Expert Advice: Party Rental Questions

Martha Stewart Weddings

Sunny and Michael Halperin, owners of Party Rental Ltd., are known for having the largest rental inventory on the East Coast and more than 36 years of experience outfitting everything from close-knit fetes to grand galas. Their showrooms can be found in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. 

How has the rental industry changed in the past three decades?
It used to be that you took a cup and matched it to a saucer and plate, and that was it. Now there's so much to choose from. I mean, we must have 50 different kinds of cups, and every different shape of plate. The planning can be overwhelming for brides, but that's why we're here -- to help them put it all together.

What kinds of things can be rented?
The real question is, what can't you rent? Basically, you can rent anything and everything outside of the food and the wait staff. And there are unusual items, too, like popcorn makers and cotton-candy machines, but those may be harder to find in more remote areas.

When's the best time to book a party-rental supplier?
We suggest you speak with us two to three months before the wedding. That's usually enough time for us to secure the products you want, and it gives you a chance to settle the details of the wedding so you'll have a better idea of what you want.

What's your advice to a bride who's ready to get started?
Instead of taking your mom or bridesmaid along on the first visit, bring your caterer or event planner. He or she will have an idea of the kinds of service equipment and the numbers of everything you'll need. It becomes a much easier process for everyone involved. And if you don't have a caterer or planner, most suppliers can hook you up with one they've worked with and trust.

How do you create a modern look?
Bring in different styles that work together to create a mix of classic items and more modern pieces. A good example is the farm table we have in the showroom. When you think farm table, you think rustic and casual, but we set it with more formal tableware and three or four different kinds of chairs; it completely changes the look of the room. People love that kind of surprise.

What trends are you seeing now?
We're seeing a lot of unusual colors enter the bridal market because tabletop and textile design now closely follow the fashion industry. Brides today want to create unique color themes -- who ever heard of purple for a wedding? Now it's being mixed with gold and silver on the table. Having gold and silver together on the table is a trend in itself.

Are there any other big trends?
Yes, the way food is being served is changing. More of our clients today want to do a casual, family-style dinner, so the demand for tables and serving pieces that suit that style is growing. Some brides mix services: We've seen a family-style first course combined with a plated main. There's also more willingness to use different-shaped tables.

What effect has the green movement had on the rental business?
The rental industry has always been pretty green because we reuse everything. But if you're particularly eco-conscious, ask your vendor to create a green package that includes recycled glassware, china, and fabrics.

What's included in the contract?
Everything should be itemized with its price, as well as the delivery date, delivery fee, pick-up date, and service charge. Your party-rental supplier should also detail the amount of overage included in the shipment and what the fee is for broken pieces. Most suppliers usually let a few slide. If it's a destination wedding, we also include a mileage and lodging fee for the drivers that have to deliver the items.

How do you calculate the number of, say, plates someone will need?
It depends on the service. Your wedding planner or caterer will know exactly how much coverage you'll need, but a good rule of thumb is to have five percent more pieces on-hand for a seated dinner. For a cocktail hour, you'll need at least three glasses for each person.

Do couples ever rent from multiple rental companies?
We don't recommend it, because it makes everyone's work more complicated. The last thing you need is to try to figure out which things belong to which company at one o'clock in the morning. If something is delivered to the wrong company, you'll probably be charged a late fee; then you'll have to figure out how to get it back to them. The best party-rental businesses out there have a good variety of products, so it becomes one-stop shopping for every kind of bride.

What important items do people often forget to order?
Brides forget things like coat-check items (hangers, tags), screens to section off the kitchen area, table numbers and stands, even dance floors. Your caterer will remind you to order them, but brides may forget to factor these items into their budget, and that's something to think about. It all adds up.

If a bride's throwing a really small wedding, will you still rent to her?
Yes. We've done weddings for as many as 600 and as little as 20. The small one was my daughter's wedding. Go figure!

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