Welcome back to my series about how we planned my son’s Bar Mitzvah on an intentional budget. So far, I’ve talked about invitations, our Friday night dinner for 40 people, and our Seudah Shlishit for 80.
Today, I want to share with you the details and budget of my son’s party, which was held on the Sunday after his Bar Mitzvah.
Now, here is the deal: You don’t have to have a party at all. In fact, I know many friends who opted not to have a party – whether for financial reasons or because it just wasn’t in line with who they are as a family.
But we decided that we wanted to try to create a unique and original party for my son to enjoy with his friends, along with our family and out of town guests. We saw it as a special way to celebrate all his hard work over the past year – and to get to enjoy a few more memory-making hours with our dear family and friends who had joined us in Cleveland for his Bar Mitzvah.
Choosing the Right Venue
Many of the boys in my son’s class at school have had their parties at either an indoor trampoline center or a sports facility. Both of these have proven to be great venues and the boys always seem to enjoy themselves.
But we wanted to pick something a bit different – something that would be fun and comfortable for the kids as well as our adult guests… and would really reflect who my son is — and what he loves.
Well, when we put it that way, it was easy to come up with our ideal venue: A baseball game!
Yes, my son is a huge fan of baseball – both playing (he’s a catcher) and spectating. My first call was to the Cleveland Indians, to find out about renting out a suite for a game. Sadly, I quickly learned that this would not be in our budget (they quoted me at least $10,000 – $15,000, including catering), so I was back to square one.
That’s when I remembered that Cleveland has a local Low A (minor league) Baseball Team, the Lake County Captains. I gave them a call and was thrilled to find that they are amazing to work with — and that their price is very reasonable.
To rent one of their bigger party suites, they charged $17 per guest, which included the cost of tickets to the game.
They had a few different suites to choose from, but we opted for the one along the first base line. It had a nice, spacious indoor area with plenty of seating, an attached outdoor area with stadium seats (about 50) for watching the game, and a covered deck with more tables and chairs – perfect for guests who wanted to be outside, but preferred the shade.
(Above is a shot from the stadium seats. I tried to find a picture without anyone looking at the camera, so as to protect our guests’ privacy. This one was taken about 20 minutes before the game started, which is why it looks so empty!)
We had 57 guests RSVP, which means that we paid just $969 to rent the whole suite.
Inviting Our Guests
As I’ve written about before, we used Evite Premium to send out the invitations to the party – and I was thrilled to be able to customize one of their baseball-themed invites.
Read more about the invitations (and their low, low cost) HERE.
Making the Menu
I quickly realized that we were going to have to “self cater” the food if we wanted to keep our total costs low. Remember when I said that the Captains were great to work with? Well, this is one example!
The Indians require you to use an “authorized” caterer – which was a big part of that huge number they quoted me. The Captains, however, were happy to give us special permission to bring in our own food since we keep kosher.
Doing the food ourselves vs. having it professional catered saved a ton of money. And the menu was exactly what we wanted – no compromises necessary. Here’s what we served:
- Hot Dog Bar – Hot dogs (regular and vegetarian), beef chili (and vegetarian), plus all the toppings
- French fries – Originally, we were going to serve potato chips and then I thought that French fries would be even better!
- Homemade coleslaw
- Fresh fruit
- Cake & cupcakes
- Candy table – my son wanted a candy table, but didn’t want it at his kiddush, so we did it at his party!
- Glass bottles of coke & root beer + cans of soda, lemonade, flavored water, spring water
Catering Your Own Event
Of course, self-catering also meant a lot of work – not just in preparing the food in advance (that was pretty easy), but in schlepping everything to the baseball stadium that morning, setting it up, and then breaking down the room at the end of the party and schlepping it all back.
Before the party, I spent a lot of time thinking (and worrying) about how we were going to keep the food warm, set it all up, serve it and generally make the event nice while still doing it ourselves.
