With the trend for extravagant parties on the up and up, party organizers are more than happy to oblige.
Throwback Thursday: “Party 0f one” | Issue No. 37 | April 2008
WORDS MIRA GLORIA ILLUSTRATION JASON MOSS
It was the ancient Greeks who first subscribed to the idea that celebrating birthdays—which came to mean mounting festivities and inviting well-wishers for the newborn’s first year—was meant to protect the child from evil spirits.
If this belief still holds true today, then the Greeks would probably conclude that the world we now live in must be teeming with many undesirable elements. With the lavishness and frequency that today’s parents throw children’s parties nowadays, the Greek’s ancient beliefs will probably lead them to think that this is, indeed, a dangerous world we live in.
Nowadays, birthday celebrations for children as young as a year old have gone beyond the traditional blowing-out-the-candle ritual held at home. Especially among members of high society, today’s kiddie parties have become major stage productions, high-value events orchestrated by detail-obsessed parents who don’t stop at anything to create an unforgettable experience for their child’s birthday.
In a status-obsessed culture, getting a birthday cake, putting up a few balloons, and inviting a few children from the neighborhood as guests no longer suffice. For parents who can afford it, a good birthday bash these days would have the following requirements: an invitation, formal catering (for the main course), free-standing food kiosks (for finger foods, and preferably from a popular snack shop), a multilayered cake as a centerpiece, elaborate balloon décor and slides, guest performers, elaborate party favors, and fun activities to keep the guests entertained.
Even the venue has changed: it is not unheard-of to rent huge spaces such as function rooms at five-star hotels and exclusive clubhouses to make room for mechanical rides, balloon slides, and the numerous guests.
AN EXERCISE IN AFFIRMATION
Psychologists believe that children’s birthday parties have become an affirmation of one’s social ingenuity: the degree of lavishness of the celebration is relative to the parents’ popularity. Within the circle of the elite, keeping up with the Joneses has come to mean more than just getting the latest model car (preferably more expensive than the neighbor’s); today, it is trying to outdo other people in hosting the most elaborate birthday parties for one’s children.
With the trend for extravagant parties on the up and up, party organizers are more than happy to oblige. That parents are pushing the limits has created an industry dedicated to children’s parties, with scores of party shops, entertainers, cake designers, and party-favor specialists now doing brisk business. It’s now easy to turn one’s fantasy birthday concept—including the most outrageous—into a reality.
Ricky Lim, owner of the birthday party specialist All4Fun Party Maker, said that this wasn’t the case 10 years ago. “When we were just starting in the business, we were satisfied with organizing one themed party a month. Now, we are holding one party every week,” he said.
Lim, who was (and still is) a Karatedo trainor, discovered the potential of the business with his wife in 1997 when they hosted a themed birthday party for their eldest son. He believes, based on experience, that the reason most parents would rather relegate the task of hosting birthday parties to event organizers is that the planning can be too stressful. “Cost is not really an issue for them. They just want a hassle-free party. They want to be there as guests and not as hosts. They even leave the entertaining of guests to us,” he said.
For one-year-old parties, Lim said that it is the new parents who usually have a clear picture of how the event is going to be like, and they just hire party experts to execute that idea. “These are clients who, for example, would want to have eight high-end mechanical rides, including a Ferris Wheel, inside the venue.”
The danger of that, he explained, is that the party might turn out overdone or flamboyant. “[At some point,] we have to water down some of their demands to make everything run smoothly.”
Then there are parents who want everything to be perfect—so perfect, in fact, that the party could well be in the society pages. Television viewers will never forget the highly publicized birthday party given in honor of Princess, the one-year old daughter of boxing champ Manny Pacquiao. Held at the New World Renaissance Hotel in Makati City, the highly publicized (and currently controversial) Php1.3-million birthday bash had over 200 guests who went home with gift bags and prizes like iPods, toys, chocolates, and pet bunnies.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
Bing Madridejos, co-owner of Party Station, said the pressure to be unique in any aspect of the party is so strong that some parents have gone the extra mile to buy the design of their birthday invitations so that no one else can copy it. Although she rarely encounters such clients, she admitted that there have been a few who approached her, asking if she could do something that beats the birthday bash previously hosted by friends. “They want the party to be bongga (fabulous),” she said.
