In business there’s an old saying: take care of your front door and your back door will take care of itself. My years as a small business owner in the Food Service and Meetings and Events Industries taught me just how true that statement is. Sadly, it’s human nature to overvalue the impact the “big wigs” have on the success of a company and to undervalue the impact of the front line event staff on the success of the business. Over my years in the industry I’ve encountered planners who don’t seem to “get” the fact that at the end of the day, it’s that server, bartender, host/hostess who will make or break the event. These front line people are the “face” of every event planning company. So while the “big-wigs” are back in the office working hard to bring in more business, the event staff – working closely with the delegates and guest – are actually the people who can dictate how things are going to go.
Your Event Staff will Make or Break a Guest’s Experience
Staffing your events is THE most important thing that you will do as an event planner. However, experience shows me that hiring, training, evaluating and motivating the event set up and service team is quite often not even on the meeting planner’s radar. We pay so MUCH attention to décor, entertainment, menus – working hard to create “once in a lifetime” experiences for our event guests and delegates that we forget the MOST important thing – the people.
For example – a few years ago we attended a large, high end event in a large, multi-use facility that had been repurposed, at great expense, for one evening. I couldn’t help notice the number of catering staff that kept walking past a mess of used dinner plates gathered on a tray just inside the reception area. (Ya…I can never be a customer again. You probably know the feeling – right?).
Every single service person literally had to walk around this mess to go into the back of the house. Well on my way out I noticed the floor manager standing near the door. So I relayed my observation to him. His reply? “You just can’t get good staff for events anymore”. Not kidding! So I replied “Um, nope, in this case, it’s a good manager that you can’t get”.
Clearly these people were not “suited” to work events. Our industry needs to work harder at attracting and retaining people who FIT – event servers, bartenders and porters who understand the importance of personalizing service (YES – even if they’re serving 1,000 people in a BARN); who understand that appearances are extremely important and who understand that as part of the event service team, cleaning up is everybody’s job. And that STARTS with the leadership team.
So “it’s hard to get good event staff”. We know that….but those event and meeting planning companies that really commit to building and retaining a strong, customer/delegate focused team are going to be more successful in the long run. A happy, well trained and respected event service team = a more profitable company. End of story.
Tips on Hiring Event Staff
ENOUGH with the “we need ten people for Saturday so bring your cousin and his friend” already.
Think about all the problems you’ve had with this approach over the years. Poor service levels, little loyalty, high turnover.
Make your recruiting process rigorous – make it HARD to get a job with your company. Interview people professionally – no interruptions. Have a two or three-step process and involve other members of your team in selecting new team members. This way they’ll be more invested in helping that new person succeed. Check references. Give people the impression that you’re a PROFESSIONAL organization – not a stop along the way to a “real job”.
Show respect to gain respect – you cannot interview people in the middle of an event floor. Well you CAN…and let’s face it most of us probably have at one point. However, if this is the first impression we’re giving our event service staff then this is the way they’ll treat your customers, guests and delegates. Interviews are serious. They should be done away from other people. No interruptions. Take time to get to know these people because these are the people who will make or break your business. And put away YOUR phone. Take one call, reply to ONE text during the interview and you’re telling your potential new-hire that it’s OK to be on the phone at work.
Train your event staff – having a new- hire “shadow” your longest serving team member is NOT the best way to build a team. Quite often this “trainer” is not interested in wasting time on the newbie. He/she can and will show your new event employee all the short cuts and “tricks of the trade” – you know, all of the things you don’t want your event staff to do. So use only those employees who WANT to train your new event team members – not necessarily the longest serving but the most INTERESTED. TEACH the trainers how to train and be sure to follow up on the training. Reward excellent trainers – and hold trainers who do not meet your standards accountable. You can’t abdicate training and expect to build a strong, motivated team.
Pay your people – Money is a motivator but it is not THE biggest motivator. You don’t have to pay the MOST however you do have to pay your people. Pay your people on time. If your event staff is required to work on a statutory holiday then PAY them for that – as outlined in your labor laws. If they work over time then how about paying them over time? Once you get a reputation as a company that pays its people fairly and on time, you’ll become an employer of choice because sadly, in our industry, this is not always the case. Just don’t mess with people’s income. Be sure that your event staff understand the pay schedule and who to talk to if they have questions about a paycheque.
Recognize excellence – and hold people accountable – Your best people are constantly de-motivated by the fact that your under performers continue to come to work – late or whenever they feel like it – and they continue to get the same rewards as the event staff who show up and do a great job. THANK the people who go above and beyond; reward excellence and if a member of the team comes to work late – there has to be a repercussion for that. No shows? There has to be a repercussion for that.