Going for Gold: How We Created a 5-Star “Apres Ski” Holiday Party for Yelp

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow…in San Francisco!

When Yelp asked us to create an amazing holiday event for 2000 employees with an “impossible” budget (the same as the prior year’s catering budget alone), we knew we were on a steep slope in black diamond territory. But that’s where we do our best work. We put our thinking caps and earmuffs on and came up with a pretty cool idea.

yelp, ice sculpture

Photo Credit: MistiLayne.com

We wanted to create a non-religious, inclusive winter celebration, so we suggested an Apres Ski theme, which the client loved. To turn the Regency Ballroom and Lodge in San Francisco into a cozy cabin at the top of a ski slope, we created a snowy mountain landscape at every window. Window clings (created by Blueprint Studios and Kaia Jacobi) made it appear that you were in the Sierras, not on Van Ness! Logs burned in the fireplace, and the staff were cozy-chic in boots, flannel and winter scarves.

Our client, Julia, at Yelp really wanted icicles, so our amazing sister company, Elevate Productions, sourced icicle lights and hung them, ringing the entire downstairs ballroom. It was a great effect that took more time than expected, but it was well worth the effort. “Like hanging your own holiday lights, you have to untangle them for quite a while to get them to hang nicely!” Claire O’Neill, our production superstar, explains.

Photo Credit: MistiLayne.com

Skiing–or just hanging in the lodge–makes us crave comfort food, and that’s exactly what we felt at the tasting with Svetlana Catering. First, we tried the awesome crostini. We thought it couldn’t get any better, but then it did, with the fondue, the mini grilled cheese sandwiches and the truffle mac and cheese. Sometimes with catering, it’s easy to do a great tasting, but then at the event, the quality suffers due to the incredible quantity of food required. But Svetlana was spectacular from start to finish.

The party started at 1 PM, and the guests were blown away by the amount of entertainment–including Lumberjack hip-hop dancers, ballerinas in bubbles, aerial champagne pours and an ice sculpting DJ–plus fun stuff like the snowflake confetti blowers, crafts, photo booths, and ball pits. Several guests were overheard saying, “This is the best holiday party I’ve been to!”

Photo Credit: MistiLayne.com

Photo Credit: MistiLane.com

How We Created a Winter Wonderland on a “Chilly” Budget

We couldn’t have pulled off such an elaborate event so economically without our years of experience, industry discounts, and connections. Here’s how we did it, in 7 steps:

  1. Chose a date later in December when venues would be more available and open to negotiations. We did this on Dec 20th after all of the major holiday parties were over.
  2. Held the event during the day after lunch so a big meal wasn’t expected.
  3. Hosted beer/wine and one signature drink related to the theme. In this case, it was hot cider with brandy.
  4. Sourced a caterer that could meet their needs at a greatly reduced/negotiated price-point.
  5. After we solidified the venue, catering, and beverages, we moved on to decor, lighting, and entertainment and found that we had done so much tidy negotiating and conserving of the budget that we had more than expected.
  6. We were able to negotiate huge deals with our vendors because of our relationship with them, but also because of the date we selected.
  7. Because they had paid us a planning fee, we booked all of their entertainment at a discount and were able to pack a lot more in than they ever dreamed of.

Photo Credit: MistiLayne.com

The feedback from YELP made us melt. “What can’t I say about the Entire Productions team? They’re simply the best. From the first moment I met them, they made me feel like a friend and not just a client,” says Julia. “They helped me plan the most AMAZING holiday party for over 2K people in just under five months. The event had everyone in awe. The quality of entertainment and production is what you’d expect to get with a half-million dollar budget. Let me tell you, mine was NOWHERE near that and yet they still made it happen. MIND BLOWN.”

Photo Credit: MistiLayne.com

And we were pleased that our client was able to focus on her day-to-day job and not be drained by the enormous planning and negotiating. She was able to think ‘Big Picture’ and let go of the rest, knowing she’d be in good hands with us. We narrowed down the perfect venue that was within their budget, then began layering in the elements that were must haves and ultimately being able to add in incredible entertainment due to the deep negotiations we made with other vendors in the selection process. The planning period entailed just a few in-person meetings including a few walk-throughs. We try to make it as easy on our clients as possible.

Photo Credit: Misti Layne (MistiLayne.com)

Photo Credit: MistiLayne.com

“Claire O’Neill was my main POC throughout the planning process and ran my event on the day-of like a total boss,” adds Julia. “Her spreadsheets included every piece of information you’d ever need for an event. Someone who had no knowledge of events could have looked at her spreadsheets and run it without any issues–they were so detailed. She took the time the go over everything with me and was reachable 24/7 so that I was more than prepared when asked questions by my own team.

“Working with them is the best thing that you could do for yourself and/or your company if you want a guaranteed no-fail event with a 120% wow factor.”