A gala dinner is not an everyday event. Its very nature makes it something special, something that only happens in celebration of a particular occasion, and because of this, it has to be a relatively rare occurrence. Gala dinners are among the most formal events you can participate in, and they tend to have a precise goal and a generally traditional schedule, with little room for variations and surprises. We are used to seeing them on television, usually as part of award ceremonies such as the Oscars, or major charities, and we associate them with an idea of luxury and prestige that everyday events lack. How do you plan the perfect gala dinner? As an event planner, how do you organise a high-brow event, providing a top-quality experience to a large number of guests? This is what we will discuss in this post, offering you a snap guide to the most important aspects of this particular type of event.
Have a clear goal
This is one piece of advice we have given again and again, over the years, to a number of aspiring event planners, and we will never tire of reiterating it. Setting a clear goal is the first and most important step in event planning and you should never skip it or take it for granted. A gala dinner, for instance, can have vastly different goals. If you are throwing a fundraiser, your goal will be providing top-quality service to a number of affluent guests, in order to get them to support a charitable cause. This means you will have to manage your budget, looking at the best possible value for money, maximising revenue without compromising on quality. If, on the other hand, you are planning a gala dinner as part of a celebration, such as an anniversary or an award, you will have to rely on sponsors or find other ways to rake up what might turn out to be a sizeable budget. There are plenty of other reasons to organise a gala dinner: you might want to impress your top clients, generate valuable leads, put your project or company in the spotlight. Being clear on your goals will allow you to make better decisions in matters such as guest-list composition and venue selection.
Find the right venue for your gala dinner
Here’s another concept we might have reiterated once or twice. A week. For the past ten years. Picking the right venue is half the foundation of a successful event, particularly a formal and high-end one, such as a gala dinner. If you want to project an air of prestige and exclusivity, the venue you select will need to have the right image, both in terms of looks and of reputation. When we planned the Christmas Gala Dinner for Engel & Volker, for instance, we chose one of the most unique and memorable venues in Milan: the Corso Como 10 Concept Store. This multifunctional space is not only visually beautiful and incredibly versatile, but it also has a history and a personality that contribute to its overall vibe. The Corso Como 10 Concept Store was created in the 90s, based on an idea by Carla Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italy and internationally acknowledged style icon. The facility is a repurposed “casa di ringhiera”, one of the typical Milanese “guard rail houses”, in Corso Como, in central Milan. Originally a workshop, this space now lends its magnificent private garden to some of the most elegant and sophisticated events in Milan. It is a multi-purpose complex, hosting, alongside the celebrated event venue, a bookshop, an art gallery and a super-exclusive boutique hotel with only three luxury suites. For our event, we chose the venue’s restaurant, with its glass-panelled walls and magnificent view of the garden. The venue’s decor and lighting granted us the perfect yule-tide atmosphere. And our clients, naturally, were delighted with the whole experience.
When watching the Oscars on tv, we sometimes fail to notice that there is a gala event going on in the room, because we are so focused on the entertainment happening on stage (which is, as we all know, the actual award and the point of the whole event). When planning your own gala dinner, however, you will look at entertainment from a different perspective, even if your event is not made to be televised. It is customary to book a live music number or a stand-up comedian (the most notable example of the latter being the White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner, which, with the sole exception of 2018, has always had a stand-up comedian providing the evening’s entertainment. We recently organised a corporate meeting, followed by a gala dinner, for the German National Institute, with the goal of promoting the city of Berlin (another exercise in territorial marketing, with a different format from the one we adopted for Valencia). In this case, we chose the spectacular Casa Lago, in Milan, and decided to revolutionise the concept of dinner entertainment. We did not book an act to appear on stage at a certain time and, in a way, interrupt the flow of the dinner by providing an “event” in itself. Rather, we decided to book a special kind of entertainment, to last for the whole duration of the dinner. We hired a troupe of “tape artists” that spent the whole evening creating a work of art – representing the Berlin skyline – in real time. It was a thrilling and yet unobtrusive performance, that allowed our guests to enjoy their dinner and carry on the interesting conversations that had been started during the meeting, while at the same time enjoying the unique spectacle of an artwork being brought to life under their very eyes.