Full of colorful costumes, masquerade balls and parades, delicious foods, and spirited music and dancing, the carnival known as Mardi Gras – held on the day before Ash Wednesday every year – offers lots of fun for everyone. A Mardi Gras party is a great way to say goodbye to the winter blahs and at the same time raise funds for your organization.
As you begin to plan your event, decide how elaborate a party your organization wants (or is able) to hold. The time to delegate responsibilities for what can be a complex event is right at the start. You’ll need volunteers to oversee the following areas: decorating; entertainment; food and drink planning/prep, especially if alcohol will be served; donations and sponsorships; publicity; photographer (for next year’s publicity and event); and the event itself – before, during and after – for setup and takedown.
As the best-known Mardi Gras party is held in New Orleans, your menu would certainly be on the mark to include such classic regional foods as po’boys, jambalaya and crawfish in keeping with Big Easy culinary traditions. Keep in mind, however, that communities along the GulfCoast from Texas to Florida hold their own versions of Mardi Gras; so if crawfish aren’t locally available, you can still be true to the spirit of Mardi Gras by serving up surf and turf, shrimp cocktails or other dishes that include seafood. If a culinary school or college is nearby, ask them to volunteer their time in creating a menu.
To help simplify food prep and cleanup (and possibly comply with local codes), you’ll want to secure a venue that includes a kitchen. This would also enable your organization to hold Cajun cooking classes if desired. Potential places include churches, fire halls, restaurants, cafeterias or the meeting house of a civic organization such as the VFW or Lions Club. If you plan to serve alcohol (consider serving mint juleps, bloody marys and hurricanes), be sure that the venue allows it and then secure any necessary permits or licenses.
Decorate the venue with balloons in purple, gold and green, the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. Red light bulbs will add a note of mystery, particularly fun if your hold a masquerade ball or a costume contest during your event. Stock up on beads, which can be found online or in most costume shops, and hang them everywhere possible – including on guests! And don’t forget masks: whether feathered or as simple as the classic Comedy and Tragedy masks, they’ve become widely associated with the carnival.
Entertainment is key to recreating the joyful spirit of Mardi Gras. Look for a local band that plays zydeco or New Orleans-style jazz or, barring that, blues, bluegrass and/or country. If such a band can’t be found in your area, hire a DJ to play these styles of music. Be sure your venue offers enough room for a live band or a DJ booth before making a commitment.
Find a local celebrity emcee – TV and radio personalities and civic leaders are prime candidates -to host the event. An emcee can keep the celebration lively and moving while playfully reminding your guests about the charity.
Admission tickets should not be overlooked. Mardi Gras is a feast for the senses, and your tickets can (and should) reflect the spirit of fun and revelry with whimsical artwork. Use sequentially numbered tickets not only to help you keep track of how many guests attend, but also to help make it simple to hold a silent auction or raffle during your event. Be sure to offer an exciting grand prize – a trip to New Orleans would be perfect, for example, or dinner at a Cajun restaurant. You could even auction off the title of “Mardi Gras King” (have a robe and scepter ready!) and offer him a small prize or give him the honor of announcing the auction or raffle winners.
Sponsorships are an important part of making the magic happen. You may find that local businesses are willing to sponsor a table or help underwrite your expenses and donate items for a raffle drawing, silent auction or costume contest in exchange for recognition of their generosity.
Download the Mardi Gras Dinner Dance template today and have fun and enjoy a successful Mardi Gras fundraiser!