes to the many creative people that are actually right here in my home town of Rapid City. Creative designs can be discovered everywhere; from cake designer, to florist, wedding dress designer, and of course the wedding designers themselves, and many more.

Alaynas-Huge-CenterpieceMy name is Alayna;I work for a very talented design company called Table 4 Decor that specializes in wedding décor. I have been with this company for almost five years now in March. I have been given the privilege to be part of a team and help create some of the most spectacular weddings here in South Dakota.

I say team, because that is what it takes to create the perfect wedding for the clients and their families. The team consists of everyone, not just the crew here at Table 4 Décor, but the planners, DJs/entertainment, caterers, florist, officiant, photographers and many more. These creative individuals have an amazing eye for design and contain true talent in the art that they provide.

Design and creativity is smeared across the wedding industry. It takes a designers eye to create a meal that corresponds with the theme of the wedding, or to find the perfect lighting or scenery to capture the first kiss on camera. It takes a designers eye to create an exciting and musical environment for the clients and their families, or to find that special dress that fits her perfectly from top to bottom. All of these creators design something wonderful for the bride and her future husband.

alayna-mike-scaffoldSouth Dakotans are considered urban country folks,and whenever I go anywhere outside of this state, people think we are tasteless “rednecks” with no style, but trust me when I say this; there are several of us who are itching to show people the varied and wonderful styles of South Dakota. In this blog, I will show you different types of awesome wedding designs, and colorsthat you wouldn’t expect to look fabulous together. I will show you different patterns and structures that will only enhance a wedding design. Hopefully, I will show you wedding that is outside the spectrum of the typical South Dakota style.

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paper lanterns: the greatest design element of all time?


table 4 decor hearts paper lanterns!

Can you tell that we have a genuine love of paper lanterns? As a design element they can go so many ways – whimsical, classy, bright. They can be used as centerpieces, lighting, chandeliers and columns. The color flexibility allows brides to incorporate any colors they want into their space and they really do make one smile when you see them. What can’t paper lanterns do for your next fantastic event?

When using paper lanterns, dance floors are the best place to get the most value for your money. Concentrating 30-40 paper lanterns over a small space creates a focal point – not to mention totally fabulous first dance pics!

Want to go all out and spread them throughout the room – you can do that too – just remember to use enough of them and keep the scale proper – which roughly translates into BIGGER IS BETTER!

Or how about the unlimited possibilities of custom chandeliers with paper lanterns? This is a great way to pull in some color without investing tons of time installing & lighting lanterns.

But mostly, how sweet is this paper lantern centerpiece? It is truly a perfect combination of modern design and ‘let’s party’ charm. IMG_8982




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wedding seating : options in the black hills

Chairs are one of the most necessary yet least glamorous details of event planning. Most places you rent have chairs, be they good or bad, that you have a hard time not using.


black forest inn in the black hills of south dakota

White wedding chairs or white wood folding chairs are the most common and the style that we carry at Table 4 Decor.

Advantages: larger feet so they don’t sink into the ground. They instantly invoke a wedding vibe with their clean crisp lines, medium cost. They are fairly easy to transport and set up/tear down. Disadvantages: wooden ones are hard to maintain and can become easily beat up. The pad is thin – not meant for extremely long seated periods.

White-Folding-Chairs-SamsonitePlastic or samsonite folding chairs

Advantages: cost effective and very easy to transport

Disadvantages: does not do well outdoors, especially if you are setting up on well watered grass or slightly inclined space. The tubular feet have a tendency to sink into the ground and the overall narrowness of the chairs makes if difficult to set up on less than perfectly flat ground.


from elizabethanne designs

Cane back chairs or chiavari chairs are increasingly popular at events in the hills.

advantages: Their formal look and clean lines add an elegance to any space that is difficult to match.

disadvantages: they are difficult to move and store (they do not fold so in order to rent a hundred, you will need a large truck), they are lightweight and blow around easily and they fall into the higher price range. These are best recommended for receptions or indoor ceremonies and not outside.

Other seating options:


event by south holly road

haybales – this is one that has been requested a lot lately. a cute idea on pinterest and perfect if you are getting married in an orchard. However, not so practical if you are planning to seat 200 people on haybales without having actual, easy access to haybales. it can be done but it is a logistical nightmare. If it rains, they are impossible to dry out quickly, they can be itchy or pokey and they are pretty heavy. If you go this route, I suggest seating the first two rows on haybales and transition to chairs for the rest of our guests




photo shoot by real southern accents

benches – another cute idea. And not quite as impractical as hay bales. They can be dried off if wet, are only moderately uncomfortable (no padding) and will provide an instant charming ambiance. However, they will probably be hard to source enough for very large parties plus bulky and difficult to transport.

