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.


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.