Everyone loves a great award show. But what makes an awards ceremony really stand out? Best practices, as well as tips from the pros are all here for you to create a memorable and glittering occasion.
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While food is a major component of award shows and other social events, there are a multitude of other things to consider. Planning an awards ceremony involves careful consideration of the location, venue, room, entertainment, theme, decor, lighting, vendors and, timings.
This post is everything you need for how to plan a gala dinner. The production schedule, award ceremony playlist and many more small details all contribute to the success of the occasion.
While focus of this article is Awards Events, much of the information is applicable to many types of evening events, such as black tie events, gala evenings and gala dinners.
When people are headed to a conference or convention, and are asked why they are attending, the answers usually include education, networking, business, etc. Rarely are the awards or gala evening food-focused events mentioned. Yet, upon their return, when asked how the meeting went, the first thing they usually start talking about is the awards evening/dinner/party/social event they attended, including both positive and negative experiences.
Table of Contents
Definitions of an Award Show, Gala Dinner and Black Tie Event
Before we explore the tactics and strategy for planning a glittering evening event it is important to understand what the different terms and definitions mean.
WHAT IS AN AWARD SHOW?
An Award Show is an event to celebrate excellence and achievements of individuals or organizations. Also referred to as award ceremonies, award giving ceremony and award shows, events are often held in the evening and most commonly are a formal, black-tie occasion. The award ceremony meaning is often to celebrate and recognize achievements.
WHAT IS A GALA DINNER?
A gala is a glittering occasion, generally including dinner and entertainment. Guests wear their best outfits, including ballgowns and black tie attire.
WHAT IS A BLACK TIE EVENT?
What is meant by black tie event is a social occasion and dress code requiring formal attire. Traditionally evening events, dinners, balls, award ceremonies, fundraisers and parties are often black tie events. If you have ever wondered what to wear to a black tie event, keep reading!
Etiquette and Dress Codes for Black Tie and White Tie Events
There is often a lot of confusion about the dress code requirements for evening events. Here is the definitive explanation of what is (and isn’t) acceptable for black tie and white tie events. Knowing what to wear to an award ceremony is quite important. Think carefully about the award ceremony dress code.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR TO A BLACK TIE EVENT?
A black tie event dress code is formal evening dress. Black tie event attire is less formal than white tie dress codes.
Men should wear a dinner jacket, known as a tuxedo in the United States, and a white dress shirt, cuff links and a black bow tie. A cummerband or waistcoat should be worn with smart, formal shoes.
Women generally wear a long, floor-length evening gowns, jewellery and heels. Shorter, glamorous cocktail dress can also be black tie appropriate.
WHAT IS A WHITE TIE DRESS CODE?
White tie is the most formal of all dress codes and is also known as full evening dress or a dress suit. White tie signifies the fanciest and most special of events and occasions.
For men, white tie requires a full suit with black dress tailcoat worn over a white starched shirt, waistcoat and white bow tie. The suit should be black, not white. A regular tuxedo should never be worn for white tie events.
For women, a long dress is essential, but amped up from black tie event dress. For events of the highest level, gloves may also be expected.
Click here for details of other event dress codes and how to communicate what to wear to your attendees.
Planning an Award Show or Evening Event
DEFINE THE REASON FOR THE EVENT AND BE SMART
Hosting an awards ceremony is a big deal for everyone that will be recognized and celebrated. Before planning an award show, gala dinner event or black tie event, the first thing you need to focus on is the reason for the event. If you were planning a conference or exhibition you would approach the event in this way, and a social occasion should be no different.
Is it an icebreaker reception, an awards dinner, a retirement party, a holiday party, a fundraiser?
The possible reasons for hosting an event are endless. Think about the outcomes you want to achieve.
This post focuses on award galas, but the ideas are useful for any type of gala.
Once you know why the event is being held, you need to create SMART objectives.
SMART objectives are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
For example: This Gala Event will produce 20% more revenue from sponsorships in the next three months.
WHO WILL ATTEND THE EVENT?
You must consider the demographics and psychographics of the attendees. It is vitally important to know your audience. Everything from décor to menu choices to entertainment hinges on who your attendees are. Demographics explain ‘who’ your attendee is.
While demographics describe things like age range, gender, education level, etc., psychographics are about lifestyle. A person living in New York can have the same demographics as someone living in rural Kansas, and have totally different lifestyles. Psychographics include personality, values, opinions, attitudes, hobbies and interests. Psychographics explain ‘why’ they are there.
Creating the Ultimate Award Presentation Event
An award is an honor or recognition given to individuals or groups for a variety of reasons. An award can be for an accomplishment, such as winning a sports event, or a lifetime achievement award. There are awards for the Member of the Year, Educator of the Year, etc. Awards are public acknowledgements of excellence.
There is typically a nomination process, with a committee assigned to select the award recipients.
SHOULD AWARD WINNERS BE TOLD BEFORE THE EVENT?
