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What Annoys High-Profile Guests at Events—and Why

From overbearing music to long lines, frequent event guests talk about what turns them off.

By Jim Shi August 8, 2013, 9:45 AM EDT

Photo: Nadia Chaudhury/BizBash

No person—or event planner—is perfect. But when it comes to executing a gathering that he or she was no doubt paid a handsome fee to ensure runs flawlessly, a hiccup—be it minor or major—can happen and be a big turnoff for guests. At this year’s “Party of the Year”—the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute gala—Gwyneth Paltrow’s frank comments about her displeasure in attending set tongues wagging around the world. “It was so un-fun. It was boiling. It was crowded. Everyone is pushing you. This year it was really intense,” she said on the record to various media outlets, adding that she was “never going again.”

Paltrow isn't the first, and certainly not the last, attendee to complain about a crowded affair, so we polled more than a dozen frequent event guests to find out what annoys them the most. While many said it would take something truly horrendous for them to leave once they’ve made the effort to attend an event, they’re more apt to skip it altogether due to mistimed music, misleading invitations, drawn-out speeches, and lack of climate control.

“Last Saturday my husband and I were off to the V.I.P. opening of Art Southampton to benefit the Southampton Hospital. The traffic was horrendous and it started to pour. As we reached the valet parking, a man waved wildly to the cars, announcing that they could not take any more guests. We turned around and headed home. It was hard to believe that the event planners had not anticipated and allowed for proper parking. What a disaster!”
Jamee Gregory, philanthropist and socialite

“I think the problem with many events is that event planners mistake volume and tempo for a ‘fun party atmosphere.’ [There are] too many events with DJs playing music way too loud and upbeat for the first hour or so when people are just arriving and actually trying to converse. It’s such a bummer to be at an event and run into people you're happy to see and you find yourself yelling within the first 15 minutes because either the DJ has just taken over the agenda and is playing whatever they want, or the event planner is too clueless to moderate and guide the DJ. It takes a really mature DJ to moderate their own volume and allow a crowd to get warmed up.”
David Rabin, nightlife veteran and partner, Cole’s Greenwich Village

“I can say my biggest pet peeve for most events is consistent: not enough bartenders and music too loud. However, a couple of weekends ago, I went to a Bentley-sponsored ‘Luxury Brunch’ in Bridgehampton, and there was barely a morsel of food when the invite gave a huge plug to the catering company. For a ‘brunch’ event there wasn't even a cup of coffee to be had—just tables promoting fancy liquors, cognacs, cigars and jets, etc. I left to get lunch.”
Fern Mallis, president, Fern Mallis L.L.C.

“If the person checking names at the door is rude or inexperienced, it ruins the entire event.”
Josh Rubin, founder and editor in chief, Cool Hunting

“I've been blessed with no event traumas in recent memory. Now, that has nothing to do with the fact that there have not been some bad events; it's just that my radar has become so honed that I now know how to avoid such disasters. Some of the telltale signs are, in no particular order: The venue is suspect … anything with the name 'pier' attached to it is probably a bad idea. A pig in a dress is still a pig, know what I mean? The hours are 9 p.m. to '?.' That means they have no idea when it will start or end, and it's going to be a mess. 'Dress Festive.' Aww, c'mon: it's either black tie or no dress code. If you say dress festive the party won't be, guaranteed. 'Regrets only.' This is a catch phrase for 'the world has been invited and expect a rat f*ck.' By not attending any parties with these cautionary details attached to them has kept me in a happy event zone, a place I always hope to reside.”
Paul Wilmot, founder, Paul Wilmot Communications

“Last September, when I attended the Rag & Bone show as a guest of Jaguar, it was so unbelievably hot inside [Moynihan Station] that I was sweating through my clothes. Had it not been my first runway show experience, I probably would have left. And another more general one: It's time to get rid of lanyard and laminated credentials. You would think by now somebody would come up with something less bulky/dorky-looking. Such a turnoff.”
Edward Loh, editor in chief, Motor Trend magazine

