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GUESTS often enjoy apparently effortless events, but a peek behind the scenes can reveal last-minute adjustments by some fast-thinking event professionals.

Such was the case at two events honoring the senior partners of an insurance company in June at the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt's historic home in Asheville, N.C. The house and surrounding grounds hosted an intimate VIP lunch as well as a Gala Award-nominated dinner for the entire group of 825 guests. Lyn Gleasure, conference sales manager for the Biltmore, explains that both events not only had to be memorable but distinctive because they occurred on the same day. The event team delivered by thinking on their feet — and not allowing a missing fire engine to faze them.


The VIP lunch for 20 took place at a single table swathed in brown and blue linen and laid with an Italian feast of panini, antipasti and the Biltmore Estate's Sangiovese wine. Gleasure explains that the al fresco luncheon was themed to the 2003 movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” and featured the Biltmore's products — including vegetables, herbs, beef, lamb and flowers. “Due to budget restrictions,” Gleasure says, “this event needed to be planned without the cost of a florist.” So flora from the Biltmore's gardens served as the chair accents — a large sunflower tied with a bow — and the table's centerpiece.

A fluctuating guest count kept the event team on their toes. “The outdoor lunch was a constant plan in motion,” Gleasure says. The count changed several times that morning due to the “varying ideas the guests had about how they wanted to spend the morning on the estate,” she explains. A team effort landed an accurate, up-to-the-minute guest count. “Our tour guides, parking staff, transportation team and event staff worked together to track guests,” Gleasure says. Once the final tally was taken, the event team made the lunch table smaller and set it for the proper number of guests.


The evening event also required subtle tweaks to keep the guests comfortable. Although the original plan for covering the dinner — set up on the south terrace with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains — called for a tent with no walls, the weather called for a change of plans. “The winds and warm weather proved challenging,” Gleasure says. “We started out with just a couple of clear walls on the far corners of the tent, but the linens and table settings were being affected by the wind.” Using partial walls on especially windy corners kept the breezes out but let the guests breathe, Gleasure says, because “the shorter tent walls helped prevent the creation of a greenhouse effect.”

One welcome surprise was a gorgeous sunset, which the event team taped and broadcast on plasma screens inside the tent. But a surprise she could have done without, Gleasure explains, involved a missing-in-action fire engine. The evening's fireworks display required an emergency crew on standby and “a new team from the fire department decided to take a back route to the estate,” she says. The fireworks were delayed while the event team dispatched a search team to locate the lost fire truck. Despite the wait, Gleasure notes the fireworks spectacle “left guests with memories they will never forget.”

Biltmore Estate 1 Approach Road, Asheville, NC 28803; 828/225-1403;

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