There is some debate on whether to let recipients know in advance or surprise them at the event. When you are on the receiving end, recipients often prefer knowing in advance, so they can prepare their award ceremony speech and appropriate remarks, rather than being put on the spot. This gives the opportunity for acceptance speeches to be more polished, although the element of surprise is removed.
When I was inducted into the Event Industry Council Hall of Leaders, the event producer was Lenny Talarico, of MGM Events in Las Vegas. He called me prior to the event and asked me to share something about myself that few people knew. I told him that I am a Rock Chick. I love 60s Rock and Roll. So, he themed the event around rock music. The music, the dancing, even the guitar shaped desserts. Dancers were carrying signs with my name around the stage as they danced. There was side entertainment around the room – acrobats, light dancers, etc. It was a night I will never forget. And, that is what you want your award recipients to feel. It is their night, and you want them to feel special.
KEEP YOUR AWARD SHOW FRESH AND THE ALCOHOL DEBATE
Many meetings reserve one night to present awards. Meeting planners and caterers need to find ways to take the tediousness out of awards presentations without sacrificing the recognition that winners deserve.
An awards banquet is often part of a grand banquet given on the last night of the meeting. However, this approach has several drawbacks. For one thing, meeting attendees have just survived an intense few days of meetings and other business activities and are ready to party.
Most of them have probably been to one or more receptions earlier in the evening and have consumed a few alcoholic beverages. And if wine is served with the meal, the group may become loud and boisterous.
I have attended my fair share of awards banquets, sometimes as an award recipient. And, it is a shame that those that are ‘feeling good’ often continue the party while the awards are being presented, which is disrespectful to the award recipients.
Consider the alcohol policy when planning your event and the potential implications. If you have provided a limitless supply of alcohol, many will take advantage of this and behaviour can change as a direct result.
If the award show is part of a larger, multi-day meeting a different approach is emerging. The new trend is to present awards earlier in the meeting program, such as on the first day. This ensures rapt attention from attendees. It also allows the recipients to bask in the limelight throughout the rest of the meeting.
Another benefit of this is that more people are likely to be present on the evening of day one. Many attendees leave on the last day and don’t stay for the final banquet to save an extra night of hotel costs or to get home to their family. This means that attendance numbers on the final night are often lower.
Awards can also be given at breakfasts or luncheons. Attendees are a bit more alert during these times. Then they can have the last night free to have fun and unwind.
If there are several awards to be given, another tactic is to spread the presentations throughout the meeting. You could begin with the minor awards and save the most important, prestigious one for the last session or night.
If you still prefer the traditional final-night awards banquet, you should stagger the welcome speech for award ceremony and presentations between courses instead of scheduling them at the end of the meal. Dinner meals tend to run over time; if all awards are presented at the end, chances are the program will have to begin before or during dessert. Some attendees may not be paying attention. Embarrassing conversation may continue throughout the program. And some attendees may even leave.
The caterer also must be aware of the protocols, seating arrangements, and other similar considerations associated with various ceremonies.
Choosing the Right Venue for Your Black Tie Event
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR VENUE REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (RFP)
A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a document to solicit proposals from potential venues to hold the event. The quality of the proposals sent back will be relative to the quality of your RFP. Be sure to include all requirements, however large or small.
The RFP should include:
- keyboard_arrow_right Introduction/Overview
- keyboard_arrow_right Key Contact Person
- keyboard_arrow_right Name of Organization
- keyboard_arrow_right Contact Info
- keyboard_arrow_right Available Dates
- keyboard_arrow_right Time Range
- keyboard_arrow_right Number of Guests
- keyboard_arrow_right Attendee Profile
- keyboard_arrow_right Demographics of Guests
- keyboard_arrow_right Number/Types of Special Meals Anticipated
- keyboard_arrow_right Accessibility Needs
- keyboard_arrow_right Number of Sleeping Rooms Anticipated for any out-of-town guests (if a hotel)
- keyboard_arrow_right Event Profile
- keyboard_arrow_right Purpose of Event
- keyboard_arrow_right Type(s) of Awards
- keyboard_arrow_right Theme
- keyboard_arrow_right Style of Decor
- keyboard_arrow_right Space for Decor
- keyboard_arrow_right Service Ratios
- keyboard_arrow_right Ratio of servers to guests: Average 1:32
- keyboard_arrow_right Negotiate for a higher ratio of servers: 1:20 for French Service; 1:16 with poured wine service
- keyboard_arrow_right Special Requirements
- keyboard_arrow_right Type of Setup
- keyboard_arrow_right Silent Auction?
- keyboard_arrow_right Ice Carving?
- keyboard_arrow_right Buffet, etc.
- keyboard_arrow_right Budget
- keyboard_arrow_right Sponsorships
- keyboard_arrow_right Justification for any Extra Fees
- keyboard_arrow_right Room Rental
- keyboard_arrow_right WiFi
- keyboard_arrow_right Surcharges
- keyboard_arrow_right Parking, etc.