“I loathe the following, in no particular order, but four major points: 1. When events are pitched as intimate or exclusive and then you find guests' assistants there; 2. Overcrowding. It’s annoying to move around and especially with all the tilting glasses when one is in a fabulous outfit—and then you can’t even get a drink as you can’t get to the bar!; 3. Dinner invites that end up with only passed hors d’oeuvres and no meal. This happens way too often and usually I see hoards of people leaving to go eat somewhere else; 4. Lastly, when people claim that certain people are hosting on the invite—you then attend to show respect for them and they aren’t there and sometimes didn’t even know they were supposed to be, which happened to me a few times with my name used without my permission.”
Amy Sacco, nightlife impresario and founding partner and creative director, LDV Hospitality Nightlife

“Being a party planner and organizer myself, I’m always sympathetic to other peoples’ events. It’s nice to be invited, be it a personal party or product launch. I always try to cut the hosts some slack and be good-humored. For me, it’s when the event is too loud—between the music and the acoustics and how the guests are crammed into a space—and I can’t hear anything and can’t have a conversation and am made dizzy by the sound. Volume, music, guests, and acoustics need to be in alignment. One extra decibel can make all the difference in the world.”
James LaForce, co-founder, LaForce & Stevens

“My apartment and office are six blocks from each other downtown, so location is one of the first things I look at when I receive an invitation. Many times I have a hard time getting motivated to attend events uptown or crosstown that are the usual quick 30-minute drive-by just to go all the way up and come all the way back down.”
Sarika Rastogi, PR director, Tod’s

“Only serving beer and wine. I look naked without a glass of tequila, and that's not a pretty sight. And when they make you put your drink down on a drop table in order to enter a certain room—this is the exact opposite of gracious and counterproductive to the extreme. Is there anything that you could possibly see that wouldn't look better if you had a drink in your hand? Now you must be sure I'm an alcoholic.”
—Bronson van Wyck, founder, Van Wyck & Van Wyck

“I have the great fortune to attend or be a guest at some of the city’s best benefit lunches and dinners. For the most part they are very well organized, but I am always amazed that at certain charity events they have yet to master the art of quick speeches. It can kill a mood in 10 minutes and force guests to start talking at the table which drowns out the honoree/award recipient. There should be a limit to how many speeches should happen, and the executive director or gala chairman needs to stand firm on timing.”
Melanie Seymour Holland, founder, the Project public relations firm

“I hate when events don't have a well-run door. This is the first impression of an event, and when a door isn't organized, my skin crawls and I have this strong desire to take over. I once showed up to an event where the PR team had the list sorted on iPads by affiliation and not name, so if a celebrity or V.I.P. arrived, they would have to say, ‘Hi, I'm a celebrity and my name is …’ A poorly run door means that the event inside will be just as bad, if not worse.”
Lisette Sand-Freedman, co-owner, Shadow PR

“The worst thing is when a brand throws a party that feels too commercial or heavily branded. People pick up on it right away. Guests wants to feel like they're part of something special.”
Cary Leitzes, founder, creative marketing consultancy Leitzes & Company

“My only gripe is when I’m at a large-scale event—not social but, for example, a store opening or product launch—that is understaffed. Such an oversight only makes for that much more of a difficult evening.”
Dennis Basso, fashion designer

“For me, I hate places where I’m invited, have usually paid a fair amount to attend, and then have to wait in line when I show up at the venue. It’s never a good thing to start your night off on a sour note. I don’t think any New Yorker likes to wait in line. Bottlenecking—either at the door or at the bar—is a major turnoff.”
Dara Godfrey, dietician

“Both of my ‘peeves’ are music-related: I think that the music is too loud everywhere. No one should have to yell over loudspeakers. On the flip side, too many dinner-party hosts don't put on any music, and I think that is what I dislike the most—music is crucial to a good party of any size.”
Alison Brod, founder, Alison Brod PR

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