x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Birthday memories last a lifetime but at what price?

From choosing a venue to ordering the cake, the price of a perfect birthday bash can quickly spiral out of control.

From choosing a venue to ordering the cake, the price of a perfect birthday bash can quickly spiral out of control.
From choosing a venue to ordering the cake, the price of a perfect birthday bash can quickly spiral out of control.

Money is no object for Ruba Abdul-Hadi when it comes to birthday parties. Not only does she plan months in advance - with a party planner, of course - but she also believes that the unique memories she has created for her children are priceless.

Ms Abdul-Hadi, who is originally from Jordan and has lived in Dubai for 11 years, recently celebrated her daughter Dina's fifth birthday, pulling out all the stops with a Hannah Montana theme for 50 of her friends at the Lakes Club in Dubai.

"Every party I give my child is a surprise," she says. "I don't tell people what I am going to do. You never know what will work. You don't have to be traditional - I just go ahead with something new."

The party featured many touches you could expect at a gala event: a balloon-arch entrance complete with a red carpet, fabric-covered chairs with silky-pink bows and colourful table centrepieces.

It also featured crowd pleasers such as a dinosaur slide and jumping castle, Hannah Montana music and games by Cheeky Monkey, the Dubai-based children's entertainers.

After spending Dh200 to Dh300 per child at her daughter's party, Ms Abdul-Hadi is already busy making plans for her son Kareem's eighth birthday in March. Over the past few years, she has organised several parties for her children, typically spending between Dh10,000 and Dh15,000 for each bash.

Not everyone will go to these lengths for their child's special day. But whether you invite 50 guests or five, parties often represent a significant investment in time and money.

Chelsea Mundy-van der Spek, an event planner at Tiny Bean Events in Dubai, has organised parties big and small for a variety of budgets. Originally from Australia, she first opened her doors in February 2009, and business was tough. She organised just 40 parties that year, mostly through the recommendations of friends. But business is now booming, and last year Ms Mundy-van der Spek planned more than 170 events.

Birthdays are big business, with many party planners in the UAE offering their services, such as Special Ocasions (www.specialoccasions.ae), Dubai Party Planner (www.dubaipartyplanner.com) and Couture Events (www.couturevents.ae).

Ms Mundy-van der Spek says residents are often keen on having special events to remember.

"Arabs are so hospitable and welcoming," she says. "They never want to leave anyone out and they don't do things by halves."

While parties for Ms Abdul-Hadi's children were quite expensive, Ms Mundy-van der Spek adds that the average event includes about 20 guests and costs between Dh3,500 and Dh5,000.

Being a mum herself, she says clients want unique parties that are affordable. Ms Mundy-van der Spek's relationship with suppliers means she can often source quality items at competitive prices, and many of the unique decorations she uses, such as water bottles with a picture of the birthday girl or boy on them, can be purchased online from overseas.

"This does not have to break the budget," she says.

"We offer flexible packages and the mum can choose to do as little or as much as she wants herself."

In Abu Dhabi, she says, there is a strong trend to host parties at home or in the park. This eliminates the cost of booking a venue and allows the parents to handle the catering themselves.

"For these events I can simply deliver the tables and chairs," Ms Mundy-van der Spek says. "Mums use their creativity to cook the snacks and do the decorations themselves."

Clodagh Girvan falls into this category.

Ms Girvan hired Tiny Bean Events for her daughter Anna's fifth birthday because she works full time. She simply didn't have time to coordinate the various suppliers.

Having just moved from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi, the party was only a small group of about 10 children. Ms Girvan opted for a special package, spending about Dh1,000 on tables and chairs, gift bags, plates, napkins, cutlery, personalised water bottles and individual snack packs from Jones the Grocer.

The party was held under a shady cabana just off the Abu Dhabi Corniche. A bright pink tent, sparkle studded tiaras, wands and a gold crown for the boys added to the festivities. Instead of hiring an entertainer, Ms Girvan spent a further Dh175 on special prizes for games she ran herself.

"I think birthdays are big events at this age. Anna counts the days," she says. "She lives from birthday to birthday."

Light snacks for the adults ran about Dh180, and after doing some research she discovered that a hand-made birthday cake by a qualified pastry chef cost about the same as a cake from the supermarket.

Anna's fairy princess cake was made by Mirabel Café in Abu Dhabi and cost Dh190. In total, this party cost approximately Dh1,500, or Dh150 per child, and Ms Girvan says she is satisfied that she got her money's worth.

But for Dina's party, Ms Abdul-Hadi was willing to spend more so she could have the peace of mind to simply enjoy her daughter's party as a guest. "You cannot put a price on this, and with Chelsea everything is so well organized," she says.

Tiny Bean Events charged Ms Abdul-Hadi approximately Dh3,500 to co-ordinate suppliers and oversee the management of the party.

Booking the venue at the Lakes Club in Dubai cost Dh800. Meals were priced at between Dh55 to Dh75 per child. At previous parties, Ms Abdul-Hadi provided high-priced sandwiches for the adults, but she has recently taken them off the menu. "As much as we claim we want to be healthy, most mums can't resist the fries and prefer to share burgers, pasta and pizza with the children," she adds.

She says the party bags for the guests are also an important touch. "The kids don't care what is inside as long as they get a bag, even if they are 12 years old."

Ms Abdul-Hadi also spent Dh2,400 for two entertainers from Cheeky Monkey (www.cheekymonkeyparties.com) to entertain the children for two hours.

"Unfortunately, kids these days don't know how to play on their own," she says. "Without music, I am afraid they might get bored."

The children did participate enthusiastically in the choreographed games and danced away to the Hannah Montana music, all of which helped to create a big party atmosphere. Every year she questions whether to hire a bouncing castle, and this time the pink dinosaur added Dh1,000 to the bill.

Although she is aware of various other party-planner companies in Dubai, she continues to book with Ms Mundy-van der Spek because she is flexible. If there is something she doesn't like, the planner comes up with a better option.

"She is not arrogant and there is no conflict dealing with her," Ms Abdul-Hadi says. "She is always on my side."

If costs are an issue, joining forces with other parents and children is another option.

Paloma Berenguer, originally from Spain, recently hosted a joint party for her daughter, Saskia.

Ella, one of Saskia's classmates, was also celebrating her fifth birthday around the same time. To save money, the families decided to split all the costs and organisation. They hosted a Hello Kitty picnic party in Khalidiya Park in Abu Dhabi. Both families agree that coming up with creative ideas and making sure that things ran smoothly on the day definitely required some time and effort. To source the decorations, piñata, balloons and party bags they made a special trip to My Party Centre (www.mypartycentre.com) at Al Raha Mall.

The brightly coloured lunch boxes and a pretty blue cushion for each child were sourced from Ikea. The Hello Kitty birthday cake was ordered over the telephone and collected from Tickls Celebration Cakes in Khalifa City (www.ticklscakes.com).

"There is no way I would have had time to do this party if I was working." says Ms Berenguer, who only recently arrived in the UAE and is currently on maternity leave.

While the mums were the main organisers, the dads also pitched in to make their daughters' day special. Saskia's dad organised the games and Ella's dad strummed away on a guitar and serenaded the children to Puff the Magic Dragon.

By doing the catering and entertainment themselves, and not hiring a venue, the party cost a very reasonable Dh2,424, or Dh86 per child.

"But in the end the money didn't matter," Ms Berenguer says.

"The excitement and pure enjoyment on the girls' faces made it all worthwhile."