- keyboard_arrow_right Information on Previous Events
- keyboard_arrow_right 3-year history including attendance and amount spent
- keyboard_arrow_right Preferred Communication Method
- keyboard_arrow_right Email
- keyboard_arrow_right Phone
- keyboard_arrow_right Text
- keyboard_arrow_right Letter
- keyboard_arrow_right Deadline for Submission of Proposals
- keyboard_arrow_right How to Submit the Proposal (hard copy or digitally)
- keyboard_arrow_right Number of Proposal Copies Required
- keyboard_arrow_right Proposal Format (Word, PDF, etc.)
- keyboard_arrow_right Email attachment
- keyboard_arrow_right Upload to website, etc
- keyboard_arrow_right Decision and Notification Date
- keyboard_arrow_right Cover Letter
As with any negotiation, you need leverage. If you have a low budget group, you will most likely be required to pay any extra labor charges. A high budget group may be able to negotiate the charges away. Remember that this negotiation must take place BEFORE you sign the contract. As with any agreement, be sure it is in writing and signed off on.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCATION FOR YOUR AWARD SHOW
Where will you hold the event?
If it is the last evening of a conference, you may wish to hold it in the host hotel. Obviously this is logistically easier.
If you have the budget (or a sponsor), you could choose an off-site location for added wow factor and a complete change of environment. There are many unique venues all over the world. You would have to factor the cost of shuttle or bus transportation to an off-site venue.
SELECTING THE RIGHT ROOM FOR YOUR SPECIAL EVENT: QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU SIGN A CONTRACT
The typical ceiling height in hotel or convention center function rooms can vary from between 11 feet to 14 feet. Lower ceilings can make a room feel cramped. Ceilings that are higher can reverberate sound unless sound absorbing fabrics are installed.
Many meeting planners are now doing their site inspections on the internet, without even visiting the facility in person. Some words of warning in taking this approach:
- keyboard_arrow_right You can’t tell what a room is like by looking at pictures that may be outdated.
- keyboard_arrow_right You can’t smell the room to see if the ventilation is good and if there are any odors or potentially mold.
- keyboard_arrow_right Without visiting the site it is impossible to know if sound bleeds in from outside or the kitchen.
- keyboard_arrow_right Checking the acoustics is important when there are speakers, speeches and music
- keyboard_arrow_right It is important to walk the route that guests will follow from the entrance.
If the function room directly abuts the kitchen, hallways, and service corridors, some action should be taken to prevent unwanted back-of-the-house aromas and noises from seeping into the function room. Employees moving about in these behind-the-scenes areas may occasionally cause distractions.
Some attendees may be unable to hear properly if employees are overheard shouting, laughing, or talking in the service corridor. Employees should be reminded to speak softly in these areas in order to minimize noise pollution.
You need to consider several things when selecting the appropriate function room in which to hold your event. The major factors influencing the selection process are the ambiance, attendee comfort, function room appearance, location, utilities, and amount of floor space.
Most hotels now charge room rental rates, which can only be negotiated away if the group is very lucrative. Sometimes room rental will be on a sliding scale, based on how much food and beverage revenue is generated.
ROOM DIMENSIONS AND INFORMATION EVENT PLANNERS NEED TO CONSIDER
Information that event planners need to know when planning an award show:
- keyboard_arrow_right Ceiling height (including variations - areas with lower ceiling heights)
- keyboard_arrow_right Number of columns
- keyboard_arrow_right Number and placement of exits, and entrances
- keyboard_arrow_right Proximity, number, and quality of restroom facilities
- keyboard_arrow_right Access to power supply and sockets
- keyboard_arrow_right Fire exits and emergency evacuation procedures
The overall appearance of the room is very important. Consider the following aspects of a room:
- keyboard_arrow_right Lighting
- keyboard_arrow_right Sound Insulation
- keyboard_arrow_right Colors and types of floor and wall coverings
- keyboard_arrow_right Wall treatment
- keyboard_arrow_right Temperature
- keyboard_arrow_right Smell
- keyboard_arrow_right Visibility
- keyboard_arrow_right Layout
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN SELECTING YOUR IDEAL AWARD SHOW FUNCTION ROOM
The right room will have a huge impact on the success of the event and the decisions taken when planning the event. There are some room types and features that should be avoided at all costs, or considered very carefully before signing a contract.
Don’t underestimate the importance of choosing the right room.
Long and Narrow Rooms
Function rooms that are long and narrow have a "bowling-alley" effect. This rectangular dimension discourages guest mingling, participation, and networking. It also affects service, because many guests will tend to gravitate toward one end of the room. A bar at one end may be very busy, with the other bars having only a few guests.
It is also difficult to place a speaker in a long, rectangular room, although it would probably be acceptable for the speaker to be midway on the long wall, as opposed to either end of the room. The use of audiovisual can also be limited in a long, narrow room.
Columns are usually a negative in a function room because they can block sightlines. This makes it difficult if there are speakers or audiovisual presentations during the event. A few columns may be acceptable, but too many will detract from the event.