Here’s how we ended up handling things:
Hot dogs — We grilled the hot dogs about a week ahead of time, and then froze them in disposable trays from Costco. (I planned for 2.5 dogs per person, which was more than enough. We’ve had hot dogs at least once a week since then Bar Mitzvah and still have some left in our freezer.) On Saturday night, I took the dogs out to defrost and brought them cold to the ball park. We bought disposable chaffing dishes, and fired those up as soon as we got into the suite (2 hours before our guests arrived) to start warming the dogs. Chaffing dishes don’t really heat up food, more like keep it warm. But somehow, we were able to get them hot enough to serve. The buns we bought at Costco and served in a large basket lined with gold napkins.
Chili — My husband made a bean-free chili using 12 lbs of ground beef (again, we had tons leftover) about two weeks before the party. (He used this recipe, but quartered the amount of chili powder.) Then I froze the chili in disposable pans from Costco. On Saturday night, we took the pans out of the freezer to defrost and heated them in our oven on Sunday morning. We transported them in cardboard boxes, lined with newspaper (to catch any spills – of which there were a few), and then put them on the chaffing dishes once they were set up. The vegetarian chili was made using the same recipe, but with veggie crumbles. We froze it as well, then heated it up on Sunday morning on high in a crockpot, which we brought with us to the park and plugged in in our suite.
French Fries – I found a huge, 25-lb box of frozen fries at BJs for just $19.99! (I may have done a happy dance in the aisle when I saw the OU on the box). Then we deep fried them in our deep fryer at the ball park. Yes, I own a deep fryer and yes, I brought it to a baseball stadium. We also remembered to bring a big salt shaker!
We put the french fries in these little french fry bags, which I bought from the Webstaurant Store. It was actually a lot cheaper to buy 500 than 50, so I’ve got a few (hundred) left. I’m trying to think what to do with them for our mishloach manot this year! Once the bags were ready, we moved them over to a warming tray on the buffet, next to the chili bar. For the frying, one of my closest friends spent about 2 hours frying – I felt so bad, but she wouldn’t let anyone else replace her! If you’re going to go this route, may I suggest that you look into getting a higher capacity fryer!
Coleslaw – This was super easy. I made it up in advance (I love the recipe in the purple Spice & Spirit cookbook) and brought it to the park in a disposable tin. We had a fridge in the suite, so after everyone had gone thru the buffet at least once or twice, I put the coleslaw in the fridge to keep it fresh.
Fresh Fruit Salad – We bought a few large serving bowls from the Dollar Tree, and used those to serve the cut-up fruit that we had left-over from our Shabbat lunch.
Drinks – I really wanted to serve sodas in glass bottles – I was picturing that retro baseball vibe. But the glass bottles are so much more expensive than cans. So in the end, I compromised and got 24 bottles of Coke and 24 bottles of Root Beer, and then got cans of Coke and Diet Coke to put out when we ran out. I also served lemonade in a 3.5 gallon beverage dispenser, which I picked up from Costco. (I also used it at our seudah shlishit). I got disposable cups with lids at Costco and then bought some cute chevron paper straws (no longer available on Amazon, but they were 100 straws for $10. Yes, it was a total splurge, but I loved them and they were the theme “colors” of the weekend – gold and royal blue).
Cake – Oh how I loved this cake. It was just stunning, don’t you agree??? And even more so, it was delicious! (If you’re wondering why it says Royals, we’re huge fans.) The very talented Edible Art by Dina made our cake, which had 6 different flavors in it, including cookies and cream (OMG yum!), marble, and strawberry shortcake. I couldn’t take my eyes of the cake – but when we cut into it… wow! I have honestly never tasted a cake this good – and this one was pareve!!!!
We were able to “remove” the jersey and baseball cap from the bottom striped layer, which we cut to serve at the party. It was more than enough for our guests and we got to freeze the top layers – more yummies for us!
This incredible work of art – truly, it was a master piece – was only $150, plus Dina charged me $10 to deliver it. Considering how packed my car was when I drove to the ball park, paying her $10 was a no brainer. Plus, I didn’t have to have the stress of dropping or destroying it!
(PS I highly, highly recommend Dina to anyone looking for some stunning and delicious customized desserts – she does ship a number of her items, like cake pops and brownies, so even if you’re not from Cleveland, I’d check her out.)
