People spending up to $700 on just decorations and cake for parties during Covid-19

People are splashing out on party decor and props, not food, to mark milestones

Ms Angeline Yang celebrated two of her sons’ birthdays by engaging Dreams & Doodle to set up a camping-themed party for all her children. The party set-up consisted of five child-size teepees in the living room, fairy lights on the ceiling and other props. PHOTO: ANGELINE YANG
Ms Nurhazirah Mohamed Adenan hired event planner Zeppelin Events to prepare a romantic set-up at Dusk Restaurant & Bar in Mount Faber to celebrate the 25th birthday of her fiance, Mr Mohamed Faris Mohamed Daud (both above). PHOTO: NURHAZIRAH MOHAMED ADENAN
Mr Adrian Goh and Ms Kiki Chen (above, with their daughter) bought party decorations online, set up a party backdrop and put together a dessert table for their daughter’s first birthday bash at home. PHOTO: ADRIAN GOH

In August, Ms Nurhazirah Mohamed Adenan hired event planner Zeppelin Events to throw a surprise party for her fiance's 25th birthday at Dusk Restaurant & Bar in Mount Faber.

The 23-year-old nurse paid $380 for a party package that included a food platter, electronic candles, flowers, romantic styling for the dinner table - complete with a customised backdrop of fairy lights set against the picturesque view from Faber Peak.

It was just the couple celebrating on their own this year due to safe distancing measures, but Ms Nurhazirah, who saved for the occasion, did not feel the need to scale back.

"Birthdays are always special to us, but it feels even more meaningful to celebrate a loved one's birthday during the pandemic," she says.

Despite social gatherings being limited to five and a general downward trend in business, party planners tell The Sunday Times that people are still splashing out on celebrations.

They are also spending more on more elaborate party set-ups such as styled dessert tables and fancy backdrops, and less on food.

Pre-Covid-19, they say, most clients who requested party decorations and backdrops had 50 guests or more.

Co-owner of Zeppelin Events Zach Chua, 26, was surprised when he received inquiries during phase two for set-ups for parties with fewer than five guests.

He notes that clients are also allocating more of their budget to nonedibles such as decorations, balloons and flowers, and less on food since there are fewer guests to feed.

"Now, the focus is on creating the perfect party backdrop for photo opportunities, so people can post pictures on social media."

Ms Chloe Xie, 33, and Ms Li Hui, 37, who own Party Master Entertainment, which provides party backdrops and customised cakes, have also observed this trend.

Instead of multi-tiered cakes weighing between 3kg and 4kg, they now go for 1kg single-tier cakes which are priced from $120.

Before the pandemic, their clients forked out an average of $3,000 for a party of between 30 and 150 guests. Now, that figure is $700 for party decorations and cake - even for parties without guests.

Business picked up last month, especially for birthday parties.

Ms Xie says: "Throwing a party during the pandemic makes people happy. For parents especially, celebrating their children's birthdays and seeing their happy faces are priceless."

Ms Rubina Tiyu, 37, owner of Dreams & Doodle, says that pre- Covid-19, her clients typically paid $1,500 to $2,000 for 50 to 100 guests. In phase two, they are spending $300 to $1,200 on set-ups for parties of no more than five.

She says: "The mindset is, how can we bring some joy to our lives in the midst of this pandemic? Any happy occasion is worth celebrating."

She notes that parties, such as the first-month or 100-day celebrations for babies, may become more important for parents as their friends and extended family members may not even have seen the baby.

Mr Adrian Goh, 38, who runs an online sake shop, and his Taiwanese wife, Ms Kiki Chen, 32, had originally planned a party for 100 guests at HortPark for their daughter's first birthday on Sept 19, which was later scuppered with the social gathering limits.

Ms Chen's parents in Taiwan have never seen their granddaughter in person. The couple had cancelled their trip to Taiwan in March due to the coronavirus.

For their daughter's birthday last month, they spent close to $100 on party decorations and props, which they bought online, and another $300 on two customised cakes and 40 frosted cupcakes for the dessert table which they styled themselves.

Although they did not have enough guests to finish the cakes, Ms Chen wanted them as party props.

Their guests did not stay long, popping by mainly to see the baby and for photos.

"Putting together the party backdrop for my daughter means a lot to me, as we want to show her the photos when she is older," Ms Chen, a shipping officer, says.

"We want her to know that even during a pandemic, her parents still made the effort to make her first birthday a special one."

Another parent who went the extra mile is Ms Joanne Sim, who threw a virtual mermaid-themed party for her daughter's sixth birthday in June.

The 43-year-old director of a retail and distribution company invited eight of her daughter's friends to attend the party via Zoom and engaged entertainment company Ever After for about $200.

An entertainer dressed as a mermaid princess delighted the children with story-telling, singing and a scavenger hunt.

Ms Sim says: "My daughter goes to Primary 1 next year. She has missed out on family vacations and her kindergarten graduation concert this year, so I wanted to do something special for her."

Ms Brie Benfell, 32, who set up Ever After in 2017, came up with virtual party packages during the circuit breaker. Between April and June, she had about 20 clients a month. She raised her prices in June from $250 to $300 for a one-hour session.

But in the two months before, the new mother, who gave birth in June, says she did several short Zoom calls for children whose parents could not afford her charges.

"I wanted to bring some smiles to families during this stressful time."

Ms Alicia Lye, 30, owner of Happier Singapore, which specialises in party decorations and entertainment, says decorations and props make those who see them happy - even if they did not attend the party.

"On social media, photos of parties may motivate even strangers to wish you well and generate conversations. Even if you can't have many guests at your party, posting photos of it online is one way of sharing your happiness with friends."

One upside to small-scale birthday parties, she adds, is that parents can spend more time with their children instead of entertaining guests.

Mother of five Angeline Yang, 30, celebrated her and two of her sons' birthdays last month by engaging Dreams & Doodle to put together a camping-themed party. Her children are aged two to eight.

Due to the pandemic, she decided not to have any guests. She paid about $1,000 for the set-up, which included fairy lights on the ceiling, five child-size teepees and props.

Ms Yang, a zumba trainer, says: "It has been hard for my boys to not be able to go out and meet their friends and be constantly nagged at to wash their hands."

"For the first time during the pandemic, my sons did not fight. Everyone was in a good mood and we had a nice time camping in the living room," she says.

"Even after the teepees were removed, the kids continued to 'camp' in the living room for two more days. They also talked about the party for the rest of the week."

Ms Xie of Party Master Entertainment says: "To some people, celebrating a birthday with elaborate party decorations may seem ostentatious and a waste of money. But another way of looking at it is that it is important to live in the present, cherish your loved ones and enjoy a 'pandemic-free zone', even if it is only for a few hours."

That was Ms Nurhazirah's mindset when she threw the party for her fiance, Mr Mohamed Faris Mohamed Daud, a civil servant.

Since getting engaged in February, they have not spent much time together because of hectic work schedules.

Ms Nurhazirah says: "Celebrating happy occasions in an extra special way is not about showing off, but an expression of how much we cherish our loved ones and creating happy memories even during stressful times."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2020, with the headline People spending up to $700 on just decorations and cake for parties during Covid-19. Subscribe