Most of the pictures of benches we have come across are either for styled photo shoots (which means they are only set up for a few people – like this picture to the right) or they are the permanent chair options for the venue, like benches in a vineyard.

Our design firm carries 4′ long reclaimed barnwood benches. Call table 4 decor today to discuss some of your chair rental options.

But no matter what you do, under no circumstances should you break the number one chair rule – do not neglect to provide one chair per guest. I don’t care if your friends are used to going to cocktail parties and will stand up all night long. You are hosting a party – act like it and give your guests a place to sit and put down their coats. It is the least you can do.


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why to shy from DIY

weddings are big business nowadays. the national wedding budget average is quoted at between 25,000 and 32,000! understandably this can send a cold bead of sweat down any bride to be’s back. and there seem websites, television shows, blogs dedicated to helping save you money – from foregoing table linen for plastic linen (tacky!) to collecting second hand store vases for centerpieces. or asking your friend to make the cake and your mom to make the food and your neighbor to photograph and your ipod to dj etc. etc. and if you’ve come to this blog for those kinds of tips – you can stop reading now because this is not about making you feel good about these things. DIY’ing it is great for a kids birthday party or a family reunion but don’t you AND your once in a lifetime event deserve a once in a lifetime team working for you?

so now onto the 3 main myths of DIY:

You can totally do it cheaper than hiring a professional.
This is a 100 percent apples to oranges thing. Am I here to tell you that you can’t go to the dollar store and find some vase type vessels that you can use for centerpieces? Or that you can’t buy chair covers for 2.00 online or that pizza is a great meal (which it is, by they way)? No, I am not. But what I am here to remind you to do is pay yourself for your time. For all those hours spent going back and forth to the store, researching on the internet, reading the blogs and the pinterest – how much overtime would you have accrued at your real job? And where you have tulle, we have voile for the same price. Where you have a 20″ vase, we have a 28″ vase for the same price.

big macfuddruckers burgerSure you can get a lot of stuff out there, but is it always the same stuff? A big mac will fill your belly, but come on – which would you rather have?

Oh don’t worry, we have TONS of help. I hear this a lot – especially leading up to the big day. And you know what we usually hear first thing Monday morning, “all my friends bailed on me and I had to insert unpleasant task here by myself.”

Yes – most of your close friends and family arepost-party-mess excited about your big day. They get to go on vacation, visit with relatives they haven’t seen in a while, eat drink and be merry. But most of them are coming to be hosted and entertained – not to spend the weekend working on the very party you are planning to impress them with.

And the unspoken rule nobody tells you about your help when it comes to setting up a wedding – almost nobody comes back the next day to help tear it all down.

It looks just as good as if a professional did it.

good use of color but no wow factor for the lanterns


professionally designed by fete NY

This may be true in a small percentage of events, but most of the time a DIY wedding looks very much like somebody did it themselves.

And don’t misunderstand,  it is not that people don’t have the skills to implement great design themselves. BUT they generally don’t have the resources, the time or the proper products to do it easily and affordably. Where you might only be able to budget time and money for 24 paper lanterns with lights, a design firm will have hundreds in stock and the know how to hang them efficiently.  When you hire a decorating professional, you are getting access to their massive design inventory, their experience and their desire to do their jobs well. They are only an extension of you and your ideas, leaving you free to enjoy your day.


from huffingtonpost

our entire success is tied up in your success, the over all feel good feeling of your once in a lifetime event. Let people like us stress over the details so you can enjoy the party while it lasts!

visit for more great ideas for planning your next event in the black hills!


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table4decor centerpiece gallery 2013

One of our favorite things to do for events is the tablescape. Tables dominate any event design space so making them work for you is key. Whether or not we work with you on the tabletop design or you simply rent the piece from us to create your own table masterpiece, is here to help. Here are a few of our custom creations for 2013. Each of the centerpieces (trumpet vase, candle tree, manzanita tree etc) can be individually rented. (sorry we don’t rent our floral unless we are creating a centerpiece for you)

call us today to help with your next fantastic event the the beautiful black hills of south dakota. we look forward to working with you.