Dr. Angela Jao, a clinical psychiatrist, confirmed this. “[Parents] feel that they have to be “in” with what the other superrich parents are doing, even if, by doing so, their child may not appreciate it or even remember [it],” she said.
In any case, these kinds of demands always translate to good business for hotels, events venues, caterers, and, of course, party organizers. Depending on which aspect of the party the host wants to splurge on—be it the food, venue, balloon decor, entertainment, or party favors—the cost of a themed birthday party can range from Php50,000 to nearly a million pesos.
Madridejos said, “People have this impression that during parties, it’s the adults who complain a lot. So the main concern of our clients when they come to us is if the food would satisfy the adults. It’s like one of their top priorities. The food should not only please the kids but also the adults.”
As a result, party organizers are now tapping restaurateurs like Chef Gaita Fores and expensive caterers such as VS&F Classic Food International and Alberto’s to make food served at children’s parties a bit more exciting, not just for the kids but also for the grownups. The menu selection has also been revamped to include international cuisine and some grownup favorites like more exotic pasta, steak, grilled prawns, tempura, or even sushi. “I even had a client who wanted to have a Starbucks booth in the party,” said Madridejos.
If the food falls short of memorable, the hosts can also impress their guests—young and old—with the venue. Party organizers say that renting a venue usually eats up 15 per cent of the overall expenses. While the celebrant’s home still makes for an ideal setting, especially for parents who prefer an intimate gathering, other locations offer more exciting possibilities. Renting out exclusive, members-only venues like the Manila Polo Club, for instance, scores several points for the parents’ social standing. Choosing a large and varied venue opens up several possibilities for creative birthday party concepts, such as outdoor park installations or even mechanical rides.
For the sophisticated host, the venue of choice is a hotel. Five-star hotels often put a higher price tag on a venue-catering deal compared to clubhouses. Because menu choices in hotels can cost as high as Php1,000 per plate, Madridejos said that venue expenses in hotels can reach Php500,000 for a single event.
IS IT WORTH IT?
With all these spendthrift examples, the obvious question is, is it worth spending all that money on a child’s birthday party? All4Fun’s Lim said that often, money is no object for parents who like spending on children’s parties. “There are clients who are willing to spend while there are those who find it ridiculous to spend. In my case, for example, my daughter’s recent birthday party would have bought me [the latest-model] Honda Civic. But my wife and I chose to do it because we’re having fun planning it. It’s good business, but it is also an art that we take seriously,” he said.
The fondness for parties is not the only reason some parents pull out all the stops when it comes to their children’s birthday party. “Some parents, especially if they were never given such lavish parties during their younger years, would want their own kids to experience what were just in their fantasies,” explained Dr. Jao.
Madridejos agreed. “As a mother, I want only the best for my kids—even if they may not be aware of it or they might not even remember it. Experience-wise, it’s sort of addicting, especially for new parents, to plan a kiddie party. You look forward to holding the next birthday bash of your kid. Especially if you’ve already started a fabulous party, people would expect that the next one would be better,” she said.
Dr. Jao advised, however, that like in all things, splurging on a child’s birthday party must be done in moderation. “If you have the money and time for the preparation, why not? But if you have to raise money for it just to show off, perhaps you should re-think your plan because you can use your hard-earned money for something more worthwhile, like ensuring the good education of your children.”
Dr. Angela Jao is a clinical psychiatrist specializing on child development. All4Fun (Ricky and Giselle Lim), can be reached at tel. no. (632) 802-3382. Party Station (Bing and Marius Madridejos) can be reached at tel. no. (632) 916-6198.