Category Archives: Planning Tips & Tidbits

Derby Days

Talk about class, fashion, tradition, and proper southern hospitality–the Kentucky Derby is the epitome!  It would be a mistake for us to not showcase the Derby–a party in and of itself.  From wide brimmed hats, to red roses, to divine cocktail dresses, speeding horses and delicious libations, the Kentucky Derby is a fantastic representation of a well planned, well executed, and entertaining event.  If you’re watching the Kentucky Derby today, you may be hosting your own themed party.  So we thought we’d post two of our favorite recipes to kick-start your day.

Start with Bobby Flay’s modern twist on the traditional Derby drink…the Mint Julep. We think his “Blackberry Bourbon Julep” is a party must-have.  Here’s what you need:  1 pint fresh blackberries (washed and drained), 8 tablespoons super fine sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1 big bunch of mint leaves, crushed ice, 1 cup bourbon, and cold club soda. Mash together the blackberries, sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl and let macerate at room temperature until juicy, about 20 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve, into a bowl, pressing against the solids with a spatula, and discard the seeds.  Place 1 1/2 tablespoons of the blackberry mixture into a mint julep glass, add 8 mint leaves and muddle together. Fill with crushed ice and 1/4 cup of bourbon and a splash of club soda. Garnish with sprigs of mint and repeat this process to make 4 drinks. Sip and savor!

If you drink your way through these events, you might be in need of some food.  Our favorite Southern bite is a tea sandwich.  We love Martha Stewart’s fancy and unique twist on this traditional treat.  What you need: 3 one-pound loaves of white sandwich bread (unsliced, if possible), wasabi/lemon and salmon cream cheeses, tea poached chicken, 1 large seedless cucumber sliced thinly, 1/2 pound sliced smoked salmon, 2 1/2 ounces fresh salmon roe, 1 ounce black caviar (optional), 3 to 4 ounces of baby leaf lettuce (shiso or other), 1 bunch fresh dill, 1 bunch fresh chives, 2 to 3 tablespoons black sesame seeds, 2 to 3 tablespoons white sesame seeds.  Trim crusts and slice into 1/2 inch think pieces. Spread each slice with cream cheese. Arrange ingredients on the bread in a decorative pattern. Use the small greens to tuck in between layers. Sandwiches look best with salmon, chicken and cucumber on the outer edges of the bread, overlapping slightly. Get artistic with your creations…and then savor and enjoy!

For more fun Derby party finds, go to Enjoy this year’s “Run For The Roses.”


Oh baby, baby!

We’ve had a few requests to write about baby showers, so we’ve finally caved.  I mean, how can you resist babies?  Here are a few fun ideas.

A fun invite…








 Pick a colorful invitation on a simple card stock. Wrap a corresponding ribbon around the card and tie a bow. Go to your local craft store and pick up some simple kraft brown boxes, fill with a layer of candy–bright colors preferred.  Place the invite on top of the candy, place the lid on top and wrap with another bow, if desired. It’s best to hand deliver these invites due to the sweet treats, which will either shift or melt…not so cute.



 Blume Box has some adorable favor ideas.  Some are even multi-purpose (place card and gift).  They are colorful and fun. Purchase various sizes at




Darling gift for the mom-to-be…










We’ve seen some diaper cakes, but this one topped the list–it’s so colorful and coordinated. Take note!

Super cute centerpiece…









Isn’t this centerpiece fabulous? And even better that it’s easy to assemble, right? Take flower foam, soak it–but not too much– and stick on your favorite flower. Wrap it like a gift with a coordinating ribbon and you’re done.

Irresistible food service idea…









Ok, isn’t this the most adorable, creative idea? We thought so. Just hollow out a watermelon and fill with your favorite fruit salad. Pin the wheels (orange slices) on with a grape tipped toothpick.

Great games…

One of our new favorites is “bottle bowling.” All you need is a long hallway, ten empty baby bottles, a tennis ball (pink or blue if you can find them), and a scorecard. Strike, spare, who cares? This interactive game is a hoot!

Another favorite is “bottle chugging.” Yes, that thing you did in college. This game might be a great option for a co-ed shower, where some bottles could even be filled with beer (for those NOT expecting, of course). Fill baby bottles with milk, juice, sparkling cider–whatever your fancy–and have everyone stand in a line with their bottle (with nipple attached). Yell “go” and the person who finishes first, wins!

And finally, “spit the binky,” another interactive humorous game. Have your friends form a line and give each one a pacifier to put in their mouth. You guessed it…see who can spit their binky the farthest wins.

Tips on Tipping

7_17_08_0063Should I tip my event staff and vendors?  This question rarely comes up in conversations I have with clients.  That’s probably because rules for tipping tend to be somewhat loose in the 21st century.  But an event is much like any other service you pay for…like getting your hair cut, or taking a taxi to a restaurant.  When someone provides you with a valuable service, it is polite to consider tipping them for their time.  Tipping is just another way of showing appreciation and respect for someones work.  In the events world, custom dictates that you don’t have to tip the following, though if someone has done an especially wonderful job, you may want to offer a gratuity or simple gift: florist, photographer, videographer, baker, stationer, wedding planner, religious officiant, organist, soloist or alter boys.  Below are some guidelines which are meant to assist you in your planning efforts, however, we do understand each situation is different because of varying social and regional customs and standards.

