Special Events
ONE HOT PARTY

ONE HOT PARTY

THIS summer, everyone has been feeling the heat. The first half of 2006 was the hottest on record in the U.S., while one sweltering July day in London saw 39 people faint when visiting the gardens at Buckingham Palace. The miserable heat made the hard work of producing special events even harder. But as temperatures rose, event planners rose to the occasion.

THINK COOL

In the Los Angeles area, temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in some spots, notes Richard Mooney, president of Los Angeles-based Kensington Caterers. The heat did not prompt any event cancellations, though, and the company kept guests comfortable by bringing industrial fans to some events and adding a large, air-conditioned tent to another, Mooney reports. “We also set up tubs of small bottles of chilled water around the party space to allow guests to hydrate frequently,” he says. For one event, he served a chilled version of the warm soup he had originally planned. One of his biggest challenges: “Trying to convince the staff that it wasn't really that hot and to stop whining!”

Renaissance Caterers of Canoga Park, Calif., catered the Coronation Ball at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium for the Miss Universe Pageant on July 23, where earlier in the evening pageant winner Miss Puerto Rico fainted. “No air conditioning in the kitchen, and the Expo Hall's air was on only when expecting guests,” reports co-owner Cathee Hickok.

“Basically you add ice and dry ice and refrigerators and fans and keep a really close eye on the food temperatures. All cold food on buffets is served from ice pans.” Her team also handled corporate hospitality during the Countrywide Classic tennis tournament at UCLA on July 24. “We were going to try a swamp cooler {evaporative cooler} in one tent — air conditioning would have been $9,000 — but the humidity was too high for the swamp cooler to do any good.”

Along with keeping food chilled, Hickok also kept her staff chilled. She invested in Chill-ez bandanas, which hold a cooling gel close to the neck of the wearer. “Few things are worse than being served by a soggy, heat-prostrated waiter whose brain is addled like a fried egg!” she says. Hickok kept her sense of humor despite the heat: “OK, I understand — I've been bad and this is Hell.”

The hot weather and a sudden rainstorm turned the clear-top tent that Los Angeles-based EventWorks was using for a corporate gala into a “steam room,” reports producer Rachel Mass. When air conditioning wasn't strong enough to cool the tent interior, the event team yanked the tent sidewalls off an hour before guests arrived. At party time, “The tent was — thankfully — comfortable, and the event was a tremendous success,” Mass reports.

COOL TOUCHES

To keep guests comfortable at a summer party at a private home, Nashville, Tenn.-based planner Timot McGonagle used such discreet touches as hiding fans behind landscaping on a terrace to keep air flowing. “We also used LED Lights because they don't generate heat,” he explains.

In sultry Atlanta, where temperatures routinely topped 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) this summer, A Legendary Event added air conditioners and misting machines to events to keep guests cool, reports company president Tony Conway, CMP. “We also make sure that valet parkers turn up the air conditioning when delivering cars to guests,” he adds.

He changed his staff's attire from formal to more casual. “We wanted to make sure that they not only felt cool but looked cool and were not sweating in tuxedos,” he explains. On steamy days, his staffers donned khaki shorts or pants and polo shirts. Evening attire consisted of black linen pants with short-sleeved black linen shirts.

Although the heat did not force him to cancel any events, Conway did postpone several wedding ceremonies to later in the day to avoid the worst of the heat. And, “We turned down two pieces of business that did not want to provide temperature control or at least tented areas to create shade,” he says.

SUMMER SIMMER

The summer heat makes July traditionally the slowest month for Mitchell's Catering and Events of Raleigh, N.C. “It's usually a time to review the first six months and plan for the next six,” reports director of operations and logistics Bill Allen. But this year brought the company a big job: catering the Pepsi Americas' Sail festival in Beaufort, N.C., June 30 through July 4. “We catered one large event each night for 450 to 750 guests while simultaneously catering up to nine smaller sponsor events of 70 to 200,” he reports.

To cope with the heat, “Great care was taken regarding food preparation at our base camp kitchen and getting it on site,” Allen explains. “We had a refrigerator/freezer semitrailer both at the base camp and on site to ensure perfect temperatures. Replenishing of buffets was also critical, and we were careful not to spread out too much food. We instead ran smaller quantities to ensure food safety and presentation.”

Farther south — in Miami — this summer's heat is “about normal for south Florida,” reports John McPhee, marketing director of Miami-based A Joy Wallace Catering Production & Design Team. With hot summers the norm, “We always have lots of staff water and staff Gatorade,” he says. Also, “We allow extra setup time; people cannot perform as fast in the heat.” Joy Wallace management encourages staff to take frequent water breaks and to report any side effects from the heat — affecting themselves or co-workers — immediately.

His company has learned how to work in the heat: “You make the mistake of using a clear-top tent and not having adequate AC to cool down your ‘temporary greenhouse’ only once,” he says wryly.




RESOURCES

A Joy Wallace Catering Production & Design Team, 305/252-0020; A Legendary Event, 404/869-8858; EventWorks, 323/321-1793; Kensington Caterers, 323/935-4300; Mitchell's Catering and Events, 919/847-0135; Renaissance Caterers, 818/999-0990; Timot McGonagle, 615/780-2918

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