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7 Gala Planning Tips from a Pro: Talking Galas with Jordan Tucker

Jordan Tucker
Event Designer Jordan Tucker

Looking to throw a Denver gala that will leave attendees in awe?

With its vibrant scene and endless possibilities, the Mile High City has everything to make your event unforgettable.

But here’s the secret sauce: every memorable gala has a mastermind behind the scenes.

Enter Jordan Tucker, Rocky Mountain event designer with a knack for crafting magical moments. We dived deep into her world to uncover the tricks of the trade, ensuring your gala is nothing short of spectacular. Ready for a whirlwind of expert advice?

Let’s dive in!

1) Plan as early as possible


Galas are a bit different than some other events because you not only have the logistics, but you also have your mission to consider. Are you celebrating something? Raising money? Whatever your mission is, it’s going to require content and supporting activities on-site to help create impact, and these things take time to plan!

Jordan shared, “I recommend at least 7-9+ months of planning for your gala to map out the intricate details we commonly see in the event industry. But the more time you have to map out your function, the better.

Due to what I refer to as “the COVID ripple,” a lot of venues are booking up a lot faster, with high demand to host weddings and other social gatherings. People are excited to gather in large groups again, so it is important to map out your hosted space well in advance to ensure that you are able to snag your preferred gala location.”

2) Don’t forget to consider capacities, venue restrictions, and organizational goals


If you’re hosting a gala for your organization, there are typically goals associated with that. So, what are those goals? And how does that play into your gala venue selection?

You’ll want to consider:

Capacities – Can you host enough people to make an impact on your goals? Is there enough space for the entertainment you’d like to have, as well as guest seating?

Space options – Do you want to host indoors or outdoors? Both?

Venue restrictions – If you want to hang items related to your mission but they don’t allow hanging anything on the walls, that’s an issue. Map out your general plan, create a checklist of things you’ll need from a venue, and use that as your guide to select your gala venue in Denver or the surrounding area.

Transportation and parking – How simple/affordable is it for your guests to arrive or your organization to host transportation/pay for parking?

Security – If you have high-profile attendees, are there suitable security features, alternative entrances, etc.?

Budget – Does the venue fit your budget? Do they have equipment in-house, or will you need to increase your budget line item for rentals?

Aesthetic Does the venue’s built-in aesthetic go with your desired theme?

Reputation Do they have a good reputation in the community?

Check out our designers favorite gala venues here.

Wings over the rockies, Air plane with bar display in front.

3) Choose your menu based on the vibe you’re going for


Menus for gala events don’t have to be boring and traditional. There are so many ways to have fun with your menus, whether you’re doing a buffet, plated, or stations.

Jordan outlined some great ways to determine which menu style is best for your organization!

She explained, “If you are looking for more of an open-house style where there is no specific timeline other than ‘come and go as you please,’ I always recommend either a buffet-style service or stations. With this style of an event, the focus is usually geared toward the ultimate guest experience and is very commonly very casual with guest seating.”

For this, live-action stations where the chefs are actually cooking in front of guests are also a great option because they give guests the experience of sitting at a chef’s table, which overall adds to the ambiance and doubles as entertainment, which can impact budget.

On the other hand, Jordan also gave suggestions for events that have a little more structure, like awards, presentations, live auctions, or a fund-a-need activity.

She shared, “I would consider either a plated dinner or family-style service. With this style of service, your guests will likely experience a cocktail hour with displayed and passed hors d’oeuvres before being asked to take their assigned seats for the program, speeches, or auctions to begin. For this style, I highly recommend a plated dinner to ensure that there are minimal interruptions during the speeches or performances. If there is a break in the programming for dinner, you can absolutely consider a buffet-style service for your gala. You can think of it like a nice intermission at that point.”

Ultimately, the food can set the tone for the event, so you want the style of catering to suit your goals and desires!

