WHAT CHALLENGES JUST one day can bring. Joseph Cozza of the New York Marriott Marquis in New York knows this well. Last February, the property's executive director of catering was saddled with the task of creating a three-part party over the span of 24 hours for 450 of Marriott's Northeast region sales pros. His strategy for what has become a 2003 Gala Award nominee: Keep it simple, keep it surprising and always, always keep your eye on the clock.
To brand the event and build anticipation early, Cozza had guest-room key cards customized with the “Sales Intensity” logo and color scheme waiting for arriving guests. After check-in, attendees proceeded to a luncheon held not in a typical banquet room, but in the hotel's sleek, glass-enclosed Broadway Lounge. Not only does the space “have a wonderful style to it,” Cozza says, which cut down on decor needs and immediately made guests feel special, but the lounge setup helped set a casual, congenial tone. To encourage mingling, Cozza outfitted the room with a mix of station-served tapas and butler-passed appetizers — among them Peking duck, Japanese eggplant and curried tuna tartare. Instead of alcohol, which might have made it tough for guests to stay energized through the long day, the bar served sodas, coffee and tea.
But Cozza knew it would take more than a light lunch and a dose of caffeine to keep attendee spirits sufficiently high. That's where the star treatment came in. “Being on Broadway, we do a lot of opening nights and gala events, and a lot of red carpet arrivals,” Cozza says. “We thought, ‘Why not create that in the foyer to the ballroom?’” — the site of event's next meeting.
Making the moment possible was a handful of hotel staffers who volunteered to play the role of paparazzi, snapping flash photos of guests as they strolled down the quintessential red runner into the ballroom, high-energy music pumping in the background. “Everyone was clapping,” Cozza says. “The smiles — they were so up when they went through there. It was one of the big hits.”
DAY AND NIGHT
It was in the ballroom that Cozza and crew pulled off some of the event's most creative feats.
For daytime decor, the team stuck with the room's neutral color scheme, snazzing up round tables with simple blue and gold linen. Entering guests found themselves seated around centerpieces of tiered gold boxes stacked nine high. These, Cozza explains, were in fact one more element of surprise.
“In the early part of the meeting, we got one or two tables started by saying, ‘Check out what's in the boxes.’” Moments later, he says, guests were disassembling the centerpieces and enjoying the caramel popcorn, jelly beans and other snacks packed inside. The treats sustained them until the meeting break, when they ventured back out into the foyer to find the red carpet replaced by a colorful New York City snack station serving the city's flavors in the form of cocktail franks and knishes.
The close of the meeting meant two hours for guests to freshen up and enjoy a cocktail reception, and the same span of time for Cozza's team to transform the ballroom for dinner. The Marriott crew made the switch to night by going white: white spandex chair covers, white lamour table linen and white spandex figures and hanging pieces from New York-based Pink Inc. With the white backdrop, “We could change the look dramatically” without worrying about loading in and setting up extensive decor, Cozza says. His crew did so, he explains, with jewel-toned motion lighting and gobos, as well as clear-glass-cylinder centerpieces filled with colored water and graceful cymbidium orchids.
In this revamped venue, guests dined on filet mignon and braised short ribs, and walked up a spotlighted runway to receive awards on stage. The evening closed with one final surprise: a backstage mock press room where photographers shot pictures of honorees alongside the company's senior vice president of sales.
READY, SET, GO
Cozza says the “Sales Intensity” event, deemed “flawless” by client Steve Sharple, Marriott Northeast regional senior vice president, provides a great example of today's increasingly tight turnarounds. It also demonstrates how a high-volume hotel catering department can avert crisis during crunch time.
Sticking with the daytime event's round tables for the evening portion meant Cozza's crew didn't have to load in new equipment and load out old. Pink Inc., which worked very closely with the catering department, further helped the time-sensitive setup by pre-fabricating spandex pieces and laying them flat on the floor of the ballroom's overhead balcony during the afternoon for a quick install later. Using the balconies themselves as rigging, instead of bringing in equipment to suspend spandex pieces from the ceiling, made setup even smoother.
There is no secret to pulling off such an eventful day. “It's really paying attention to the details and basics,” Cozza says, “because with events, it's like opening night, except without rehearsals.”
New York Marriott Marquis 1535 Broadway, New York, New York 10036; 212/704-8734; www.marriott.com
Turn to page 65 for a list of resources for this event.
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