September 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio September 2002 Current Issue
September 2002 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Mark L. Barry


It takes some legwork, but private clubs can be the perfect backdrop for an impressive event

I remember the first private club I “peeked” my way into. Walking along Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I noticed some chandeliers in a high-ceilinged room on the second floor of a brownstone.

It didn’t look like a residence, but there was no signage to identify the premises. So, I knocked on the door. After speaking with a doorman for a few minutes, the manager appeared to answer my questions and give me a tour of the building. I was invited to call anytime if I wanted to book an event.

I have found many other unknown meeting spots in similar ways. Clubs and private homes, in particular, welcome groups into a special environment not accessible to the public, giving attendees a sense of privilege.

Use your sleuthing skills to search out little-known event spaces. Some tactics:

• Ask the grads. Most universities have alumni clubs available to members. Find out if your alma mater has one. Ask co-workers and friends if they know any graduates of ivy-league schools who can open a door. You might need a member to “sponsor” your group.

• Go to the top. Joining a prestigious local club is one way executives network or relax. Someone on the top rung of your organization or a member of your board might belong to a club or know someone who does. If appropriate, you might find out if an attendee to your event belongs to a club and would like to host a dinner or meeting. Many clubs don’t require the member to be in attendance.

• Consider museums. Many count on corporate donations to fill out their annual budgets. Has your company donated to an institution, allowing you access to its facilities? Most museums offer a sliding benefit scale, depending on the donated amount, ranging from free admission for employees to free rental for several private events per donation year.

• Take a blind shot. Pick up the phone to find out if a club or private venue rents its space. Remember, these venues are looking to make revenue, too. Often, they’ll bend the rules for a one-time event, especially if it’s scheduled for a slow time.

Now that you’re in, the strategies for executing the event might be a little different from what you’re used to.

• Consider catering. Museums generally offer a list of preferred caterers or one that has exclusivity at the property. Be satisfied with the choice. If you would like to use someone else, ask if an exception can be made. It’s sometimes wiser, however, to use one of the facility’s vendors; museum setups can be difficult, and it’s best to go with experience.

• Take a tour, hear a spiel. You’re in a unique, interesting venue make the most of it. Private clubs and mansions offer their own history, while museums offer exhibits. Breaks, lunch or post-event time can be used for a tour.

• Play by the rules. Ask about dress codes and other restrictions. City clubs usually require a jacket and tie for men. Many don’t allow cell phone usage in public areas.

• Be patient. Sometimes the service at clubs can be a bit slow. Some clubs are Old World, and so are many of the staff members. If this is a concern, hire extra staff.

• Get the check. Make sure to follow up on billing. Clubs can be slow at this, and sometimes museum bills are hard to decipher. If you’ve used a guest host in a club, ask the management to send the bill directly to you to avoid inconveniencing your host.

• Where else? Once you’ve gone through the trouble to gain entrance at a private club, ask for a list of reciprocal venues worldwide. Most clubs have agreements with partner clubs and facilities.

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