Entertain at Home with My Resident Expert, Debra Morris
If this past year has taught us anything, it’s the importance of connection and togetherness. And a wonderful event has the power to create joy and memories. I’m certainly ready for a great party with friends and loved-ones, and I bet most of you are, too! Luckily, events and gatherings are on the horizon once again, so it seems appropriate to introduce my friend and colleague Debra Morris, Resident Expert in Entertaining at Home.
Debra has seen (and planned!) it all—intimate weddings, graduation dinners, bar mitzvahs, you name it. She’s one of Manhattan’s premier event planners, the founder and creative director of the award-winning event company Eventsful Inc. where she creates bespoke events for clients in New York and around the world. She has a particular flair for fabulous events, and her touch of drama and attention to detail make her an exceptional Resident Expert in Entertaining at Home. Join in our exciting conversation below! We discuss Debra's fascinating career and her love of events, and she even shares some useful tips and tricks to make every event an experience.
JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME
Robin: Hi Debra! So nice of you to join me.
Debra: My pleasure, Robin!
Robin: So what sparked your interest in event planning?
Debra: I was a theater major at New York University, so I started out as an actress. I had assumed that it was what my life was going to be. Naturally I worked as a waitress to earn money when I was in school. I loved the food and beverage industry, and I was always a foodie....it was just a passion, and never imagined that it would become a lifelong career. But believe it or not, my waitressing job led me into event planning.
Robin: I love that! Can you tell us more about that?
Debra: Definitely! I am a people person, and I actually loved waitressing and bartending, which isn’t always the case. I remember one night while I was waiting tables, two men came into the restaurant and left me $200 for a $35 check. I approached them, and discovered it was not a mistake. They were opening a restaurant on top of the World Trade Center, and felt that I had what they were looking for in a team member. They hadn’t figured out where exactly I would fit, but they were sure they wanted to work with me. I wasn’t entirely certain what I wanted for a career at that point, but something told me this was worth considering.
It turned out that the restaurant was Windows on the World. They offered me a 6-month paid internship and the opportunity to travel around the world to receive restaurant training. In terms of what my eventual job would be, dealing with clients and customers was a given, they said, because that’s what my personality was suited for.
Robin: You know, I love how sometimes the right opportunities just find us! How did this one turn into the career of a lifetime?
Debra: Over the course of the internship, I trained at the Hilton in Toronto, where I worked in every single department and learned everything there is to know about restaurant operations. I spent time in the kitchen, stewarding, the wine cellar...you name it! Back in New York, I worked in Human Resources for a bit to understand how to manage employees internally. Gradually I worked my way up the ladder and became the Assistant Director of Catering — and that’s where I found my true fit. I took my theatre background and applied it into a multi-million dollar operation. This creative approach doubled the turnout for the restaurant. I remember the first time I did a themed party, it was called “The Streets of New York.” It was wildly successful so I just kept going from there. I experimented with bringing a movie set to an event, and became known for doing over-the-top things to make events extra special. After leaving Windows on the World, I worked at a hotel for a few years and discovered the differences between restaurant and hotel operations.
Robin: What inspired you to start your company, Eventsful?
Debra: After working for several years in hospitality I felt compelled to do something on my own—my mother also really encouraged me, which meant a lot. I wound up in Holland studying floral arrangements, partially because I never had direct experience with that back home. And because I was in Europe I took the opportunity to learn about wine and food pairings in Burgundy. When I returned, my previous clients started to contact me about their own events. They wouldn’t take no for an answer! So of course I said “yes”...and guess what—28 years later, I’m still doing it! So that’s how Eventsful was born. We were one of the first companies to take full control of our clients’ events and eliminate third-party vendors. We plan entire events from start to finish, and make sure people have a phenomenal time.
WHAT IT TAKES
Robin: I’d love to know what it took for you to become an expert.
Debra: Practice, practice and more practice! Troubleshooting is a big part of it. Being ahead of the game is critical. To my team and clients I’m known as “The Fixer.” I’ll give you an example: one cold winter a client was hosting an event and the heating in the venue went out. As terrible as it seemed, I stepped in to concoct the best solution while keeping my client stress-free. We secured a place to hold a cocktail reception nearby—and brought in red carpets, golf carts, heaters, and a full team!
Best of all, the clients had no idea! The issue was completely resolved in a few hours, and after the event was over my clients were amazed by how I was able to manage it all. Troubleshooting, I think, is what taught me that when something unexpected occurs, my creative energy starts to flow. I just naturally step in to somehow rebuild—fix—the situation. I also think it’s important to learn something new every day, and that is what makes me good at my job. I pay attention, I listen...and most importantly, I try to have fun.
Robin: Who are some of your clients? How do they find you?
Debra: I have been very lucky over the years in terms of clients. I have never had to go out and shop for business — my clients usually come to me. It has always been from word of mouth, and many of our clients have been guests at one of my other events. Most of them approach me because they were extremely happy with the event they were attending.
My business has also become generational… this is going to make me feel old, but I am now throwing bar and bat mitzvahs for children whose parents’ wedding I planned years ago. Fifteen-twenty years later, they come back to me. It is the most special feeling. It’s almost as if I have become a part of their family.
Robin: That’s all so inspiring. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience, Debra!
Debra: It’s my pleasure, Robin.
SOME OF DEBRA’S FAVORITES
Debra’s journey is incredible and dynamic. I just love her passion for creating special moments and for tackling challenges as they come. If you were fascinated by Debra’s story and her work, keep an eye out for our next conversation in our Resident Expert series. You’ll learn more about how she brings an element of delight to her events and how she connects on a personal, meaningful level with her clients.
Entertaining is a fabulous, tried-and-true way to share your home with family and friends. Hosting in particular gives a sense of your unique design style and personality to you guests. Like Debra mentioned, it helps to pay special attention to details—ambiance, table setting, lighting, even the right music, anything and everything that adds to the mood of your event. Keeping an eye out for the little things that make a moment special, and having the confidence to troubleshoot will guarantee a gracious time for everyone. Of course, the best way to practice entertaining is to entertain!
P.S. Outdoor events have had quite the renaissance this past year. Now that the weather’s getting nicer, you may want to take a look at our Outdoor Collection to find special pieces for your next event. We’ve just launched this portion of our site, and it features some gorgeous and fabulous pieces. So go ahead—start planning your spring fete to celebrate sunny days ahead.