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Jillian Stevens Photo courtesy Waldorf Astoria Chicago

Secrets for Creating the Luxury Event Experience

Jillian Stevens, catering director at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, shares secrets of creating a luxury event experience that guests will never forget.

Over the past 16 years, my career has taken me from off-premise catering to trendy urban hotel grand openings, from coastal resort chic on 350 acres to, finally, a five-star, five-diamond exclusive hotel in the city. There is one common thread I have found over the years in the special events industry: It is that a successful event is synonymous with a luxurious event.

Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. If the purpose of your event is for your guests to feel good, to have an enjoyable time, to cherish their memories of that event--and they do--then your event was successful.

It is well known that a large portion of the population may not have enormous monetary wealth, but still strive to enjoy life’s comforts to the best of their abilities. Luxury being the state of great comfort lends us to think the more comfortable the event, the better it is. Now we have to determine how to make our guests most comfortable.

Four Essentials for the Luxurious Event

1. It must be effortless. Let’s face it: the easier something is to enjoy, the sweeter it is! Fast-moving lines, organized registration, plenty of space to move, work, dance, eat--these are all fabulous things. When something is difficult accomplish in an event setting, it is far from a luxurious experience. The potential negative word of mouth could be detrimental. Being well organized on these small details will move mountains for your guests.

2. Know what they like. Knowing your guests’ preferences ensures a fun time will be had by all! From cuisine to entertainment type, room temperature and audiovisual volume level, taking care with these items will lead to an engaged and more relaxed audience.

Research is paramount, and numbers won’t lie. Use registration portals and RSVP cards to learn about your guests prior to their arrival. This way, the attendees know they will be accommodated in advance. From food allergies to seating assignments, ADA-accessible rooms to favorite song requests, guests who prefer a specific experience will have a much better time knowing these items have been arranged for in advance.

On the flip side, know what they don’t like. Track any failures, flops and ideas that were mediocre. And don’t repeat them in the same setting with the same group.

3. Remember the Pleasure Principle. Now that we know our guests’ preferences and we are providing them with an effortless event experience, we need to show them some fun!

Pleasure is defined by the feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. So how does one provide happiness and enjoyment to guests at an event? You give them what they came for--listening to an intriguing debate topic at a fireside chat, watching a cooking demonstration by a talented chef, hearing a musical performance by their favorite artist, or celebrating a loved ones marriage with friends and family. Regardless of what this element is, it must be created with forethought and organization on the planner's part. Tune into your audience and make sure there is a little something for everyone, especially if it’s a mixed demographic.

4. Anticipatory service is the key. Anticipatory customer service is based on providing our customers with a service they need before they know they even need it. Maybe it’s as simple as taking their coat when they walk into the room, or as technical as providing docking stations throughout the meeting space.

But what makes an event a luxurious one is taking anticipatory service to the next level. Pashminas and parasols for women and cool misters and sandals for men at an oceanfront wedding ceremony will make any guest think, “Wow, they wanted me to feel comfortable!” Think about showcasing the newest event technology offered by Apple, Microsoft or Samsung--guests don’t even know they want the product yet, but who doesn’t want to see the latest and greatest of what’s out there? Consider offering a complimentary charter in a Supercar to the next destination, hotel or home. Transportation was going to be provided anyway, so might as well take it up a notch.

All of these touches provide comforts that will make long-lasting memories. And that’s the point right?

All of us special events industry individuals are here to create memorable moments--my most memorable are the luxurious ones!

An industry veteran with more than 16 years of experience, Jillian Stevens joined Waldorf Astoria Chicago as director of catering in February 2016. She leads all of the hotel’s catering initiatives, including weddings and events. This role is Stevens’ second tenure with Hilton Worldwide – she most recently served as senior catering manager and wedding specialist at Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida, where she was instrumental in elevating the resort’s celebrated wedding offerings. Prior to that, she held various high-level catering positions in Massachusetts with Westin Hotels and Resorts, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, and ARAMAK at Boston University, where she continually exceeded sales goals, implementing innovative ways to increase profitability and demonstrating exceptional service.

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