February 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions - Show Your Stripes - February 2002 Current Issue
February 2002

Show Your Stripes

How to plan a patriotic meeting

By Lisa Grimaldi

  People are proud to be American again, for the first time in a long time,” says Dana Smith, the Washington, D.C.-based director of national incentive accounts for USA Hosts, a large destination management firm. And patriotic themes, out of style for the past decade, are once again red-hot. Looking to add some Americana to a meeting or event? Following are suggestions.

Patriotic kickoffs
Chris Ottway, director of catering at the Washington, D.C.-based Marriott Wardman Park, suggests adding a flag-raising ceremony to the opening event. “Color guards from local schools, youth groups, civic associations or military branches march in and make a presentation of the American flag to the organization’s president or another VIP, who then leads the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and/or the singing of the national anthem,” he says.

" USA Hosts’ Dana Smith likes to use military-style bands to play the anthem and John Philip Sousa marches for opening sessions.

" Linda Simon, executive vice president of Best of Boston, a Waltham, Mass.-based DMC, suggests hiring a fife-and-drums corps to add a stirring Early American touch to an opening ceremony.

" For an all-out, heart-thumping opener, hire a well-known entertainer to sing the national anthem and other patriotic tunes such as “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.” Nancy Ames, a partner in the Houston-based production firm Ames and Ward, had country singer Lee Greenwood do just that to kick off an event she recently coordinated for the PGA.

" Groups on tight budgets can work with local school or church choirs.

Spirited decor
Adding a bit of red, white and blue to a room will give any reception or dinner a patriotic flair. Decorate the meeting room or stage with a large American flag or a series of smaller flags; they’re one of the simplest yet most effective ways to set the mood, says Madelyn Marusa, vice president for industry relations at San Diego-based destination management company PRA. Flags and stands can be purchased or rented from local firms (at press time, event planners reported that most flag companies were well-stocked; immediately after Sept. 11, many suppliers were sold out). One source, the Zaricor Flag Trust (831-423-7913;, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has a vast collection of antique and contemporary versions of Old Glory available for rental. Other ideas:

" Dress up the stage with the Stars and Stripes. Concept Design Productions Inc., a Monrovia, Calif.-based firm, creates customized patriotic-themed stage sets.

" Alter white lights with red and blue gels; to really get fancy, add white star gobos over the blue areas.

" Use red, white and blue balloons to make columns throughout the room and to create archways over the doors.

" Get the ceiling into shape by festooning it with red, white and blue fabric “twisters.”


A capital theme
It’s hard to find a place more American in look and spirit than Washington, D.C. Even if the event is taking place elsewhere, the capital city’s highlights can be replicated for a “West Wing”-themed function by local DMCs such as USA Hosts and TCI Companies. Both firms provide 3-D replicas or flat backdrops of the White House, the Capitol building, and the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington memorials. all of which can be strategically placed around a replica of the Mall.

" To give the event added zest, or perhaps to help honor a company’s chief executive, hang presidential seals around the room and hire look-alikes to impersonate presidents Bush, Carter or Clinton, perhaps along with their respective First Ladies, suggests Andrea Michaels, president of Los Angeles-based Extraordinary Events. Other patriotic figures you might want to invite include Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty.

" PRA organizes a nostalgic reception called Main Street USA. The event, steeped in Americana, features different party areas designed à la Norman Rockwell to resemble typical 1940s-1950s small-town institutions (a post office, a gas station, an ice cream parlor, etc.) set up along a fabricated “street.”

" World War II-style theme parties, such as Stage Door Canteen or Pearl Harbor, are also back in style. These events feature lots of swing music, military tunes of the time, and the chance for attendees to deck themselves out like Veronica Lake, the Andrews Sisters or John Wayne.

Home cooking
Event planners recommend a Taste of America menu for patriotic receptions and theme parties, with food stations featuring regional goodies such as Southern crab cakes, New York deli, California sushi, etc. Domestic beers and wines complete the picture.

" For outdoor events, nothing says “America” as much as a barbecue or picnic. TCI recently arranged a star-spangled celebration for 900 National Spelling Bee participants and their families at the historic Gunston Hall Plantation, James Madison’s former Mason Neck, Va., home. “The guests disembarked the buses between columns of fife-and-drum corps playing patriotic tunes,” says TCI’s Brian Losurdo. Following tours of the working plantation, the guests chowed down on hearty American treats such as grilled chicken and ribs, baked beans and apple pie; the evening ended with sack races and square dancing.

" John Daly, president of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based event planning firm John Daly Inc., threw a patriotic-themed picnic for 250 recently. “All the guests wore red, white and blue,” he says. “For entertainment, a brass band played lots of old-fashioned American tunes, followed by a bluegrass band later in the evening.” The fare, dished out by waiters clad in overalls, was quintessential Yankee-Doodle: hot dogs, hamburgers, corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and ice cream. “And we only served one kind of beer: Budweiser,” adds Daly. A patriotic fireworks display capped the evening.

Going formal
Even formal events are being given a nationalistic flair. And the pros are being creative about how they are incorporating red, white and blue and Americana into their seated dinners.

" Brian Losurdo of TCI recently arranged an event at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. “We used cherry-red tablecloths with a brass laurel design; the white came from the napkins, plates and centerpieces (lilies); the blue came from the cobalt blue stemware,” he says. The function space was further themed with large American flags draped between the columns and a ceiling emblazoned with white star gobos. The entertainment: a bugle corps and a Dixieland jazz band.

" Stars-and-stripes linens are a favorite of USA Host’s Dana Smith. The theme is carried out in red chairs with blue cushions and blue tablecloths set with simple centerpieces of red roses.

