Ask anyone in the events planning industry whether or not they’ve made any mistakes and I’m pretty sure you’ll get that glance that can be interpreted as “are you kidding me”. If you’ve read other articles here at mastertheevent.com then you most certainly have seen us write about checklists and how important they are for events planning. But if you ask anyone that’s been in the industry what they’ve learned from those mistakes you might want to make note of those events planners that don’t respond. We all make mistakes, that’s a given. But it’s what we take away or rather learn from those mistakes that contributes to how successful we are in the events planning industry.
Events Planning Gone Wrong
When I first entered the meetings and events industry I was very green. I came from the hotel side of the industry so most of my dealings with meeting and event planners came from a hotel perspective. It’s when I started my own destination management company that’s I was introduced to the various suppliers that are involved with executing events.
It’s a question I often get asked. Can you remember an event that went horribly wrong? Well if most of you are like me you will answer that “most definitely”. The planner in question was from a large Association that wanted to host a standup reception in one of the city’s more popular museums. The planner was adamant that she did not want enough food to feed everyone. Basically she was asking for heavy hors d’oeuvres – which would be somewhere in the range of 6 to 10 pieces per person. Mistake number one – her “reception” was from 5 PM to 7 PM (in other words right over the dinner period). So on my instruction to the caterer I provided a menu along those guidelines. Then my client wanted to change the size of the plate that was proposed by the caterer (which was originally a smaller more hors d’oeuvres style plate) to a dinner plate. And then she was also adamant that there would be enough seating for everyone. So I accommodated all those requests and thought nothing of it.
So the event date in question arrived and my client’s numbers were pretty much what she had expected. However, her attendees were expecting a little more than hors d’oeuvres – they were expecting a meal. After all there were dinner plates and seating for everyone. Well, as you could expect, we started to run out of food about halfway through the event. It was if my client had amnesia – honestly. She came up to us at the event and started to rip a strip up one side and down the other. Something to the effect of how could we let her down and what a terrible impression that we were making on her. At the time trying to remind her that she had ordered heavy hors d’oeuvres and not dinner was not flying. She would have none of it. She insisted that if we had prepared enough food as she had requested that there would’ve been enough to feed everyone. Wrong of course but what can you say at that stage of the event. And as the venue was a museum and we were using an off-site caterer we did not have enough food on site to react quick enough. Luckily the caterer had another event in the downtown core and was able to muster up some additional food. But the damage had been done.
Events Planning Lessons Learned
Needless to say my client did not become a repeat client with my company. She was adamant that she would not pay for the food portion of the event as we have not provided all of her attendees with food. I guess I could have pushed the issue and reiterated what we had talked about before the event however in reviewing my notes I believe that I did not stress that enough. Our caterer was cooperative and did reduce the food portion so that we were not left on the hook to pay for the bill out of our own pockets.
The moral of the story is if you know or even suspect that there could be an issue with food or beverage (or any component of the event) then raise a flag at the beginning. There is no science to events planning but there is common sense. In hindsight it would have been better for me to have walked away from that piece of business if the client did not agree with me regarding the amount of food. People, like fine wine, get better at events planning with each event that they produce. Mistakes will happen. But it’s what we do with those mistakes and how we apply the lessons learned that sets good event planners apart from the bad ones.