When it comes to holding part of a meeting or a conference at an off-site venue, many moving parts are involved that have to run smoothly together. Communication between the meeting planner, the event planner, the venue coordinator and the caterer are key so that attendees have the best experience.
Off-site events may make up only a portion of a conference, yet when they run smoothly, they can be some of the most memorable and enjoyable parts. Each of the major players has a role to play, but working together, they provide guests with something unforgettable and unique.
“It is a lot of coordination, and I would say communication is key 100% of the time,” said Jill Goldfine, partner at EventHouse Partners. “It’s important to have realistic expectations, and with timing, there’s sort of a sweet spot — you have to keep everything moving along because you don’t want to lose that momentum.”
Straight from those that keep things running along smoothly behind the scenes, here are the factors meeting planners should keep in mind from the perspectives of an event planner, a venue coordinator and a catering director.
Goldfine has more than 20 years’ experience in planning events of all sizes for a variety of industries at locations across the country. She works with planners to create events tailored to participants’ needs and does the heavy lifting by managing the logistics so everything goes smoothly.
“Venues vary so greatly, and so does my event checklist,” said Goldfine. “Everyone needs to have an itinerary for the event on a clipboard, ready to go with information for each checkpoint.”
Goldfine begins by developing a timeline within the client’s budget, including every detail for the event, like venue selection, food and beverage, and audiovisual coordination, even managing entertainment and attendee gifts or awards. And she manages the contracts, too.
It’s the variation that makes her role as event planner so important; her decades of experience have taught her to leave no detail unaccounted for. Working with an experienced event planner ensures that what the average person may overlook isn’t forgotten; for example, which entrance the hotel wants to use for getting large groups of people out to transportation or what the plan is for an outdoor event in the case of inclement weather.
“Coordination and communication are critical,” she said. “I go to the venue not just on a site visit when I’m booking it, but the day before or the day of as setup is going on. It’s really important to oversee the setup and make sure that it is how you arranged it and that nothing is lost in translation.”
April Anne Chase, venue director at Denver’s Stanley Marketplace, coordinates sales and marketing for her venue and also manages the logistics of events while they’re happening. The Stanley is a trendy warehouse-style space with food and retail vendors inside a former airplane hangar; it hosts private social events like birthdays, weddings and mitzvahs, as well as groups for corporate and nonprofit events.
“You have to plan on being dealt curveballs at every event,” said Chase. “You plan everything down to a tee and then give yourself a little breathing room, because you know something unexpected could happen and you want to have the time and the composure to be able to deal with it. Because if you’re already having an event that hasn’t been well executed and you’re trying to do things last-minute, that’s when things can really fall apart.”
An event should be on track no matter what unexpected things might pop up, if the venue coordinator has planned effectively. Now, that means adhering to new sanitation and security measures that are frequently changing.
“It’s a whole new landscape, and many of the things are very nuanced,” said Chase. “I’m almost feeling like an amateur and having to relearn everything, from the rules on spacing and dining to adding virtual components like Zoom to an event.”
Beyond knowing the venue and the basic components of an event, it’s important for a venue coordinator to stay educated and competitive by adding these new tools and having a backup plan in place for every scenario. It’s the venue coordinator’s responsibility to keep the event running like clockwork regardless of what happens, including the rare medical emergency. Planners should feel confident in handing over the reins to the venue to have a safe and secure event that meets local guidelines and runs as expected without major hiccups.
Dawn Williams, founder of VenuHub, has worked in the hospitality industry in some capacity since she was 15. In her 26 years of professional event-planning experience, this year has been one of the most challenging when it comes to safely feeding people at an event.
“We have had to pivot for every moving part,” said Williams. “We ask planners, ‘What did you hope your event would look like?’ [and] then give them options with current safety protocols and show them how it can look now.”
Everything has changed in the landscape of what the dining part of an event looks like, especially the style of service. Groups can no longer mingle with cocktails and passed appetizers or finger foods; rather, they need to stay in small groups at their tables with 10 or fewer and be masked whenever not seated. Instead of a bar where people can gather, a server may take orders and serve drinks. Self-serve buffets may now have staff serving portions and additional staff for cleanliness, or plated meals may be served at the table instead. Timing is also different, as things take longer with distancing and additional moving pieces behind the scenes.
“Social cues are different now. Where people used to arrive and get a drink, now they may have individually portioned, prewrapped appetizers; so people see those set up and understand what the expectations are,” said Williams.
When the planner is educated about the new safety and sanitation protocols, which often vary widely according to location, it helps the event run more smoothly. Caterers may rely on signage that reminds attendees of mask and distancing regulations or ask the party host, emcee or DJ to make announcements.
“Planners can still have an idea of how they envision an event, then trust the experts that are managing these protocols to give them advice on how to meet their expectations,” said Williams.