Caterer, Maitre d’, Club Manager, Hotel Banquet Manager.

Plan to tip anywhere between 15 and 20 percent of the total food and drink bill. But pay close attention, gratuity for these service providers is often worked into the food and beverage or hotel contract.



Plan to tip 15 percent of the total food bill for the waitstaff.  But again, be aware of your contracts, because this cost can be built in.



Just as you would tip 15 percent to food service staff, bartenders should receive the same amount.


Reception Musicians/DJ.

Some believe this is not necessary.  But for a majority of the events we plan, the band or the DJ plays an integral role in the success of the event.  If they can work the crowd and get people dancing without being offensive or annoying–they have contributed tremendously to your event.  We believe that each musician and/or DJ should be paid about $25-$50 each.


Limousine Drivers.

More often than not, gratuity for this service is built into the hourly rate, but check before you sign any contracts.  If it is not included, expect to tip about 15 to 20 of the total bill.


Delivery Truck Drivers.

Plan for about $5 to $10 per driver.


Valet Parking Attendants.

Standard practice would be about $1 to $2 per guest.  However, some believe $1 to $2 per vehicle is sufficient.  Just make sure you alert your guests with a simple sign that reads “Gratuities have been arranged by the host” so your guests don’t feel obligated to tip as well.


Powder Room and Coat Check Attendants.

Plan to give 50 cents to $2 per guest and again, remember to put up a sign so your guests are aware of the arrangement.


Hairstylist and Makeup Artist.

Plan to give each about 15 percent of the total bill.


When tipping, it is always gracious to add a short note of thanks to each vendor.  Sometimes it is best to write these notes in advance of the event because on the day of, thoughts may slip your mind in the hustle to get things done.  And as always, we suggest that after the event dust settles, it is important to send a hand written note to each vendor or service provider.  A tremendous amount of labor goes into planning and executing an event, and a simple note of thanks can go a long way.

Why hire a wedding coordinator?


Wedding Coordinator

Wedding Coordinator


Q.  I have a small wedding budget, so hiring a wedding coordinator is not feasible, right?

A.  Actually, not exactly.  Wedding planners aren’t magicians but his/her specialties will help you in finding great vendors that marry your budget (no pun intended) and often bring original ideas to the table.  Every situation is different.  So ask yourself a couple questions…

1.  Is your wedding complicated in that it’s becoming large and elaborate? 

2.  Are you planning a destination wedding or planning your wedding from a distance?

3.  Are you far from being a multi-tasker?  

4.  Do you get stressed out easily or get overwhelmed with a lot of decision-making?

5.  Do you have a family (or in-laws) that like to stir the pot or argue for the sake of arguing?


If you answered YES to any of the questions above then you probably should consider hiring a wedding coordinator.  Here are the top 10 reasons you should hire a coordinator:

1.  Suggest vendors and venues.

2.  Accompany you to appointments and manage the flow of each meeting.

3.  Help you create and stick to a budget.

4.  Translate vendor contracts so they actually make sense to you.

5.  Keep planning organized and on-track.

6.  Provide you with useful tools and original ideas to make your day memorable.

7.   Serve as a third party mediator to settle any arguments related to the wedding details.

8.  Access fabulous linens and table top decor for a reasonable cost.

9.  Give you a safety pin on your wedding day when your bustle breaks.

10.  Manage last minute, stressful details that arise on the day of the event.

Invitations: Part I

This will be the first of many posts about invitations.  Invitations are one of the first items that your guests see relative to your soiree.   They set the tone for the event, as well as the subsequent printed pieces for the engagement (i.e. programs, place cards).  We recommend taking time to visit with several different stationary stores, designers, and websites to get a sense for the papers, colors, typefaces and designs that speak to you.  But before you select anything, it’s good to know what is available to you with regard to printing styles.  Formal and semi-formal invitations can be printed in a variety of ways.  Whatever you select will be a matter of personal preference and budget, but the general rule of thumb: the more formal the occasion, the more formal the printing style.  Here are your options:

  • Engraving.  Engraved invitations are by far the most traditional printing style for formal invitations; primarily because this method of printing has been around the longest. Engraving results in a raised print that is pressed through so that it can be felt on the back of the paper.  It is traditionally the most expensive form of printing.
  • Thermography.  Thermography results in raised print that is shinier than engraved print and does not press through the back of the paper.  Therefor, it is less expensive than engraving.
  • Letterpress.  Letterpress is when a reversed, raised surface is inked and then pressed into a sheet of paper to obtain a positive right reading image.  Letterpress tends to be an expensive option but the results are quite fantastic.
  • Lithography.  Lithography imprints lettering with ink but results in neither raised nor pressed-through lettering.  It is less costly than the printing styles listed above.
  • Laser.  Invitations can be printed on a laser printer.  This can be done at a print shop or in the comfort of your own home.  Blank imprintable invitations are available at many stationary stores.  This is the least expensive option, however, there is room for error.  A word of caution: double check that your printer can handle the weight of the paper you have selected and great care should be taken to ensure that the paper is fed into the printer straight and evenly.
  • Handwritten.  Handwritten invitations are more appropriate for smaller occasions (dinner parties, small weddings, showers).  It is a lovely way to personalize an invitation.

