By Roxanne Rukowicz
Founder and Principal
Behind the Scenes Events
As anyone who has ever hosted a big party or event knows, it’s a huge responsibility to keep your guests well attended and happy. With a little planning, though, it’s not as overwhelming as you might think.
Here are my Top 10 suggestions for ways to keep your guests happy.
Roxanne’s 10 Rules for Happy Guests
1. Take the guess work out of the event.
Use every outlet possible to relay as much information as available. For corporate functions, update the event website and email confirmations/reminders with the event timeline, directions to the venue, self-park or valet details and the dress code. Guests should be well prepared with all of the details without having to hunt for them. Elderly guests at weddings and other social functions should receive printed information in the mail.
2. Keep an eye on the clock.
Guests deserve an evening that starts on time and ends on time as everyone has other responsibilities. Lest you have guests begin to leave prior to your keynote’s address, it is important to stick to the timeline as advertised.
3. Offer comfortable accommodations.
Ballrooms are typically kept very cold. Whether a black-tie or a conference, watch for cues as guests hunt for a warm cup of coffee or grab for their coats. Women and those seated near the fans are most susceptible to the discomfort.
Subsequently, those day-long programs that ask guests to sit for long periods of time require another element of comfort. Remember to offer guests ample leg room and chair space at tables. The longer the program, the more personal space a guest will require. For those situations when accommodations are not optimal, make it up to guests by offering a private lounge area outside the general session for the occasional blackberry check or conference call.
4. Seating assignments should be well thought out.
Seating is a huge opportunity to help guests begin to make connections and build relationships. Create calculated networks at business functions by pairing potential partnerships at the same table. Ease guests into comfortable conversations at social functions by pairing together those with similar backgrounds, such as alumni from the same university or parents who have kids (so they may discuss Tommy’s most recent day care incident) versus those guests who are single.
5. Don’t make guests wait to eat.
Guests look forward to the food and beverage at any event, be it the plated decadence of a wedding or the coffee bar and lunch buffet at a business conference.
And whether for sustenance or celebration, the timing of food and beverage should be well thought out. Attendees at social functions should have access to hors d’oeuvres, either passed or stationed, when a bar is available. You won’t find many guests who eat prior to attending a social function so be prepared for the effects of alcohol on an empty stomach.
Conversely, those guests sitting for an evening’s worth of presentations should not be kept waiting long. Be mindful of the time lent to opening remarks prior to the delivery of the first course.
6. And while I’m on the subject of food …
Food fashion comes and goes. And though it may currently be a fashion faux pas to serve a dual entrée at dinner, one must be mindful of the guests. Is the room predominantly male or female? What season is it? Does the organizational cause hosting the function call for a lighter, more heart-healthy fare? Can guests with food allergies – shellfish, gluten, nuts – be accommodated?
Kudos to those planners who take the extra step and preemptively ask for meals on behalf of those guests with extra needs. Most would rather not eat than call attention to themselves.
7. Is the event a fundraiser?
Guests should be knowledgeable and prepared if the event they are attending is a fundraiser. Not only do you want to make sure they have their credit cards and checkbooks on hand after winning the top bid on the live or silent auction, but you want to make sure, in advance, that they are comfortable being placed in a position to be asked for a donation.
8. Invest in a well-appointed audio/video.
Poll guests on what they disliked about the last event they attended and most will comment on the audio/video. Too loud. Microphones that cut out. The echo!
You will do both your presenters and your attendees a disservice if you don’t invest in a well-appointed sound system. Trust the professionals when it comes to sound and lighting. Find those firms who have worked in the space before and discuss your plans and timeline with them at length. And though everyone is cost conscious, beware the lowest bidder and their rented equipment. A quality system and professionals to run it is one of your best investments.
9. Go Green on behalf of your guests.
Everyone’s keeping an eye to the environment, and rightfully so. Educate guests as to how the event has been “greened” or made socially responsible through a sentence or two on the printed program or in remarks from the podium. Guests will be impressed by the extra effort and the creativity when centerpieces are made from recycled materials, spare food is donated to shelters and recycling efforts are enforced throughout.
10. Consider guests to the last moment.
If the budget allows, planning for a go-away gift or goodie bag reinforces that you’ve considered guests’ needs from the start to the very end. And we’ve seen some tried and true ideas that are simply fantastic.
Small take-away boxes for the dessert buffet after a particularly decadent or heavy meal leaves guest with a sweet treat on their way home. Cute t-shirt giveaways at the end of the night, emblazoned with corporate logos, are a fantastic way to add extra marketing value. An espresso bar and warm chocolate chip cookies or freshly baked donuts are a wonderful treat while waiting for the valet.
About Roxanne Rukowicz
Ranked one of Washington, DC’s top meeting and event planners for 2009 by the Washington Business Journal, Roxanne Rukowicz’s Behind the Scenes Events opened its doors in July 2008 to offer organizations access to affordable, full-service meeting and event-planning solutions.
Having worked in the Washington, DC, meeting and event industry for over a decade, Roxanne started her career at the Greater Washington Board of Trade in 1999. Her experience with this influential, regional network of business leaders allowed her hands-on training from the start. What began as a mere temporary work assignment later progressed into a position as general manager as she excelled at tasks.