There are two types of venues one needs to consider when planning an event – those that have their own furniture, equipment and food service, and those that don’t. Warehouses, museums and public lobbies can create fascinating event spaces, but can
cause you to spend a fortune in rental equipment. Most meeting facilities have their own chairs and standard banquet tables. Also remember that unless a facility offers on-site food service, flatware, glassware and china are not usually included. If the facility has an exclusive or preferred caterer, typically they will assist you with the appropriate place settings or disposables. Some facilities also have exclusive contracts with rental companies, so be sure to ask if you have the option of bringing in what you want from whomever you want. To understand the bare necessities, break the event down by its natural progression.
Guests arrive. Where do they park? Is valet service included or do guests self-park? Does the facility own the lot or garage, does it rent the lot or is it public parking? Are you going to pre-pay for your guests’ parking validation or are guests expected to pay? Is parking far away or nearby? Is it cleared of ice and snow in the winter? Is there a parking attendant? What will you do if it pours down rain? Does the garage or lot provide visible signage with directions? Although most meetings have local attendees, individuals are often clueless when it comes to parking. If valet parking is available, are you pre-paying the tip or can guests tip as they please? Remember, most valet, coat check, door and washroom attendants depend upon tips to make their living. If your client does not want guests to tip, bring cash and take care of it on-site. There is no “we will take care of it later.” E-mail specific directions and include a map to eliminate late arrivals and the “I didn’t know where to go” syndrome. Use the terms left and right as often as possible and north, south, east and west as little as possible. Don’t let parking become an issue – it can sour the whole day!
Is a coat room provided? Are only racks and hangers provided, or is there an attendant as well? If your client wants a coat check attendant, can the facility provide staff for this job? Again, decide how this person will be tipped. Is the coat room adequate for the number of coats arriving? Will you need to pipe and drape a larger space for coat check? Who will rent the needed equipment and when can it be delivered? For evening functions, heavy jackets and furs take up much more room than usual. Count on needing more than one and a half the normal amount of coat space for a black-tie gala, or a social dinner on a cold winter night. And remember that traditional wire hangers will not support the weight of a heavy coat or fur. It’s like Joan Crawford was so fond of saying, “NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!”
SIGNAGE AND REGISTRATION
Does the facility have adequate signage from parking to the building? Will the staff post signs or set up easels listing what functions are going on in which rooms? If you have to create signs, does the facility have easels? Will you need to rent them? Are you allowed to post signs in hallways? Few facilities will allow you to tape anything to walls or doors – don’t look foolish and attempt it. Does the venue have a front desk, guest service attendant or lobby attendant to help direct guests? Are clothed registration tables included or do you need to rent them? Are there chairs for the staff at registration? Is the linen or skirting floor length on the tables so you can place boxes and needed items underneath? Make sure that your registration tables are not located in the path of cold drafts from open doors or next to glass windows in the hot sun. Also, don’t block stairs or fire exits.
Are there bathrooms? How close are they to your meeting space? Is there directional signage leading to them? Are they capable of handling the size of your crowd? Are there attendants or staff who check and restock them throughout the event? Are they clean? Check and see if they are stocked with liquid soap, paper towels and toilet paper. For high-end events, are you allowed to put mints and toiletries on the counter? Are flowers permitted on the vanity? One thing to avoid is putting anything organic or decorative on counters that can stain the countertop. Rose petals sound romantic slathered on the vanity at a wedding. However, water and rose petals can easily stain a porous counter-top and you will be responsible for repairing or replacing it. Any items you place in the bathroom should be functional and on a tray with an appropriately sized floral arrangement on the vanity. You do not want to deal with broken glass or an injured guest. If there is a washroom attendant, decide how the person will be tipped. Also, be sure to thank him or her at the end of the night, as it is often a thankless job. If you are planning an outside event, are there bathrooms located on the property? How far away are they? Are portable restrooms provided or do you need to rent them? Where are you allowed to put them? Who is going to stock them and monitor their cleanliness? What about hand washing? Do you need to rent a station? Can you use antibacterial hand wipes? What will these be placed on? Ask the property managers what vendors they have used before with successful results. Nothing is more of a turnoff than long lines and dirty restrooms with no toilet paper or hand towels! Dirty restrooms are a liability and a poor reflection upon you and your event.