The venue and caterer may be able to suggest a room setup that will minimize their negative effects. For instance, buffet tables can be arranged between some decorated columns that may enhance the room's appearance. Or buffets can be wrapped around columns using hollowed out half-moon tables.
Load-In Route and Access
Usually a function room has a sufficient number of entrances and exits because a local fire code requires them.
If you have speakers and/or audiovisual presentations scheduled, you will also want to know how easy or difficult it will be to transport the equipment in and out of the function room.
Some rooms have outside entrances and loading docks. If it isn’t on the ground floor, is there a large goods lift available to haul in large items, such as the set?
Head Table Location
A lectern or head table should not be located near an entrance because the movement of those coming and going will disrupt the speaker. If a video or PowerPoint ™ presentation is planned, try to have the room set up so the doors are off to the side so a latecomer does not have to walk in front of the speaker and interrupt the presentation.
With audiovisual presentations, you need to be able to minimize the amount of ambient light (i.e., unavoidable light seeping into a darkened room from around doors, draped windows, or production and service areas) that can wash out the colors in a presentation.
What does creating an ambience actually mean?
The most common answer given is ‘atmosphere.’ But, ambience is more than atmosphere. It is the feeling you get when you are in an environment, such as a meeting room. It is the mood of the room. It is affected by light, color, smell, sound and other undefined elements.
Ambiance: the mood and feeling of the room, affected by light, color, smell, sound and other undefined elements.
Sometimes, the appearance of the function room will be high on your priority list. Meeting planners are often attracted to a particular venue, especially a hotel or conference center, primarily because of the ambiance provided.
In Las Vegas, rooms that overlook The Strip are in high demand. At night, the view is phenomenal. Mountain and water views are also popular in many destinations. Many clients want to book these rooms regardless of any other advantages or disadvantages they offer.
What To Look For When Choosing a Function Room
The colors and types of floor and wall coverings are the first things you notice when viewing a function room. In addition to meeting fire and building-code requirements, they should be free from stains and in good repair. They also should be in good taste and decorated with style.
How Decor Impacts Appetite (Yes, Really!)
Attendees tend to eat and drink more in brightly lit, colorfully decorated surroundings. Vibrant colors, such as brilliant red, hot pink, and bright yellow, stimulate the appetite. Dark tones dull the appetite. Examples of colors that cool the appetite are dark green, navy blue, gray, and black.
You need to consider how you are paying for receptions. If you are paying per-person charges, it doesn’t matter how much attendees eat or drink, so you could have bright colors. Meeting planners paying on a consumption basis would have a higher consumption in a brighter room, so may opt for darker or more subdued colors and lighting in order to save money on their final bill.
Lighting Levels and Sound Capability
You should consider a function room's lighting and sound capabilities. If speakers are scheduled during the meal function, the room cannot have any dead space, i.e., area(s) in the room where sound is absent or unintelligible. Lighting should be controlled by a rheostat (dimmer switch) so the appropriate level of lighting can be achieved.
People gravitate toward natural light, which can warm up a room. The cold, harsh glare of fluorescent lights can negatively affect the ambiance of a room. While incandescent lighting is warmer than fluorescents, the best replicator of natural light is full spectrum lighting.
Sometimes, if I am bored at an event, I amuse myself by looking up and counting the burnt out light bulbs in the chandelier. I also look around to see if there are scuff marks on the baseboards or dirty carpets. These indicate to me how well the property does with maintenance. If the room that guests see and eat in is not up to standards, I sometimes wonder if the kitchen is kept clean.
How Event Design and Theme Impacts Memorable Events
Don’t underestimate the effect the design of the event has on the overall experience.
Remember, you are creating memories. I am sure you have attended many memorable events – both good and bad.
What made them memorable? The décor? The food? The service? The entertainment? The awards?
People typically only remember the exceptionally good and the very bad. The events that are average are quickly forgotten.
Don’t Make This Mistake! What Were The Event Planners Thinking?
I once attended a Black Tie BBQ Buffet.
You read that right.
Guests were in tuxedos and sequin gowns and they had a buffet loaded with barbecued ribs.
I have even attended receptions where they had corn on the cob.
What were the planners thinking? What were the catering managers thinking?
The Potential To Be Adventurous with Dinner Functions
Unlike breakfast or luncheon, meeting planners are usually more adventurous when booking a dinner function:
- keyboard_arrow_right They usually have more money and time to work with.
- keyboard_arrow_right French and Russian and service styles are more likely at dinner than at other meals.
- keyboard_arrow_right Buffet, preset, and pre-plated service styles are enhanced.
- keyboard_arrow_right Award ceremonies, entertainment and dancing are more common.
Many galas are part of a theme, a fundraiser, or other type of major production where food service is only one part of the event. Rarely are dinners scheduled merely for refueling purposes.
Dinner attendees are not usually on a tight time schedule. They normally do not have to be at a business meeting or any other sort of activity later on in the evening.