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the a, b + 3 c’s of holiday light decorating

Holiday lighting – a magical time of year even if there isn’t any snow. Most people I know take time with their families during the holidays to drive around and check out the light shows. Each town has that one neighborhood that out does themselves but all over the united states, people are lighting up for the holidays. Okay, that doesn’t sound quite right. But they are getting their spirit on with dazzling holiday light displays.

Here are a few design tips to employ when designing your holiday light scheme.  The a, b & 3 c’s of lighting design.

A is for architecture:

architect lighting

elegant simplicity highlighting the architecture of the home

the first step in any design scheme is to take a look at the space. Is it big/small/lots of yard/garage/driveway? Are there tons of trees? Is there fencing or railings? Interesting points of housing design? this seems obvious but most of us get used to our own living area and forget to see how it looks from afar. Take the overall space into consideration. Highlighting trees or houses is a great way to add lighting. Simple, single strand c-9 bulbs look great along the roofline of a house. You can replace bulbs and put them in any pattern you desire. If you only have one small section of fence or gate, don’t puts lights on it. It only draws attention to weird parts of the house and end up “floating.” Keep in mind that landscape design should always point to the entrance of the home/business.

B is for balance.

Don’t get me wrong – this does not mean symmetry. It simply means make sure that you don’t have too much happening on one side and not enough on the other. If you have a large tree on one side of your yard and not the other, use heavier architectural uplighting on the side to offset the heaviness of the tree on the other.

xmas lights

love the variety of lights and the ground detailing

C is for consistency.

Have a plan regarding layout, highlights, color and power. If you have four shrubs and plan to cover them, keep it the same color/style of light. On the same property, keep all the trees the same color, the doors, windows etc. Don’t do it just because you can. Use every item in your decorating arsenal with purpose – or don’t use it at all.

C is for Color.

good color balance

beautiful attention to architecture & color

Have a color plan in mind before you start. Check the lights ahead of time to make sure that they all match (two blue strands from two different stores can will be different shades).  Also check LED white lights – warm vs. blue lights are very obvious in this situation. Do not mix same colors on one tree unless it is done with intent. There is nothing worse than a three trees in a row that are green and the third starts green only to end in blue.

And the most imortant C of all: critique.


there is a lot of stuff going on here and feels chaotic overall

Stand back and honestly judge the overall design. Does it flow? Does it point people to the entrance of the building? When I drive by – can I reasonably make out the design or are there too many blow up santas and glowing reindeer staring back at me? Would I like it if my neighbors put this up? (keep in mind this is a landmine question that one should only ask and answer internally).

If you end up wanting a little extra help with your holiday decor (inside or out) our talented table 4 decor staff would love to help you!

Happy holidays all! If you live in the Rapid City area, my family and I look forward to seeing your fabulously decorated yards!

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beware the pinterest traps

Pinterest seems to be on my mind these days. Every bride, tom and harry is talking about it. And it is a useful too….. BUT… i have a couple PPP’s : pinterest pet peeves…

glow stick orbs

Pinterest mythology

glow stick balloons

pinterest reality

1. Provides misinformation. Prime example – glow sticks used to light up everything from vases to balloons to punchbowls. Real pin example: cool ideas to do with glow sticks for kids shows the picture on the left with the caption  “If you like the glow stick balloon idea, you might want to try letting them float in the pool for an outdoor party.” When in fact the items on the left are floating LED orbs that retail for 75-120.00 each. (or you can rent them from🙂 )

2. Presents professional ideas as DIY projects

This amazing architectural design inspiration was pinned hundreds of times with variations of the caption: “Believe it or not…these are glow sticks in water balloons tucked in white stockings.” (so i’m bagging on glowstick pins a bit)

light sock installation Miami

over 1500 repinners will be disappointed to discover this is NOT simply glowsticks, balloons and pantyhose

Shockingly, I don’t believe it because it is not true. First of all – what sort of pantyhose stretch to be 12′ tall? I can barely get them to stretch the 36″ needed to cover my legs (fine, you’re right –  30″).

Second and most importantly, this fabu design was created by architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the Design Miami show and unveiled at the Swarvorski Crystal Palace. It is an item called a light sock with a UL powered light source in a net bag. The net bag was filled with 40 lbs of crystals. It is about the farthest thing from being a cheap DIY project one can find. But yet through the dissemination of Pinterest, this art installation is essentially plagiarized down to dollar store junk.

cute but completely against firecode and you will probably end up paying for wax damaged linen

cute but completely against firecode and you will probably end up paying for wax damaged linen

3. Presents many options that will not be permitted.

Real pin example: exposed flame candles.