TABLES, CHAIRS AND A/V
Simply, if you want to conserve money, use what the facility owns. By being creative, you can create a functional and attractive event for your guests. Ask yourself, “What are the bare necessities needed to make this event a success?” You will either be amazed at how well the standard basics fill the bill, or you will be horrified at how much you have to rent! Basic 6 or 8 foot tables can be used to create a variety of configurations. A simple overlay with a 10- to 12-inch drop will often be sufficient. What type of chairs does the venue have? Be sure to sit in them and make sure they are comfortable. Are there enough? If you have to rent or supplement furniture, are you responsible for placing the order or is the venue? Are linens, cloth napkins and skirting included? What size and color choices are there? If there is bar service, are paper cocktail napkins provided? If you rent equipment, when can it be delivered and picked up? Will the venue be open and will there be someone to sign for your rentals? How soon will your event be set up and when can you start bringing in your materials? Are there restrictions regarding candles and centerpieces? Where does the florist unload? Note that most facilities no longer allow glitter, confetti or loose rose petals to be used on tables as they damage the linens and carpet.
For audio-visual needs, my best advice is to develop a relationship with an A/V company and use it consistently. Know the staff by name, have their cell phone numbers on hand and get to the point of relying on their outstanding service. Be sure you are allowed to use the A/V company of your choice at the selected venue. Know which manager will be there during setup in case A/V staffers have questions. Find out if they need to break down immediately after the event or if can they strike the next day. If you have technical support during your event, plan on providing meals for the A/V staff.
If the facility owns its own equipment, give your point person a detailed list of everything you plan on doing and providing. If you are bringing in a speaker who claims to have his or her own equipment, make sure it is compatible with the venue – always do a test run! We live in a generation of personal computers. If you are using your own laptop, you must bring the right cables to plug in to the facility’s projector. Don’t expect the venue to have them on hand. Do you need a screen, microphone, podium, speakers, mixer, DVD player or projector? Is there an A/V cart or table for those items to sit on? Audio-visual can be very stressful for the amateur event planner – know your stuff.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
NO ALCOHOL ON AN EMPTY TUMMY! There must be a balance between the two. Heavy Hunger + Light On Liquor = Responsible Guest. What type of food and beverage service will you need for your event – heavy hors d’oeuvres or 3-course plated meals? Does the facility have an on-site or exclusive caterer? Does it have a preferred caterer list? Does the facility require a percentage of food and beverage brought in? Is there a clean kitchen or prep area with a sink? Is there a refrigerator or ice machines, and what is the capacity? For in-house food service, be sure to discuss all of the menu options. For outside food and beverage service, be sure to find out where they unload and prep. Are there work tables for culinary preparation? Do food and beverages need to be in a separate area or in the same room as your meeting? Be sure to consider whether this will disrupt your event and become more inconvenient than convenient. Does the facility own china, flatware and glassware? If so, is there a fee for its use? Can your outside caterer take care of the rentals and simply add that to the bill? Does the company provide disposable serving ware? Is there an adequate number of trash cans? Where is trash disposed? Are there recycling bins? The entire staff of Steven Becker Fine Dining with our in-house catering department can be very helpful in making the appropriate culinary selections and setting up your food and beverage attractively. Allow our expertise to make your job a lot easier and make sure you have the items secured to have a stellar event!
Rob’s Do or Die Documentation
Make sure you obtain the following BEFORE your event (when applicable):
• Food Permit
• Liquor Permit
• Sound Permit
• Sanitation Permit
• Signed Security Agreement
• Signed Parking Agreement
• Signed Facility Rental Agreement
• Signed Catering Agreement
Venue Guy and St. Louis Wedding Professional Hall of Fame Inaugural Inductee