Do you have a favorite printing style?  Tell us about it!

For ideas, go to


We’ve entered a new era, ladies and gentlemen. Actually, the era started long ago, but these days its more mainstream. Many of you have probably heard the terms “eco-friendly,” “sustainable,” or “green.” They permeate all industries, but they’ve wormed their way into the event/wedding planning industry and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

We believe there is a common misconception, however, that we feel the need to clarify very early in this post. We think a lot of you out there hear the words listed above and cringe… especially our girlfriends from L.A. that always teased us about being the granola eater from Eugene! Well, we’re here to say cringing would actually make you look a bit out-of-place in today’s world. Cringing aside, we think the words have a tendency to make people envision something entirely opposite of what we choose to envision when seeing or hearing those words.  To us, these words mean developing a more acute awareness of the world around us, creating a little lighter footprint–and all of this in the name of “being natural.”  We believe being “eco-conscious” or “eco-chic,” as we prefer, is about doing what feels most natural.   So while many people think planning an eco-chic wedding would be more of a burden or require more effort, we actually believe it to be LESS painful than the average planning experience. 

Here are a few tips from Cocoa Belle Events for making your special day more “eco-chic”

  • Utilize flowers that are in-season and locally grown. Not only will you save money, but you’ll get the flowers that are naturally grown at that time, and therefor more abundantly beautiful. By finding flowers that are locally grown, you’re reducing your carbon footprint. Flowers are shipped all over the world, but sometimes you can find the best in your very own backyard.
  • Skip out on petroleum-based, parrafin candles. Not only are they toxic but the aroma you’ll get from a beeswax or soy candle will be much more pleasant.  And speaking of candles…lighting an event with candles is not only extremely simple and elegant, but you save on electricity. So as long as your venue allows them, we suggest using them in EXCESS!
  • Using china is one of the best ways to save on waste. Using paper products gets tricky because some are recyclable and some are not, and when contaminated with food, the process only gets more and more complicated. So, renting items that can be cleaned and reused is by far your best option.
  • Work with your caterist to come up with a menu that is reflective of your personal tastes, but also a reflection of the season and the bountiful selections from nearby farmers and ranchers. Food is at its best when it’s fresh, hopefully organic and in-season, we promise!
  • When selecting your stationary suite, we recommend talking to printers and designers that use natural or recycled papers, print with soy based inks, and also power their presses with wind power. You’d be surprised at the fantastic eco-chic stationary options available nowadays and you’ll feel that much better about sending out all those paper products.

We really could go on forever on this topic, but we’ll save more for later. We hope this post inspires you to take a deep breath, relax and plan what comes naturally to you.

Inspiration Boards

When thinking about what to write for one of my first posts in the blogosphere, I thought it might be good to start where I start when planning an event. That is, inspiration boards. With each new event, it’s important to begin with a simple brainstorm. With a good majority of the events I plan, I start by getting to know the client and understanding what it is they want to accomplish with the occasion. In some situations, it’s as simple as a “celebration.” Many times, in my first meetings with clients, they divulge some goals, and more often than not, they’ve already come up with a theme. Themes are good to have, but sometimes it’s more important to focus on the vibe you want to evoke with the event. And from there, themes, colors and even décor and flowers will just fall into place. So, I begin this process by starting an inspiration board. I literally purchase a peg board, foam core board, whatever it is…just something to begin gathering photos, elements, fabrics, together to bring the event to life.  Magazines and books are a great place to start. I’m a visual person, so when I see something, it sparks ideas. And don’t limit yourself to wedding magazines. Go broader…deeper, by looking at fashion magazines, home decorating and lifestyle publications. Many of the events I do follow color schemes of in-style fashions. Or, by looking at a living room photo in a magazine like Domino, I come up with a look for the event space. So, stretch your imagination a bit and you’ll be shocked at what you find and what ideas it spurs. Sometimes even movies get my mind going!  And finally, I start collecting the “elements.” This could be a really colorful leaf I find while out walking the dog. Sometimes it’s a piece of fabric or ribbon I find in a furniture store, or even a piece of china or jewelry I spot in a boutique. You’d be surprised; a pattern on a plate can create an entire theme for an event. For example, my grandmother had some divine Amari china and it made me think, how gorgeous a blue and white themed event could be. Simple white flowers and beautiful navy blue linens—ahh, CLASSIC! Sometimes by collecting these items, you’ll end up landing on a color scheme, which is most helpful in the early planning stages. But most importantly, this process gets your mind going. And ultimately, helps you narrow your focus.  My best advise—just open your eyes. Your girlfriend’s handbag, your beach towels, bedding—really anything and everything in our daily lives can inspire us. Anywhere you look, you may get your next big idea. So good luck and be creative!