Many meeting planners do not have sufficient culinary background or expertise to plan a major food and beverage function. For example, I don’t recommend Prime Rib with very large groups. It is difficult to serve rare, some prefer it well done, and once cut juices seep out and it loses heat rapidly. Likewise, you cannot do Souffle for large numbers of people.
Food must do more than taste good, it must look good and be presented beautifully. We do truly eat first with our eyes. Today, with the advent of camera cuisine, many guests are posting photos of their meals online.
A dinner usually is much, much more than a meal. Food and beverage is only one part of it. You need to work with a caterer who is able to juggle many attractions and activities when helping clients plan these major events.
Menu and Service Tips from a Professional Chef
Choosing menu items for a meeting sounds like an easy task, but it can be daunting. You may think that Beef Wellington sounds delicious, but some will not like it because the beef is usually coated in pate (goose liver) before it is wrapped into the puff pastry. (You can request a mushroom coating.)
Communication is essential. I feel event planners generally focus on the front of the house services (i.e. set-up, decor, etc.) but many times fail to keep the back of the house (chefs) in the loop on what is going on in the front. An example that is almost always an issue is service timing. Many events always seem to run a tad late but that is critical for the chef to know, especially with plated meals. But, just as important with buffets and you certainly do not want the food dying (overcooking) in a chafer.
As a chef, I follow the counts, the menu selection, and more specifically the times on all or any Banquet Event Order (BEO). I do not want guests waiting on the kitchen. But if the front of the house fails to inform us prior to plating that the party is running late, well then the food (meal) immediately starts to lose quality (overcooking the entree in the hot box, salad limp and soggy because they were dressed too early, food such as app's, soups, etc., either getting cold or warm depending obviously on type of dish).
It is imperative all parties (front-back) know about the special meals ahead of time. I would advise that you introduce the specific server(s) that are handling the meal. This way the banquet chef will be familiar with him/her when they come to get the prescribed meal. This is extremely important in the preparation and execution of serving a dish which might contain a food allergen.
Many event planners fail to inform the chef of the meal service agreement with the band members in their rider contract. I have had a few wedding banquets when a server comes strolling into the kitchen an hour before service expecting to pick up 12 meals for the band. Chef is like "What in the heck are you talking about? What meals?"
What Menu Items Should You Avoid for Your Gala Dinner?
There are some menu items that are best avoided for your event, such as:
Anything too delicate to handle that breaks easily.
Anything that can easily begin to die (overcook).
Any warm items that can get cold quickly.
Service is critical. Many excellent meals at events are ruined by poor service.
Regardless of the quality of a catered function's food and beverage, room setup, and overall ambience, poor service reduces significantly the attendees' appreciation and enjoyment of the event
Poor service will overshadow any other favorable aspect of the event. Attendees will never be pleased if the service is lacking. They will usually remember a bad experience much longer than a good one.
Important Dinner Service Timings to Note
About 15 minutes before you want meal service to begin, begin alerting attendees. Start the music, dim the lights in the pre-function area, ring chimes, or make announcements to signal attendees that it is time to enter the dining room and start moving to their tables.
Servers should be standing ready at their stations when attendees walk into the room, not leaning against the wall talking with each other.
From serving to removing of plates, the salad course should take twenty to thirty minutes.
The main course should take about thirty to fifty minutes.
The dessert should take twenty to thirty minutes.
The entire banquet service will be about two hours for the typical dinner event.
Event Service Ratios and Guidance for Your Event
Do you negotiate service levels?
Do you ask hotels what their service ratios are?
Understaffed meal service is not compatible with successful events.
The cost of labor is staggering, so most hotels have Staffing Guides. They develop strict service ratios. The average ratio is one server for every 32 attendees at a meal function regardless of the style of service, the type of menu, or whether the servers are responsible for wine service.
Meal service levels can run from 1 server per 8 guests to 1 server per 40 guests. While most caterers’ staffing guides allow for 1 to 32, event planners should try to negotiate 1 to 20 or 1 to 16 if there is poured wine or Banquet French service.
The minimum busperson ratio for this sit-down meal is one bus person for every 3 servers. If you are using rounds of 10, the caterer should schedule one bus person for every 6 dining tables. If you are using rounds of 8, one bus person should be scheduled for every 8 dining tables.
Some caterers will schedule one busperson for every two servers. This is usually done for functions that include several VIPs or where extraordinary service is requested by the meeting planner. Generally speaking, though, you can make do with one bus person for every three servers because servers normally are expected to perform some busperson work during the catered event.
If the conventional sit-down meal function includes Russian, banquet French, or poured-wine service, you normally should request one server for every 16 attendees. You should schedule one server for every two rounds of 8, or two servers for every three rounds of 10. One bus person for every six rounds of 10, or every eight rounds of 8, will usually suffice.
How Many Courses Should You Have for Your Evening Dinner Event?
