by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | April 01, 2004

Sometimes, even though we dot our i’s and cross our t’s, bad things happen to our events and receptions often are the most vulnerable. Why? Generally, they require a short turnaround for setup and involve an unpredictable number of attendees. Add to this equation perishable food and many opportunities for breakdowns in communications. See the tips below to help your reception avoid common traps.

We’ll start with the pitfalls we unwittingly dig for ourselves.
    Choosing an inappropriate venue. When evaluating event sites, plan for flexibility. If your event shrinks, can you creatively fill the space? If the function will be outdoors, do you have an indoor backup?
    Choosing an inflexible menu. Serving nonindigenous food, easily damaged food (like delicate fish), or foods that are hard to serve or keep hot can ruin the evening.
    Providing menus after the cutoff. Give your conference services manager your menus with time to discuss changes if necessary. Some changes after the cutoff are inevitable, but try to keep these to a minimum.
Bad BEOs. An incomplete banquet event order is like a bad blueprint. Make sure communications are clear and complete between you, your CSM and banquet staff.
Look out for these problems of others’ making:
    Internal communications are poor. Has there recently been a large staff turnover? Ask how the BEOs are distributed and changes are made. Ensure you get the current BEO versions.
    Banquet staff does not attend the precon. Insist on having the banquet captain at your precon. Reschedule the meeting if she can’t make it.
    The venue has over- or undercommitted the space. Is the space scalable? Too big or too small? Ask the CSM how previous groups have used the square footage.
    The setup staff is short-handed. Depending on the level of the property and the style and complexity of service, have a minimum of one staff person per 20 guests. It is acceptable to ask the banquet captain when his staff will begin setting up. You might be entitled to a refund or concessions if there is a shortage on the day of the event.

A well-planned event still can go wrong once the doors open. Here are some prescriptions for quick recovery.
    Low turnout. If few people show up, round up all the staff you can yours and the venue’s to help fill out the room. Turn your staff/internal employees into ambassadors for your organization.
    High turnout. Alert the kitchen to start preparing extra food. You should have discussed options for last-minute food additions during the precon. All hotels should be prepared for this.
    Roll extra tables anywhere you can fit them safely. Again, at your precon, you should have discussed where to put them. Distract attendees with passed appetizers and drinks, and ask your entertainment to start early.
    Wrong setup. If there are too few buffet stations or the rounds are too small, extend your cocktail hour in the prefunction space, if possible while the room is adjusted. The hotel should cover the cost if they set up incorrectly.
    Quickly create small buffet stations in the corners of the room. Salads, breads, cheeses and finger foods are ideal for placing at the perimeters.
Wrong food selections. Be cheerful, but quickly address the issue with the chef, CSM and banquet captain. Ask why you were not notified about the change. Is there a discrepancy in pricing? Address this immediately, too, and ask that the banquet checks be prepared right away.