BOSTON — Organizing a fund-raiser at which fortune-tellers hired for the evening unfortunately inform elderly guests that heart trouble is in their future isn’t a party planner’s dream. But Bryan Rafanelli, the man who keeps Boston’s social scene swirling, handles such mishaps with aplomb.
He still chuckles as he ruefully recalls a wedding cake fiasco, where he had waiters lined up in a ballroom, ready to make a grand gesture of delivering individual cakes to tables. Instead of hoisting trays to their shoulders as choreographed, the first five waiters accidentally tossed the cakes over their shoulders, one after the other, chorus-line style. He can still hear the plop of cake hitting carpet.
But those rare incidents have become the great stories that punctuate a rising career and lend a disarming humility to someone routinely dubbed by local media as “Boston’s party-planning prince.”
Rafanelli has built his reputation on innovative locations (for example, hosting a candlelit dinner for a dozen on second base at Fenway Park) along with unexpected details (for a gala with an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, he created playing card centerpieces out of red, white, yellow and black roses).
He also excels at translating a client’s personality into food, music and decor. For the 40th birthday bash of a Boston technocrat, he sent out a Viewfinder with a custom picture card (complete with a bouffant-haired shot of the birthday boy from his frat days) as the invitation.
He has the same Midas touch when it comes to posh fund-raisers. Boston’s Storybook Ball each October, which he produces, has become one of the hottest tickets in town, raising $8 million in six years for Massachusetts General Hospital’s pediatric wing.
These days, Rafanelli powers up on protein shakes as he jets between Aspen, Colo., New York and Palm Beach, Fla., where he has a satellite office to handle the winter charity gala season.
But Boston remains home, for him and his ardently loyal fans. Recently, some Bean town fans bid $100,000 at the Storybook Ball’s charity auction to have Rafanelli organize a party for them. Presumably a fortuneteller, won’t be part of the package.
Rafanelli’s Party tips:
- Do a reverse toast. At his birthday party, he invited a few close friends and went around the table, toasting each guest and saying why each was special to him.
- Think big. “People get obsessed with little things like the place card table, but what people really see are the bolder statements in the room.” He’s done 25-foot Buddhas and motorized top hats the size of small trucks.
- Don’t use generic party favors. “No Jordan almonds unless you own the Jordan almond company or something.”