Dinners normally consist of multiple courses – anywhere from three to nine. Possible courses include:
- keyboard_arrow_right Appetizer
- keyboard_arrow_right Soup
- keyboard_arrow_right Salad
- keyboard_arrow_right Intermezzo
- keyboard_arrow_right Fish Course
- keyboard_arrow_right Main Course: meat, vegetable, starch, bread
- keyboard_arrow_right Dessert
- keyboard_arrow_right Cheese Course
- keyboard_arrow_right Beverage
HOW ADVENTUROUS CAN YOUR EVENT FOOD CHOICES BE?
You should never choose anything based on your own preferences - be it food, music, entertainers or speakers.
It is paramount to know the demographics of your attendees, because there are clues that allow you to generalize certain traits. For example, those with higher incomes are generally more adventurous with food because they can afford to eat out at fancy restaurants where they are introduced to unique items and preparation methods.
You should consider adding a section in your evaluation for attendees to comment on the food specifically, not just indicate if the food was bad to excellent on a Likert scale.
How To Handle Special Meals and Dietary Requirements: The Event Planner's Responsibilities
There is more demand for special meals now than ever before. Attendees come with all types of allergies, preferences, religious mandates, doctor’s orders, vegans, gluten-free, low salt, low fat, low carb and everything in between.
You should develop a procedure for dealing with guest special meal requests in advance. Last minute requests can throw off the kitchen. Because they haven’t planned in advance, they have to pull someone off of the line to work on one dish, which slows down the rest of the service.
Attendees with special needs should be required to funnel special meal requests through the planner or a particular contact person from the planner’s staff. They should not be contacting the caterer directly, which can cause confusion and mix-ups.
With enough advance warning, the venue can order kosher meals from a kosher kitchen. There would, of course, be an extra charge for this.
When it comes to kosher meals you have to be careful to ask “what level of kosher does the guest eat”? (Kosher style, Glatt, served with paper, plastic, etc.) When doing events that are 100% kosher you are at the mercy of the supervising Rabbi and some are more strict than others. I worked with one Rabbi on a reception for 2,000 guests and he made us order “whole salmons” un-gutted salmons that weighed a ton and were costly to ship.
Some planners try to get reduced prices for things like vegetable or fruit plates, because they say a plate of vegetables costs the hotel less than that slab of Prime Rib. But, there is more labor involved in preparing and delivering a special meal. Special meals should cost the same or more than the regular menu. The extra labor and coordination are an expense.
Some planners will put a note on the registration form, asking anyone with allergies or disabilities to contact the planner so arrangements can be made. The National Association for Catering & Events (NACE), prints all menus in the registration packet with a form to submit if attendees need any substitutions.
Do Your Events Stimulate the Senses for a Truly Memorable Experience?
There are five distinct senses, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sight, Hearing.
Are you using all five senses to stimulate attendees at your events?
Smell can be a powerful sense. Smell is often our first response to stimuli. It alerts us to fire before we see flames. There are various types of smells, including:
- keyboard_arrow_right Scent refers to the smell of flowers. Be aware that the scent of flowers in a centerpiece can affect the palate and overpower the taste of the food. Avoid strongly scented flowers on the table.
- keyboard_arrow_right Aroma usually refers to the smell of food. The aroma of bacon frying, coffee brewing in the morning, popcorn popping – all evoke memories as well as anticipation.
- keyboard_arrow_right Odor refers to bad smells, such as fishy odors, stale air in a meeting room, mildew, etc.
Smell is more closely linked to the parts of the brain that process emotion and associative learning than the other senses.
Think of all of the different textures and temperatures you can feel.
Order table linens with a good hand feel. They can be silky or velvety. Try using bubble wrap as a tablecloth or overlay. Attendees won’t be able to resist popping the bubbles.
This is a no-brainer. Provide delicious food. Consider flavor, texture and temperature.
Lighting can create a tone for the event and create a pleasing ambiance. There are all types of lights available, from tiny, sparkly Tivoli lights in Ficus trees to gobo lights projecting images on walls, ceilings or floors.
Colors evoke feelings. Reds and oranges are hot colors and excite people. Blues and greens are cool colors and calm people. As we touched on earlier, attendees will eat and drink more in a brightly lit room with hot colors.
Hearing is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations. Pleasant sounds, such as music at a reception or dinner, can set a mood. Soundtracks of tropical birds and/or rainfall at luau type of events can elevate the atmosphere.
So, put on your creative hat and come up with ideas to include all five senses in your events.
Pay attention to the entrance. The experience begins at the door.
Many events now incorporate a ‘red carpet’ experience with photos being taken in front of a ‘Step and Repeat’, which is a backdrop. It can contain graphics, sponsor logos, etc. The term comes from having people step in front of the backdrop to pose for photographers and leave while the next person repeats the process.
Swags, lighting, props, all can be used to enhance the mood. Templates on gobo lights can create images on the floor and walls.
An Example of a Good Event Entrance
I once attended an Indiana Jones themed event where we entered through an airplane fuselage.
But don’t be too wacky.
An Example of a Bad Event Entrance
I once attended a breakfast event where we had to walk through stacked crates of chickens. The odor was extremely off-putting, just before a meal.
