The reason most bars, nightclubs and banquet halls have the same basic features is a confluence of the law, tradition and expertise. This machinery is in place because it is necessary and proper. If your crowd demands something fresh and unique, or you are looking to create a one-of-a-kind experience for a client, you might decide to throw a party in a loft or other raw space. Events like these vary in level of difficulty, depending on how much the owner includes and how much you need to do yourself.
This is a list of the basics you’ll need before you endeavor to hold an event in a non-bar, non-nightclub space.
Finding a great venue is part art, part science. Speakeasy is the easiest way to find and book venues online 😉 You can also check Craigslist or word of mouth.
Sound and DJ Gear
It ain’t a party without music, and you may need to provide your own. If you don’t know somebody who will rent you their gear for a fee, rent it from a store. In Canada, you can’t beat Long and McQuade, and in the US, many Guitar Center locations will have rental sections (call first.) You will at least need: 1 subwoofer, 2 powered tops, 1-2 booth monitors, and 1 mixer on a table. You may also need CDJs, turntables, or a Serato control box. Find somebody who can hook these up.
One of those things people never remember until the last minute is the cash box. You’ll actually want two of these: one for the bar and one for the door.
If you have the fortune of being able to run your own bar, you’ll be faced with several problems:
- Cups: How big a cup should you use? There is considerable debate about whether 6oz cups or 9oz cups are superior – I say 7oz, the shorter the better. They only hold a little more, but look much bigger.
- Beer and liquor shopping: buy more than you need, and make sure you can return any extra. This is much better than running out. People expect less drink selection at a DIY venue, so stick to a few liquors that are popular (sorry, gin) if you can’t provide a full bar.
- Mixers. See above: stick to a few kinds. Nobody wants diet tonic.
- Ice. Buy a lot, and have a way to keep it cool.
- Cash box. Don’t forget this.
- Tip jar. If your bartenders are working for tips, this is important.
- Liquor license. Hang this in a very conspicuous place, and have multiple copies.
If you’re doing an event in coat weather for more than 50 people, you should have a coat check. Coat racks can be rented or purchased for cheap, hangers are pretty cheap too, but the most uniquely specific item is coat check tags – you can find them at Party City. A nifty alternative is writing people’s coat number on their hand, and writing that number on a piece of duct tape on their coat hanger.
Hand Stamps or Wrist Bands
Drawing an X on people’s hands is boring. Get decent stamps, and always stamp the inside of the wrist so the mark doesn’t wash off. Wrist bands are more expensive but make it easy to verify that people have paid/can access certain areas, and they can be branded.
“The float” is an amount of money you put in the cash boxes to make it easier to break 20 dollar bills. The most common bill to run out of is 5s, so you should seed each of your cash boxes with about $200 in 5 dollar bills. Write this down so you can subtract it from your revenue at the end of the night.
The Cash Drop
Every few hours, you should do a cash drop. This means briefly halting sales at the door or bar, taking the large bills from the cash box, counting them with the bartender or door person, and removing the money. Write down the amount of each drop, and keep it in a safe place (like a safe.) This is all in the name of closely controlling your money.
Toilet Paper and Paper Towels
There is no such thing as too much toilet paper or paper towels. Having extra raises you to a new level of expertise.
I have a rule about not stopping the music and turning the lights on at the same time; that’s just rude. Choose one or the other, thank everybody on the microphone, and try to get some applause. All’s well that ends well – leave people with a great impression of the night – they’ll come back for more next time.