Fire code is adopted nationally + locally and is the law. There are many instances on Pinterest of exposed flame candles. In a person’s home or at a wedding on their property, it will be permitted. BUT, in 95% of the hotels, ballrooms, museums etc – open flame is a big no no. Some towns have gone to banning all flame period, whether it is enclosed or not. And if you are working with a reputable planner/designer – they will not only adhere to the house rules of the facility but also place guest safety as a top priority for you (and them their insurance)

ice wine bucket

where will the water go?

real pin example: ice wine buckets

there is something in all of this that loves this idea. It is perfect, it is charming, it is festive AND it melts. Everytime I see this idea I can only imagine what happens an hour or two into the event if one of these is on each table. Not that it can’t be done, but you would be surprised how many times over the years this has come up and how few people think about how they will actually make it happen. Now, at a dinner party in your home or these placed on the bar works great, but the reality of serving 13 tables of wine in these is probably more of a time and money commitment than most brides want.

(one solution – use them as luminaries outside to guide your guests. If it is cold enough, they won’t melt and even if they do, no fuss!)

burlap runner

What happens when the space is filled with guests? Only the people who see the space empty will notice this.

4. Magnifies small details disproportionately.

Real pinterest example: this burlap runner picture. I saw this at over 60 design consultations in 2013 (for 2014 weddings). I have yet to be at a wedding where people were that concerned about or taking pictures of the ends of the tables.

I do understand that this picture evokes a ‘feeling’ about the event, but I wonder what the rest of it looked like. Was so much attention paid to the small detail work that the lighting wasn’t adequately handled? Or the buffet line was not big enough and half of the guests were finished eating before half had gone through? Or the cake table placement actually ended up being right in the sun and the cake couldn’t be set up ahead of time? These are all actual scenarios we have dealt with when clients have been too consumed with the small stuff and not worried about the event overall.

When I ask clients how they would like to see their event decorated, what sort of feeling they want – I am met with board after board of what I would consider the detail stuff – pictures of chair backs and escort cards and buntings that say Just Married and pictures clothespinned to a string. Not that these aren’t great and fun and important – but they are not the DESIGN. They are the finishing touches.

Think of it like frosting on a cake – delicious and necessary for a cake but you can’t frost the cake first. You need the plan, the structure, the cake, the overall design. Then you can add the rainbow sprinkles.

Phew! So now that we got that off our chest – venture forth young bridelings and explore the vast universe that is pinterest.

(tongue in cheek) and don’t forget to check out our boards at

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the heat is on – or it better be for your reception!


when picking your outdoor reception location, don’t forget what happens when the sun goes down. and no, it’s not the shy single girl from your office that suddenly transforms into the slightly slutty life of the party.  or how your grandma and grandpa get a little tipsy and/or handsy on the dance floor. I’m talking about losing heat. (although maybe not a problem for grams and gramps).

This is not a problem in all parts of the country I’m guessing, but here in South Dakota, we have a fairly short ‘growing season’. Days are warm enough to get the asphalt too hot to walk on but the nights cool down quickly. And though most of my clients are familiar with this concept  as is the rest of the weather watching world apparently: rapid city has most unpredictable weather in US) they are at times blindingly stubborn about this concept.

So I want to get it out there once and for all: If you are planning an outdoor wedding in the Black Hills of South Dakota, get some heaters. I don’t really care what time of year it is – get them. I know there will be some days, especially late July and August that the heat is so pervasive, you might as well be having your wedding on the surface of the sun, but what if it isn’t?

The mantra I will wail from roof tops, print onto t shirts Angerand whisper till my voice is gone…’What if?”

I have mentioned it before: a bride is a fairly unique creature. We all grow up thinking about our ‘special day’ and what it means to us. What brides forget is that it is extra special singularly to them. To everyone else, it is a social convention and a PARTY.  Which means when a bride is thinking how unique her venue will be and how much everyone will appreciate her party ideas: her guests are thinking, where is the food? when do they cut the cake? Do they have enough beer for everyone? Why did I wear these shoes?

So we have said it before and we will scream it again, never forget to provide the creature comforts at a wedding. Guests must be comfortable and once people are cold, that becomes their priority. They can think of nothing else except being cold… which means they are not interested in dancing, having fun, engaging with you through the evening.

They are trying to find a heater, a sweater or the way to the door.

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