We’ve been abandoned!
During the planning of a recent event, the service manager at our venue was helpful and responsive when it came to setting up the contract. But at the actual event, this person seemed to “disappear.” There was no one in charge to whom we could speak about multiple problems we encountered. What is the correct way to handle an unexpected situation such as this? Is there a way to ensure venue staff follows through?
— Anonymous Event Planner
Three ways to handle 11th-hour surprises
You’re not alone. Several readers report that they’ve faced on-site service breakdowns and unexpected problems. Their advice ranges from meeting with the site staff in advance to buttonholing the general manager if things aren’t going well.
Reader input falls into these three broad categories:
- Plan for problems in advance.
- Have a fallback plan in place.
- Take command yourself.
Plan for problems in advance
“Before your event, get not only the contact info for the managers directly responsible but the contact name and number for their boss and/or the home office,” says Arlene George, director of expositions for the United States Sign Council. She recommends holding a meeting in advance of your event, and including all key players: the caterer, the security manager, a rep from the decorating company and the event manager assigned to your event.
An anonymous administrator seconds that. “I always ask if my contact is going to be on-site during my event. I get his or her specific work schedule and ask who is in charge when that person isn’t there. On-site, at the first sign of ‘event contact drop-out,’ I go to the manager of the venue … property manager, director, whoever. (Don’t mess around with the special events department or even food and beverage managers. They are out to protect themselves!) After a brief, simple, heart-to-heart talk, I have either been reassigned to a new person or seen my initial contact undergo a drastic attitude adjustment.”
Donald Hayes of Bridgeway Software recommends establishing a personal connection to the staff. “Try to build a personal relationship and be open about the expectations you’ll have when the event launches. In the age of technology, it’s also completely reasonable to ask for PDA or IM contact info, so you’re able to get help when it’s needed, and be sure to give them yours in exchange.”
Have a fallback plan in place
“I always make sure we have a ‘Plan B’ in the event something doesn’t work out as expected,” says an anonymous San Diego planner. That increases the odds an event will come off seamlessly, and problems are invisible to the attendees. “I usually huddle in advance with department heads to work out backup plans if someone is not going to be available on the day of the event. It also helps to let everyone know that if there are problems, the first call I will make is to the general manager.”
Another anonymous planner advises: “Make sure your event manager knows you will visit the site well ahead of everyone else (the day before even) to make sure your event is being set-up to your satisfaction. This will give the event manager an opportunity to let you know if he/she will be unavailable at that time and assign someone who will be there.”
Take charge yourself
An anonymous planner lays it on the line. “Whenever we’ve had this problem, we ‘go around’ the problem people by scouting around and fixing it ourselves. If that means going into the back of the house to find water pitchers, so be it. If they complain, we say, ‘Well, it needs doing, and we can’t get you guys to do it.’
“Same with table setup. We scout out where they keep their stuff, and we’ll darn well get it ourselves if they don’t comply. Nothing is going to get in my way of pleasing the 15,000 people who came to this show on their nickel to achieve a certain goal — especially not a lazy hotel.”
Another anonymous planner says going to the top can save the day. “This happened to me also during an event. I went to the front desk and asked to speak to the general manager. We ended up having an ‘attitude adjustment’ meeting with all the parties to clear up the situation, and the service after that was right on.”