Candy Table – As I mentioned in a previous post, I bought the candy (blue, gold & white to go with our theme colors) from Oh Nuts, using a credit that I had from the Purim contest. For the jars, I borrowed from friends and also picked up a few at Marc’s (for just $1.99 each!). Then I bought small scoops from Amazon and small tongs from Webstaurant Store. I found the gold chevron candy bags on Etsy, and also printed up labels for them, with my son’s “logo” (you can kind of see them in the picture, if you squint). For the logo, which was also featured on my son’s kippot, I turned to Fiverr. I sent them the Royals “KC” logo and asked them to create a logo with my son’s initials in the same “font”. I was super pleased with how it turned out, and even more so considering that it only cost me $5!
Serving areas – The suite has two counters, one of which we used for serving, and the other which we used for food prep (that was the frying station, for example). From home, I brought a folding card table, which we set up as the dessert table (we raised the cake by covering a plastic crate with a disposable table cloth), and a 6-foot folding table, which we used for the candy table.
Paper goods – As soon as we decided on a hot dog bar, I knew I wanted hot dog trays instead of plates. Etsy actually has a great selection, but the per unit price was so high. In the end, I got 250 of these 5-lb trays from the Webstaurant Store for just $17.99 — less than I would have paid for 50 of them from Esty. I also bought these gold napkins, which I used to “line” the trays before stacking them on the buffet. Then I bought these royal blue paper table cloths, which we used to cover the tables that we brought from home, along with gold dessert napkins and clear plastic dessert plates (purchased locally). We bought clear plastic silverware at Costco.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, doing a party like this yourself – especially “off site” – was a ton of work. I was lucky to have a lot of help from friends and family, and I was still completely exhausted by the time we got home on Sunday evening. I pretty much collapsed into bed. But, it was SO, SO WORTH IT! Both in terms of the money we saved and even more importantly, in terms of being able to create exactly the party we dreamed of for our son!
One of the best parts of having his party at the Captains game was how the whole organization really went above and beyond to make it special for my son – and all of our guests.
The game we selected was a bobble head giveaway game, so lots of our guests were able to get another fun “party favor”, too. (It was a James A. Garfield in a Captains baseball uniform, but my kids totally thought it was a Chassidic baseball player!)
There was a big screen TV in the suite (right over the buffet), where we screened a slide show I had prepared on a continual loop. It was so much fun seeing pictures of our son from birth until Bar Mitzvah. (You can glimpse the TV set-up in the buffet picture above.)
The Captains sent up two of their players to our suite before the game started – to meet our guests and sign more autographs! And then, during the game, the mascot came into our suite for some fun photo ops (picture above).
And finally – and perhaps coolest of all – was my son getting to throw out the first pitch! How awesome is that??!!
The Captain’s Assistant GM was beyond incredible to work with. Not only did she say, “Yes, of course!” to every request I had, she also personally helped us unload our cars and bring everything up to the suite (it took four trips with two dollies!). I really just can’t say enough about this organization specifically – and the idea of working with a minor league in general. It earned an A+ in my book!
Let’s talk money now. As I said above, we knew we wanted (and needed) to do this party on a budget! To figure out just what that budget was, we looked at our Bar Mitzvah savings account and decided that our target would be to spend no more than $2,000 on the event.
Fortunately, we were able to spend even less; we came in at just under $1,650 — thanks to a lot of frugality (and some sweat and tears).
Again, after the cost of the suite, we spent roughly $700 on food and drink, paper goods, and the cake. For our 57 guests, that worked out to be $12 per person, which is pretty darn awesome!
I’m very pleased with the cost and the finished “product” we were able to get for it. Most importantly, my son had an amazing time (he was grinning from ear to ear the whole afternoon) and I think our guests really enjoyed themselves, too.
Oh and P.S. The Captains won.
Disclosure: I have linked to products and companies that we used and liked for our party. With the exception of Amazon and Oh Nuts, I am not an affiliate of any of these companies, nor do I have any material gain from sharing these links with you. If you make a purchase from Amazon, I will receive a small commission for referring you. Learn more.