" Best of Boston’s Linda Simon recommends red, white and blue liquid lamé tablecloths for their elegant luster. “The only decoration they need is a large white ribbon ‘X’ over the cloth, which can be emblazoned with gold stars or the organization’s logo,” she says. Another decor scheme Simon likes to use starts with blue undercloths, topped with netting filled with stars. A perfect touch of red comes from a beautiful centerpiece of roses.

" The Marriott Wardman Park’s Chris Ottway jazzes up red, white and blue linens and tablecloths with ice sculptures of the American flag.

" Simon insists the food should match the theme. For a recent American-themed formal dinner she organized for a cosmetics firm, the menu was a cold New England lobster salad appetizer, followed by rack of Colorado lamb and finished with dessert of chocolate mousse.

" Any dessert can be Yankee-Doodled by the addition of a chocolate disk decorated with an American flag, suggests Ottway. “Our specialty is a chocolate bombe, set on a plate ‘painted’ with red and blue coulis,” he says.

" Entertainment can go beyond the traditional tunes and anthems, says Simon. “A lot of different types of music works blues, jazz, folk, swing, Broadway tunes,” she says, listing the indigenous varieties from America’s songbook.

Wrapping it up
Almost anything with flag or red, white and blue motif will make a fitting gift. A few standout pillow gifts or favors:

" Astor Chocolate Corp., in Lakewood, N.J., sells boxes and tins of chocolate icons, including the Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty and The Capitol building. Retail price is $8.99 per box of 13; (732) 901-1000;

" Flag-adorned clothing is now widely available. Lands End Corporate Sales will add a discreet flag, along with a logo or company name, to a number of its high-quality items. (800) 338-2000;

" Why not recognize two types of heroes the company’s and those of the valiant members of the Fire Department of the City of New York. Proceeds from T-shirts ($20) and zip-neck sweatshirts ($50) featuring the F.D.N.Y.’s official insignia benefit the F.D.N.Y. Fire Safety Education Fund. (212) 698-4520;

" Perfect for award winners: Waterford makes fine crystal replicas of that bastion of U.S. government, the Capitol building, in two forms a biscuit jar ($425) and a paperweight ($100). Crystal Showroom of Beverly Hills, Calif., is among a number of retailers that carry the items. (888)799-2001;

Team-building exercises can effectively complement a patriotic-themed meeting or incentive program, says Madelyn Marusa, vice president, industry relations, for San Diego-based destination management firm PRA. She suggests the following activities.

A car rally over scenic roads, with participants driving American cars

Boot camp-style ropes courses

Keep America Beautiful projects, with groups cleaning up a beach or national park

• L.G.


The following venues serve as natural settings for patriotic-themed meetings and special events.

The Alamo
San Antonio
(210) 225-1391

This Texas landmark was valiantly defended by 189 patriots (including Davy Crockett), who ultimately fell to Mexican General Santa Anna’s army. Events can be staged in the Cavalry Courtyard or Alamo Hall. Groups of up to 500 are hosted for receptions.

Carpenters’ Hall
(215) 925-0167

This historic venue in the City of Brotherly Love, built and owned by the oldest trade guild in America, housed the first Continental Congress in 1774. Today, groups of up to 125 are accommodated for receptions; for seated dinners, the capacity is 90.

Colonial Williamsburg
Williamsburg, Va.
(757) 220-7465

Functions can be held in several areas of this living history museum. Among the most popular: Governor’s Palace (hosting 70 for banquets), Palace Greens and the Capitol (each holds 200 for receptions). Hire actors to portray George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other historic figures.

Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum
New York City
(212) 265-6065

The former Navy aircraft carrier, in its dramatic perch on the Hudson River, hosts outdoor receptions for up to 2,500 on the flight deck; the Technologies Hall holds 1,200 for receptions and 800 for banquets.

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
San Diego
(858) 577-6479

Events can be staged at several areas on this active base, including working hangars (for dinners of 300 to 3,000) and the Officer’s Club (for 250). Guests can observe the comings and goings of the aircraft and take pilot-escorted tours of the facilities.

National Museum of American History
Washington, D.C.
(202) 357-2284

Among the jewels of Americana on display at this Smithsonian Institution museum: the flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The American Presidency” exhibition. Receptions for up to 1,200 and seated functions for 300 are accommodated.

Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(407) 828-3200

By now, Disney and America are nearly synonymous. Two venues at Disney’s Lake Buena Vista resort are natural backdrops for patriotic events: EPCOT’s American Adventures Pavilion, which holds up to 700 for receptions and 550 for seated dinners, and the Hall of Presidents in The Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square, where up to 50 are hosted for banquets. Up to 300 can dine under the stately old Liberty Tree.


It’s hard to top a former president of the United States as a keynoter for a star-spangled meeting. Former Oval Office occupants Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford are on the speakers circuit and available for group events; all are represented by the Harry Walker Agency in New York City (646-227-4900;

For some current events and political perspective, the Harry Walker Agency also reps name Beltway insiders, such as husband-and-wife journalists Cokie and Steve Roberts.

imageAnother impressive star just hit the speaker circuit: New York City’s former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, is represented by the Alexandria, Va.-based Washington Speakers Bureau (703-684-0555;

Among others on the patriotic circuit who are represented by the Washington Speakers Bureau:

" Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor
" William S. Cohen, former Secretary of Defense
" Bernard Kerik, former commissioner of the New York City Police Department
" General Barry McCaffrey, recipient of three Purple Hearts
" Scott O’Grady, the Air Force fighter pilot who was shot down over Bosnia
" Thomas Von Essen, former commissioner of the New York City Fire Department.

• L.G.

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