July 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 2000 Current Issue
July 2000 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP


How to ensure your meeting gets the attention it needs

Meetings, as live events, are vulnerable to bad or inadequate service. But the definition of good service is elusive. A large group might require only a decent room rate, while attendees at a board of directors meeting might expect round-the-clock attention. A live person rather than an automated system on the other end of a phone line might spell service to some; to others, the reverse might be true.

Taking a hard look at the specific audience profile and meeting objectives can help flesh out what the event needs. Hosting a meeting is labor-intensive, so adequate staffing is one key element in providing good service. Training and communication are equally important. Planners should keep an eye on the following areas during site inspections and contract negotiations.

The “front door” of every meeting comprises the registration process (managed by the meeting planner) and the hotel check-in (managed by the hotel). A negative experience at either spot can color the rest of the attendee’s trip.

Making sure enough people are on duty in these areas is critical. Industry standards for registration suggest one registrar for every 100 attendees, and a transaction time of less than a minute per preregistered attendee. For attendees registering on-site, personnel needs depend on the method used whether the registrar is interviewing attendees vs. having them complete the form themselves.

Hotel personnel standards vary according to the type of property and the level of activity in-house. Discuss the minimum number of bellmen, doormen, reservationists, room clerks and housekeepers with the hotel sales contact. Peak times require additional staffing, so communicate when those hours will be. Ratios vary, depending on the type of property it is; with convention hotels, I usually specify one desk person per 100 rooms in the block at peak times.

Inadequate service at food functions can be hard to digest; it pushes programs off schedule and enrages attendees. The Convention Industry Council recommends one waiter for every three banquet tables, and one bartender for every 100 attendees.

Most catering managers employ higher ratios and base the number on the menu and type of service used. American or plated service requires one server for every 20 attendees; French service requires one server for every 10 guests, preferably with two servers teaming up to serve two tables of 10 each, or using busboys and captains. With Russian service, where the waiter serves to each diner from a silver tray, the server’s skill is key; the ratio should be one server minimum per table of 10. A good busboy can assist with 20 attendees.

For buffets and refreshment breaks, request one server and one buffet line for every 100 attendees.

Communication and training are equally important aspects of good service. Don’t ask if employees are trained; ask how they are trained.

Most subpar service comes from people who think their jobs are insignificant or low-paying, and receive little recognition for their work. Boost morale by greeting personnel throughout the meeting and recognizing them at the end of each event. Another way to ensure special attention is to encourage staffers to take personal responsibility for your meeting: Ask the chef to help design the menu; ask the sales manager, banquet captains, setup crew chief, etc., for their suggestions in making the meeting a success.

It is a good idea to incorporate into contracts a definition of the service that is appropriate for the meeting and to define penalties for late or inadequate service.

Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner based in Atlanta.

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