PARTY PLANNERS’ GUIDE: Celebrate life’s next chapter with the perfect retirement party

PARTY PLANNERS’ GUIDE: Celebrate life’s next chapter with the perfect retirement party

WITH PARTY PROS Ben Welland and Colleen Johnson

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

Ben Welland and Colleen Johnson of Byfied-Pitman Photography. Photo: Jessica Deeks

Ben Welland and Colleen Johnson of Byfield-Pitman Photography channel the intimacy that comes from being a married couple in order to capture life’s best moments.

They got into the business because it gives them the opportunity to shoot in a documentary style and record fleeting moments that unfold at special gatherings.

They specialize in weddings, but they have also been hired for birthdays and anniversary celebrations. They always look for natural interactions among guests.
“We don’t ask people to look at our cameras,” says Welland. “After a while, people get used to this and relax, and that allows us to work,” adds Johnson. Plus, working as a married couple gives them an advantage. “Even though we’ll be shooting the same scene, we see different things. That enables us to get different angles,” explains Welland. “It speeds the process up. One can shoot wide-angle while the other captures close-ups.” Adds Johnson: “We’re very much in sync.”

Their top tip is to meet with the photographer(s) in person first. “If you trust them, that trust will transfer to your guests, and you’ll get better photos.” And while you might not want to think about Grandma and Grandpa passing on, Welland points out that it’s important to document the lives of elderly relatives. “Younger photographs at funerals don’t resonate as well with, say, grandchildren, who only remember Grandpa as an older man.”

A New Chapter

The Drink One thing is certain when it comes to retirement parties: there will be plenty of toasts. Steve Benson of Ottawa Cocktails suggests a sparkling wine or champagne cocktail. “Retirement parties are different because they are half happy, half sad. So you want to do something fun that emphasizes the positive side of retirement.” Bubbly cocktails are also fairly unisex drinks, and Benson notes that they can easily be personalized. Keep it classy with a Kir Royale (crème de cassis and champagne), or toast the guest of honour with a drink crafted to his or her hobbies: how about something made with maple syrup for the guy with the sugar-bush dreams?

The Gift So if a watch is out, then what is in? As with weddings, taking that next step in life calls for cash, and plenty of financial planners suggest this gifting route. But personalization is key. So why not look to their future plans for inspiration? If they are hoping to spend more time at the cottage, some practical luxury might be in order. Or if the retiree in your life is making that dream trip a reality, give a gift certificate to a Michelin-starred restaurant in their port of call.

Andrew Carter; photo by Melissa McMahon Photography

The Entertainment DJ Andrew Carter, who has been in the business for 17 years and regularly plays at upscale venues like Social in the ByWard Market, suggests a playlist tailored to the guest of honour. “It’s really about doing your research. What genres or songs does the person love? That provides a blueprint.” Or plans for the next chapter in their life can serve as inspiration. Carter played the 2008 Snowsuit Fund Gala, which had a Marrakech theme. The organizer of the event, Karen Wood of Knock on Wood Communications & Events Inc., was over the moon about Carter’s ability to weave traditional Moroccan sounds with modern rhythms. No time to fiddle around on iTunes? Consider hiring Carter, who often makes CDs of playlists for guests to take home as a memento of the event.

Photo courtesy of LouLou Lounge

The Extras Paper plates for an anniversary or retirement party? They scream hotdogs and coleslaw, not tapas and hors d’oeuvres. Fine china complements both the food and the honoured guest’s achievements. But most of us do not have enough of the good stuff to outfit a big bash. That’s where rental dishware comes in. Two of Ottawa’s bigger players — Cody Party and Party Time Rental — can provide glassware, cutlery, and everything in between. Smaller companies, such as Groovy Linens, stock an abundance of table runners, backdrops, napkins, and chair covers in different colours, styles, and fabrics. If you’re looking to transform a space, check out LouLou Lounge. They rent stools, chairs, couches, tables, area rugs, and even throw pillows in a variety of styles. And don’t forget to put some flair into announcing the big day. Instead of simply emailing friends and colleagues, why not let the entire neighbourhood know that he or she is retiring? E & R Lawn-A-Grams puts a spin on the retro flamingo, filling lawns with armies of yellow T. Rexes. What a great way to let the one you love know he or she is now officially a dinosaur!


El Meson. Photo: Christian Lalonde, Photolux Studio

EXPERT EDIBLES from El Meson Catering

Retirement is often a chance to take that long-awaited voyage abroad. Spain, you say? Then tapas are sure to please.

  • Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp). With white wine and herb sauce
  • Spicy chorizo. Soaked in hard cider, garnished with apple
  • Charred octopus. Perfectly tender, with smoked paprika

El Meson Ristorante, 94 Beechwood Ave., 613-744-8484,