Having servers just inside the entrance with trays of specialty drinks, wine or appetizers is a welcome sight on entering the event and can reduce the lines at the bars and food tables.
Two Essentials Documents Event Planners Must Create to Keep Event Timings On The Dot
Don’t leave timing to chance. There are two very important documents you must create to keep your gala dinner on track - the Event Timeline and the Production Schedule.
The Event Timeline is for all activities that happen prior to the event. It includes key milestones, such as:
- keyboard_arrow_right when the venue must be secured
- keyboard_arrow_right when the menu is to be confirmed
- keyboard_arrow_right when entertainment or speakers should be booked by
- keyboard_arrow_right when marketing will begins
- keyboard_arrow_right when invitations and collateral goes to the printer and into the mail, etc.
The Production Schedule is for everything happening on the day of the event, up to and including timing for meal courses, awards, entertainment, speakers, etc. It would include things such as:
- keyboard_arrow_right when the centerpieces are being delivered
- keyboard_arrow_right when the doors open
- keyboard_arrow_right when the music starts
- keyboard_arrow_right when the first course is served
- keyboard_arrow_right when the awards host goes on stage, etc.
7 Vital Tech and Speaker Checks for Slick Award Ceremony Presentations
If you are having speakers and presentations at your dinner, Sherry Johnson, Producer, Merestone provides these tips:
Presentation format. Will you be using 16:9 format (widescreen) or 4:3 format? The presentation should be created in the correct aspect ratio.
Slide content. The most common error is too much information on each slide. Pictures and simple graphics are much easier for the audience to digest.
Presentation. Get this in advance! Speakers push back, but it's important so that you can check them for content and format.
Confidence Monitor. Let the speaker know if you will have a confidence monitor available for them.
Podium. Does the speaker prefer to use a podium or do they like to walk around the stage?
Mics. What is the speaker's preference? Lavalier? Handheld? Podium mic? Headset? If you are using headset mics, be sure to let the speakers know. Tell the female speakers not to wear dangling earrings which will interfere with a headset mic.
Award Ceremony Receptions: Setup and Other Considerations
Some award events are scrapping the fancy seated served banquet in lieu of an upscale reception. The Event Industry Council changed to the reception format in 2015 for their Hall of Leaders Gala.
Receptions are sometimes referred to as "walk and talks," and are often pre-dinner functions that are designed primarily to encourage attendees to get to know one another. Most galas have an opening reception as an icebreaker to allow guests to make new friends and renew old acquaintances.
If an opening reception is not scheduled, an attendee will possibly only meet the handful of people sitting at his or her dining table.
When planning a reception, it is best to locate several food buffet stations around the room:
- keyboard_arrow_right Each station should offer a different type of food. This will encourage attendees to move around the room and socialize.
- keyboard_arrow_right If possible, you should include one or two action stations.
- keyboard_arrow_right You also should have a server at each station to replenish foods, bus soiled tableware, remove trash, and be a psychological deterrent to curb people’s tendencies to heap their plates and/or return several times.
The amount of food consumed may also depend on how many square feet are available for guests to move around in (smaller equals less consumption).
Seating should be minimized at reception events:
- keyboard_arrow_right You do not want to encourage attendees to sit and eat; remember, you want to promote mingling and networking.
- keyboard_arrow_right Seating should be provided for no more than 25 to 30% of the count.
- keyboard_arrow_right Cabaret-style seating, tuxedo tables, or park benches, with little or no table space, are suitable.
The amount of food consumed may depend on how many square feet are available for guests to move around in:
- keyboard_arrow_right Plan for 5 ½ to 10 square feet of floor space per attendee.
- keyboard_arrow_right Tighter space equals less consumption.
- keyboard_arrow_right With 5 ½ to 6 square feet, people will feel a bit constrained and have more difficulty getting to the food and beverage stations - they may eat and drink less.
If a cost-conscious meeting planner is paying a low price per-person where attendees can eat and drink as much as they want, the caterer will typically allocate about 6 square feet per person to keep the price low and the food and beverage costs under control.
Ten square feet provides ample space for attendees to mingle and visit the food and beverage stations easily. It is an appropriate amount of floor space for a luxury-type reception.
Table placement at receptions affects food consumption:
- keyboard_arrow_right An hors d’oeuvre table placed against a wall provides only 180 degree access to the food.
- keyboard_arrow_right A rectangular table in the center of the room provides two open sides and 360 degree access to the food.
- keyboard_arrow_right A round table in the center of the room gives an appearance of a lavish presentation, but there is no way for a line to form to circle the table.
- keyboard_arrow_right Guests have to work their way in and out at various points for each item they wish to eat, which decreases food consumption.
- keyboard_arrow_right The round table in this case is sometimes referred to as a Rubik’s Cube, because of guest frustration at trying to get to the food.
Food stations need enough floor space for the tables and aisles:
- keyboard_arrow_right An 8-foot long rectangular banquet table needs about 24 square feet for the table, and about 60 square feet for aisle space if the table is against the wall.
