by Jonathan T. Howe Esq. | December 01, 2013
Contracts in the hospitality industry have gone through an incredible evolution. The terms I see today focus less on what is needed and more on how to avoid having a bad experience. While no agreement ever is really perfect, meeting professionals should try hard to get close to that ideal -- and refocus their energies on getting what they really require.

Your contracts must be enforceable, which is the next best thing to perfect. To do that, every clause must be carefully examined to make sure it fits the event at hand and will stand up to perusal in court, where a judge must be able to determine what each party wanted out of the agreement.

In a past life, I was a stringer for the Chicago News Bureau, where the basic tenets drilled into me were the five Ws and the H: the who, what, when, where, why and how. Evaluate every contract paragraph using the same criteria.

Another lesson learned when I was a journalist: Once, after a young reporter was berated, he sheepishly said, "At least my mother loves me," to which the gruff city editor said, "Check that out." That's also good advice for contracts.

From the start
Every contract needs to state some basics.

• There must be an offer and an acceptance of the intent to enter into an agreement in unequivocal terms, indicating a mutual agreement.

• There must be "consideration," where both sides must give up something in order to get something in return.  

• The signing parties must have the authority to enter into a contract. If you have no authority, you bind no one to the agreement except yourself.

• If an element is important to the integrity of your event, it must be included.

In recent cases, the exchange of faxes or emails indicating the intent to enter into a contract and an acceptance of those terms has been enough to create an agreement. In fact, in some cases, documents exchanged between the parties, even though they were not signed, could be seen as the basis of a contract. In other words, be careful.

The key in any situation, of course, is to know what the terms are that you need in order to agree. So let's look at this one more time. Among the minimum requirements for a contract are the following.

• Who are the parties?

• What is the job description? Dates, rates, block, space?

• What are the terms of the agreement or engagement?

• What is the compensation to be paid? When?

• What are the areas that require performance or otherwise excuse performance?

• How are disputes to be resolved, and whose laws will be

Last thoughts
The best thing you can do is develop an overall checklist, including compliance with laws, notice provisions, applicable law, venue requirements and anything that you absolutely have to have to make your event successful. Not everything on your checklist will apply to every event (for instance, a meeting in Canada does not need a clause agreeing to compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act), but a reminder on your checklist will prompt you to find out what is required.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. E-mail questions to him at