Lights are magic. From tiny twinkling lights in ficus trees to gobo templates casting images on a wall, lighting is one of the best ways to spark up a room on a limited budget. I love when gobo lights are used with theme templates to decorate a wall. In Seattle, I attended a banquet where the shapes of pine trees were silhouetted on the wall and I attended an event in Hawaii where palm trees were similarly outlined.

Also, remember that guests tend to eat and drink more in brightly lit, colorfully decorated surroundings. Vibrant colors, such as brilliant red, hot pink, and bright yellow stimulate the appetite, while dark tones — dark green, navy blue, gray, and black — have the opposite effect.

Décor on the Move

People moving about in costumes — staff, attendees, or actors — add dimension to a themed event. Props don't have to be mobile, but you should pay attention to where you place them — you can't just stick a prop in a corner. You should highlight props with lighting, such as a gobo light, so they will be visible in detail.

Set the Table

For dinner buffets, decorate and embellish the tables and their surroundings so guests can enjoy the décor as they move along the table. Add decorative pieces with height that can be seen over the heads of the people in line from across the room. Create visual interest on buffet tables by having food and décor items at different heights and angles. Blank areas should be filled in with crunched napkins, ferns and fronds, piled fruit, etc. Large displays often tie into the theme of an event.

Buffets should be creative in shape. Use serpentine or round tables to curve the line. Try lighting the buffet tables from beneath. When using light-colored table skirting, either linen or polyester, place two 60-watt bulbs or two 4-foot fluorescent lights under each table. This does not work with dark colored skirting, as the bulbs show through like lighted tennis balls, instead of being diffused with a glowing light.

Tray jacks can be an eyesore. Add a touch of class by draping them with tablecloths before setting trays on top, and have the servers cover dirty dishes with a napkin.

Columns are usually a negative in a function room. A few are acceptable, but too many will detract from the catered event unless tables or buffet tables can be arranged between some decorated columns that may enhance the room's appearance. Or buffets can be wrapped around columns using hollowed out circular tables. Consider sight lines for any program or entertainment when setting up a room with columns.

Patti J. Shock, CPCE, is professor and chairwoman, Tourism and Convention Administration Department, Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. To learn more about her, visit or send an e-mail to

Can You Hear Me Now?

Do not let attendees walk into a “dead” room — decorate with sound to create a multisensory ambience. Select music and/or sound effects appropriate to your group and/or theme. I recall everyone dancing into a Mardi Gras theme dinner because it is impossible not to move to New Orleans jazz.

Further Reading

More food and beverage-related tips