Plated kale salad on an elegant table
Photo Credit: Alyssa Carpenter Photo

4) Lean on your vendors for advice and support


Vendors that work in the events industry have likely seen and been a part of more galas than you can imagine, each with unique goals, aesthetics, themes, activities, entertainment, etc. Use that knowledge! Pick their brain on what has worked or hasn’t worked and what guests loved and hated. They’ve seen it all.

Jordan made another point that “as a host, you will need to follow the guidelines set forth by your booked space, but your vendor team will be able to shape and frame the intricate details pertaining to your vision for the event while staying within those guidelines.” So everyone wins in this scenario!

Photo Credit: Alyssa Carpenter Photo

5) Remember that every little detail does come with a price tag


While it’s great to have a grand vision, grand usually comes with a price tag. And especially for fundraising galas, that type of financial investment may not always be realistic. Start your planning with a very clear budget, and then work with your vendors to cultivate an event experience that’s impressive, but still within reason for your event goals.

This could mean doing a buffet or family-style meal versus a plated meal to save on labor costs or decreasing the amount of uplighting or florals and truly focusing energy on the videos playing around the room to draw attention to your mission.

6) It doesn’t have to be a sit-down, formal dinner event


Playing off that point, so many people correlate a gala with a sit-down, formal event. That doesn’t have to be the case! You can make a gala whatever you want it to be.

Jordan shared that her favorite theme is a casino night with live-action stations to get guests involved in the culinary aspect, fun table games spread throughout the room, breaks for auctions, and live entertainment mixed in.

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7) Hire an event planner to manage the logistics


Last (but certainly not least), Jordan recommends having an event planner to do the heavy lifting when it comes to planning and execution of your gala. There are so many moving pieces and logistics that can be overlooked if this isn’t something you’re doing all the time. Planners know what snafus to look out for and how to avoid them. They’ll manage the flow, timeline, and vendors, and they’ll be your greatest confidant so you can focus on entertaining and schmoozing with your gala guests.

Jordan and the rest of the team at Rocky Mountain Catering & Events has helped many organizations in the Denver area plan their galas. From fundraising galas for the Friends of Douglas County and the Crisis Center to celebratory affairs like the Annual Military Gala, they know how to plan a successful gala event in Denver—and keep it stress-free for the client.

If you want Jordan’s help with your upcoming gala, explore our gala catering services! We’d be honored to support you.


How to Choose the Perfect Venue for Your Denver Gala

Wings over the rockies, Air plane with bar display in front.

Dreaming of an unforgettable gala in Denver?

The magic begins with the perfect venue. A chosen location isn’t just a backdrop—it’s the heartbeat of your event, crafting the narrative, elevating the atmosphere, and engraving memories into the hearts of your attendees.

From lavish fundraisers beneath twinkling chandeliers to intimate soirées, Denver’s gala scene offers a tapestry as varied and vibrant as the mountains themselves. Yet, with endless choices comes the challenge of selection.

Having planned many of Denver’s most important galas, our team is spilling the beans on some of the city’s most dazzling venues. Dive in as we guide you through our curated list, ensuring your gala creates memories that lost long after the last dance.

🔑 Let’s save you time and start your venue hunt together. Contact a designer today.

How to Pick Your Gala Venue


How do you pick the perfect gala venue? Our team has planned 1000s of events in Denver, and when it comes to galas, here are the most important facts to consider:

Capacity

It’s essential to have enough space for seating, dining, entertainment, and any additional activities planned for the event. Especially when it comes to fundraisers, you want to ensure you have sufficient space for dining, dancing, a silent auction, cause displays, information stations, etc. Not having enough space to showcase your mission is a mistake that could cost you event success.

Location

If you’re putting in effort to plan a gala, you want to make sure the venue is easily accessible within Denver city limits or just beyond. The more convenient the location, the greater your attendance will be in many cases.

