Conscientious event and meeting planners go to great lengths to ensure their functions are not cookie-cutter, one-size fits-all gatherings. Instead, they are looking for ways to stage beyond-the-norm sessions--the kind worthy of standing ovations at the closing sessions.
One of the most important aspects of planning a memorable gathering is choosing the right setting. Your venue plays a big role in the success of the event, so careful consideration should be made when weighing your options.
Here, the top 10 things to look for in a potential event venue:
1) Expert and accommodating event staff: Staff can make or break an event. They can also take much of the burden off your shoulders if they are knowledgeable, efficient and easy to work with. It may be a good idea to ask for references and see how other groups rate the staff.
2) Flexibility in scheduling: If your group is flexible with dates, you may be able to take advantage of specials, or the property may be able to offer you a better rate to fill available dates.
3) Number, size and configuration of meeting rooms and exhibit space: This is very important to the look and flow of an event. You will want to ensure there is plenty of space to accommodate your needs without being cramped or, on the flip side, being too spread out.
4) Quality and variety of food: Food plays a key role in the memorability and success of an event. Since attendees’ days can be packed with meetings and other activities, this is their time to relax and indulge. Venues should make accommodations for vegan, gluten-free and special diets.
5) Location/route: Inquire about the best way to get to the location: drive individually, rent a bus, fly, etc. If a location is within driving distance, it may even be a good team-building experience to take a road trip together. For example, my property--Asilomar Conference Grounds--is located on California's Monterey Peninsula, offering a scenic drive that could also serve as inspiration to employees.
6) On-site activities or amenities: Activities are important for team-building exercises, group outings or just general downtime for attendees. Consider a place that offers a way for attendees to embellish their agendas with fun activities that are unique to the area. For example, Asilomar offers everything from whale-watching and beach strolls to winery visits and golfing.
7) WiFi/Internet connectivity: Unless it’s a retreat to unplug and unwind, companies should ask about Wi Fi or Internet access and cellphone service. Some properties may not get great reception or even offer WiFi.
8) AV and lighting capabilities: Investigate a property’s audiovisual capabilities. Make sure they can accommodate your needs, whether it’s for a simple slideshow or an elaborate production, concert or other large event.
9) Environmental consciousness: This is becoming increasingly important to companies. Many venues now serve sustainable cuisine, are environmentally conscious throughout the property, and offer projects or programs for employees to help out in the community. Ask about a venue’s Corporate Social Responsibility programs and their certifications for sustainable practices.
10) Ambiance of venue vs. tone/theme of event: Check out photos of the venue and its surroundings. Get a sense of the ambiance and look of the location. For example, if an event is very high-end and corporate, a venue that has rustic rooms may not be appropriate.
Mairead Hennessy is district manager for Aramark's Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, Calif. Before working at Aramark, she held various positions with Hyatt Hotels including general manager and including senior director of food and beverage. Hennessy graduated from Johnson and Wales University with a bachelor's degree in foodservice management.