Think Jingle Bells This June
Traditionally a slow time for hospitality, summer is the perfect time to get your company’s holiday party sorted.
As the calendar creeps toward the start of summer, most people are thinking about graduations and vacation. But June is actually a great time to plan your company’s holiday event.
The No. 1 reason to book your holiday party as early as possible is to get your preferred venue, date and time.
Michele Caswell-Adams is the director of operations at the Capital on Baronne — a new event space housed in an historic building in the Central Business District. She says it’s not too soon to think about your next holiday party once the last guest leaves your current holiday party.
“I always encourage holiday events to book as soon as they’re finished,” she says. “That way they can hand-pick the venues that they want.”
Caitlin Cooley, director of sales and marketing at The Bourbon Orleans Hotel, agrees. She says a lot of hotels have repeat holiday clients.
“The sooner you book, the more likely you’re going to be able to get not only your preferred date but your preferred venue and your preferred event space in that venue,” she says.
As New Orleans becomes an increasingly popular destination for weddings and all other types of events, availability for prime dates and spaces can be tough to come by.
“Brides are looking for those weekend holiday times as well,” says Victoria Lacayo, event sales manager at Pythian Market. “We know that’s a huge market and they plan usually a year or more in advance…Along with the actual wedding date will come the rehearsal dinner and all of the other dates brides could be booking.”
By booking in what are typically slower months in the hospitality industry in Southeast Louisiana you are also giving yourself and your event coordinator, more time to focus on planning.
“During the quieter months we’re able to kind of tie down all the loose ends associated with the party planning,” says Lacayo, who adds that checking the big items off your party planning “to do” list early means you can relax. “We can have a full plan set up, all the itineraries set for these holiday parties, and by the time the actual party rolls around, it’s just a quick check-in and we’re good to go.”
“It’s just like any other event,” adds Cooley. “You don’t necessarily have to plan the theme, and you don’t have to plan what you’re going to eat, but as long as you plan where you’re going to go and get it locked down you don’t necessarily have to be in the holiday mindset.”
The Early Bird Gets the Savings
Aside from easing the stress of holiday event planning, booking early can ease your bottom line.
Alyssa Shaheen is the senior catering manager at Bourbon Orleans, whose incentives for early bookings might include a complimentary holiday-theme cocktail that will be passed out to guests upon arrival, or holiday up-lighting.
The Bourbon Orleans also offers early planners the option to spread out payments over time.
“We could do a series of deposits,” says Cooley, “so if you’re having a large event of $10,000 you can pay $2,000 every couple of months as opposed to the full $10,000 a month before.”
Pythian Market offers a straight sales discount to anyone who books in June and July, and Emeril’s offers a $100 voucher that holiday event planners can use on their event, or as a bonus for themselves.
Top Tips for Smooth Event Planning
While you don’t have to finalize all the details, there are a few details about your event you should be ready to present to the venue up front to make booking and planning run smoothly.
Cooley says the main things you should know are approximately how many people you expect and what kind of budget you’re working with.
“Then you can just lock something in and focus on the little details later,” she says.
Who is coming? Don’t stress if you don’t know an exact head count six months in advance, says Sandy Odom, senior sales manager at Emeril’s.
“It’s always good to have a general idea of how many people you’re going to be inviting or will attend,” she says. “That way you can reserve a spot — whether it’s private or semi-private — that can accommodate your entire group and maybe give yourself a couple of extra chairs for wiggle room for a couple of plus-ones.”
Is privacy important? Knowing if you want private space or semi-private space will also speed up the process, says Blair Ramelli, director of sales at Brechtel Hospitality — the restaurant management and development company behind Fulton Alley, Copper Vine and Vintage Rock Club. “That will help the venue get you the proposal that you’re asking for with specific details.”
What do you want to spend? A budget is a key factor for any event, regardless of size. Knowing your budget before you talk to your event manager sets the starting point for the planning conversation.
“[Knowing a budget] gives me an idea of what a company’s expectation is,” Odom says. “And then that allows us to figure out which restaurant [Emeril’s property] might be the best direction for them if it comes down to budget or location.”
Look for locations with a dedicated event manager. When you’re selecting a location — whether it be a restaurant, hotel, or event space — having a dedicated event manager will help keep your event on track.
“That event manager will take the stress out of all of the details for your event so the planner can actually show up, have a good time and not worry about executing the actual party,” says Ramelli.
Make sure you know what’s included, and what’s not. Another item to keep in mind when selecting a location is that some venues are self-contained, while others are not.
“Think about maybe looking for venues that can include food, beverage, seating, things like that that will make your event planning process run a little bit more smoothly,” says Lacayo.
Remember, however, that while self-contained locations can simplify matters, hotels and restaurants that require you to use their in-house services also limits your options for shopping around when it comes to vendors.
Take advantage of existing relationships. Check with your event planner for a list of preferred vendors for features like entertainment and photo booths that aren’t offered in-house. You’ll benefit from the relationship and trust that your site coordinator has with the outside vendors on their preferred list.
“We’ve got relationships with [vendors] that are reliable, are going to show up, be on time and that know the property,” says Cooley.
Communication is key. Remember that your event manager or sales manager isn’t just there to make the deal in June and then leave you hanging until the main event in December. Maintaining communication with your hotel or venue representative throughout the process can help prevent unnecessary headaches.
“Ask questions,” says Cooley. “The worst thing is when somebody plans something that won’t fit and they bring it to you and you have to tell them it won’t work. Staying in communication is the best bet.”
And, Ramelli adds, don’t forget about the needs of your guests.
“Is it accessible to everybody — is there an elevator or a ramp? Does the venue work with the groups and let them extend their time if they’re having fun? That’s something that shows the value to the customer.”