Ambiance and Style

The venue’s ambiance should match the gala’s theme and overall style. Whether it’s a sophisticated ballroom, a luxurious hotel, a historic mansion, or an outdoor garden, the setting should complement the event’s purpose and create the desired atmosphere.

Amenities and Facilities

Gala attendees expect certain amenities, such as parking (ideally complimentary), coat check, accessible restrooms, and adequate heating or air conditioning, depending on the event’s season and location.

Audiovisual and Technology

Galas are extravagant affairs by nature. This means that there will likely be more requirements for audio and lighting, presentations, etc. You want to ensure that your gala venue can support your vision.

Flexibility and Customization

A gala venue that allows flexibility in event setup and décor customization enables organizers to tailor the space according to their vision and theme.

Our Favorite Denver Area Gala Venues


So, which Denver area gala venues check all or most of these boxes? Here are a few favorites:

Cable Center

Central Denver, CO | Seated Capacity: 320 | Reception Capacity: 400

The Cable Center, Central Denver, CO

Why we love it

The Cable Center is great for galas because it’s high-tech and has built-in opportunities for audio and visuals, decreasing rental costs on that front. A favorite feature is the simplicity that comes along with streaming a video of an award recipient or fundraising campaign kick-off in the Great Hall on the Grand Video Tower, with a podium underneath. Plus, it’s ultra sleek, modern, and adaptable to any theme.

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Cielo

Castle Rock, CO | Seated Capacity: 350 | Reception Capacity: 500

Cielo Event Venue, Castle Rock, CO

Why we love it

Situated conveniently near Interstate 25, a little more than thirty minutes from the heart of Downtown Denver, lies the tranquil haven of Cielo at Castle Pines. This rustic retreat takes guests to a mountainous getaway that allows them to breathe a little more deeply and focus on the celebration or cause at hand, removed from the bustle of downtown. Plus, they specialize in hosting non-profit events and galas and have hosted events for organizations like Toys for Tots, K9 Friends of DC, CASA, and more. We love doing a silent auction outside and the gala indoors for a fun flow.

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Denver Botanic Gardens – Chatfield Farms

Denver, Colorado | Seated Capacity: 600 | Reception Capacity: 1,300

Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms

Why we love it

A lot of people know about the Denver Botanic Gardens – York Street location (which we adore, too), but they overlook the Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms, which is located just outside the city in Littleton. Boasting 700 acres of natural beauty, Colorado’s unique landscapes are at the forefront of your event canvas. They have seven totally unique indoor and outdoor event spaces that allow for total flexibility. One really fun feature that is great for making gala events different than the rest is their add-on features like a flower happy hour, where they can make their own local bouquets to take home after the gala. It’s a great way to get people mixing and mingling before the night begins.

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🔑 Let’s save you time and start your venue hunt together. Contact a designer today.


Denver Botanic Gardens – York Street

Denver, Colorado | Seated Capacity: 600 | Reception Capacity: 1,300

Why we love it

Galas are innately celebratory. And there’s no better place to celebrate than a gala venue that immerses you in the beauty of life and nature. This is exactly what you find at the Denver Botanic Gardens York, with their 24 acres of lush event space that’s split between an indoor solarium space, outdoor gardens, and even an amphitheater—which is fun if you’re incorporating a program of some sort! Plus, the fact that it’s in the city and has one of the largest event capacities with all the facilities to match makes it incredibly convenient.

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Highlands Ranch Mansion

Highlands Ranch, CO | Seated Capacity: 250 | Reception Capacity: 250

Why we love it

If a private escape for your gala is what you desire, Highlands Ranch Mansion is an ideal option. It’s a 250-acre ranch, but it’s only 20 miles south of Downtown Denver, making it super accessible for your guests. The indoor-outdoor event space allows you to get creative with how you want to host your gala, as well as how many people. Regardless of the size of your event, there is only one group on the property per day, so you’ll have all 250 acres to yourself, which is incredibly special.

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PACE Center

Parker, CO | Seated Capacity: 320 | Reception Capacity: 400

The Pace Center, Parker, CO

Why we love it

The PACE Center is known for its knack for hosting performing arts and visual arts events, but it lends itself perfectly to galas in Denver, too. There’s no better spot to host a fundraiser for an arts or culture cause than in this space, since it’s so intertwined with the venue’s mission. Plus, there’s nothing better than featuring a band and dancing at a gala event, and the acoustics in these spaces are made for melodies.

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🔑 Let’s save you time and start your venue hunt together. Contact a designer today.


Spruce Mountain Ranch

Larkspur, CO | Seated Capacity: 450 | Reception Capacity: 750

Spruce Mountain Venue

Why we love it

When a venue’s motto is “Service from the Heart,” you know that it’s going to be a heartfelt celebration. The Spruce Mountain events team puts their all into planning fundraising galas, corporate celebrations, and social soirees to ensure that every detail is intentional and from the heart. There are plentiful options on their expansive ranch in the foothills, nestled in the center of Colorado Springs and Denver.

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The Establishment

Westminster, CO | Seated Capacity: 520 | Reception Capacity: 400

The Establishment, Westminster, CO

Why we love it

The Establishment at Bradburn Village lies just 20 minutes away from Downtown Denver and offers a blank canvas for any kind of event—especially galas. It was literally designed to be an event venue, and they have all the amenities you’d desire, from audio-visual equipment to tables and chairs, so rental requirements are definitely decreased when you host your event here!

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Upper Larimer

RiNo Neighborhood, Denver, CO | Seated Capacity: 340 | Outdoor Reception Capacity: 220

Upper Larimer - Denver Event Venue

Why we love it

This modern industrial event space is housed in a late-1800s restored warehouse, which gives it unrivaled character. They offer a large sundeck and ballroom, allowing you to create an indoor-outdoor flow for seasonal events and plenty of amenities to make planning simple. There are a lot of logistics that go into planning a gala, so the more the venue has to offer in terms of infrastructure, the easier time you’ll have planning.

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🔑 Let’s save you time and start your venue hunt together. Contact a designer today.


Vehicle Vault

Parker, CO | Seated Capacity: 500 | Reception Capacity: 800

Vehicle Vault Corporate Event Venue, Parker, CO

Why we love it

When hosting gala events, built-in entertainment is always a plus. And the Vehicle Vault has some of the best built-in entertainment in Denver: cars galore. You know what that means? Photo ops and lots of social shares to advance your mission. Even non-car-loving guests will have a ball exploring the different makes and models, transporting themselves back in time with the vintage rides. With over 30,000 square feet of both indoor and outdoor event space, you have plenty of room for dinner, dancing, auctions, presentations, and more.

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Wings Over the Rockies

Denver Metro, Colorado | Seated Capacity: 1,200 | Reception Capacity: 3,500

Wings Over the Rockies, Denver Metro, Colorado

Why we love it

Voted the best meeting/event venue in the Denver Metro area by Colorado Meetings & Events Magazine, Wings Over the Rockies is simply a fun place to host events, with over 180,000 square feet of open event space (yes, you read that right—it’s huge). For groups that love history, this is a great spot because the hangar is home to an interactive aircraft display, military vehicles, uniforms, and other historical highlights. Theming a fundraiser or gala event here is simple, and your organization will reach new heights after hosting here.

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Let Rocky Mountain Catering & Events Help You Source & Plan Your Gala in the Denver Area

There’s a lot that goes into planning a gala, especially if you have a volunteer committee or a small team. Our full-service Rocky Mountain Catering team—which includes chefs, planners, day-of coordinators, waitstaff, and more—can help with not only venue sourcing but helping you plan your organization’s most impactful gala yet.

Let’s chat about your upcoming Denver gala and how we can help!

🔑 Let’s save you time and start your venue hunt together. Contact a designer today.