- keyboard_arrow_right About 100 square feet for aisle space is needed if the table is accessible from all sides.
One of the biggest complaints heard at opening receptions is that the music is too loud. In the case of annual gala dinners, many people haven’t seen each other for a year and want to talk, and there are generally a lot of introductions going on.
Think carefully about the award ceremony music. Usually the reception is a networking event, and attendees end up having to shout over the music to be heard. If loud music is desired, save it until later in the evening, or for the final evening banquet.
Action Stations (also called Performance Stations or Exhibition Cooking) are designed to provide a fun and engaging addition or distinctive alternative to the traditional dinner or buffet.
Action Stations provide more flair than a traditional buffet, and they are more interactive than a seated dinner. This format encourages guests to move around the room and provides an opportunity to socialize and network.
Action Stations offer a unique experience, with live chefs preparing custom items while your guests look on. Many people do not like buffets, because they feel the food isn’t freshly prepared. One of the best things about Action Stations is that guests usually get to choose their own ingredients and quantities to incorporate into the item and have it customized to their tastes.
Here are some ideas for action stations at your event:
- keyboard_arrow_right Dim Sum Station
- keyboard_arrow_right Seared Ahi Tuna Station
- keyboard_arrow_right Pasta Stations with a variety of Pastas and Sauces
- keyboard_arrow_right Risotto Station
- keyboard_arrow_right Salad Stations for Caesar Salad, Caprese Salad, etc.
- keyboard_arrow_right Carving Stations for Steamship Rounds, Prime Rib, Tenderloin, Turkey,
- keyboard_arrow_right Ham, Salmon, etc.
- keyboard_arrow_right Sushi and Sashimi Station
- keyboard_arrow_right Steak Tartare Bar
- keyboard_arrow_right Asian Lettuce Wraps – Vegetarian or Chicken
- keyboard_arrow_right Mixology Station featuring Custom Beverages
Ask your Catering Manager if they do anything unique to their area. In Hawaii, I experienced a Malasada Station (Portuguese doughnuts) and a Banana Lumpia Station (like an egg roll with banana inside – a treat from the Philippines).
While Action Stations cost more than a static buffet, guests love them. Be prepared to pay a per hour, per chef, charge.
Action Stations are a wonderful way to bring food and entertainment together. Your attendees will be dazzled and delighted to see the sizzle and pop of the creation process.
Bars and Beverages
Bars and neutral beverage stations should be spaced around the room. Bars should be placed sufficient distances from the food stations so that people have to change locations in order to get a drink. This further increases mingling.
When setting up portable bars for a very large function, can to reduce space estimates by having them located in pairs.
Place two or four portable bars back-to-back in the middle of the room so the bars can share a common area for glassware, ice, wines, beers, etc. This eliminates duplicate storage areas and frees up extra floor space.
For self-service, non-alcoholic beverage stations, the setups are similar to buffet-table setups.
A hot-beverage station will need as much space as a buffet table.
Tended bars will need more floor space because you need room to store backup stock, ice, and coolers to hold beer and some wines.
Allocate enough working space for bartenders and any cocktail servers.
The smallest portable bar measures approximately 6 feet by 7 feet, or about 42 square feet.
Consider aisle and other space needed, you will need to allocate at least 150 square feet for the typical portable banquet-bar setup.
Event entertainment is likely to be an integral part of your gala dinner, award show or black tie event. Here are some things to consider.
We all love entertainment and to be entertained -- but is that enough nowadays? For the money invested in headline entertainment, shouldn't the act make a contribution to the event's ROI? Shouldn't the act be there to support the goal of that event? How do you spell success as a planner for your event? Once your metric is identified, please share with the act ahead of time through your corporate entertainment company so you might mitigate your risk of possibly having a bad hire for entertainment and ensuring a good fit!
Music runs the gamut from rock cover bands to classical music orchestras and everything in-between. I have attended German themed events with an Oomph a Band and Italian themed events with strolling Opera singers. Be sure you know your audience.
Taste in music is very specific and it is easy to go in the wrong direction. I have a colleague who once managed a small hotel. He loves Barbershop Quartet music, so he booked a group into the lounge. Not only did it not attract people, those that wandered in quickly left. He learned a quick lesson about providing what his guests preferred rather than his own personal tastes.
Using a DJ
A Disc Jockey (DJ) is a person who plays recorded music and may or may not do audio commentary. Either way, a DJ is an entertainer. A DJ needs to be the spark that keeps the party going and interact with the audience.
Always check the playlist to be sure the music is suitable for your audience. Always check references.
Many DJs also do lighting. Of all the lighting technology on the market for DJs, ‘uplighting’ seems to have had the most improvements and innovations in recent years, including colored diodes, batteries, and wireless technology.
Many meeting planners overlook the importance of lighting. Lighting can be the design focus of the event. Lighting can create a mood, enhance décor or draw attention to a design element.
Warm white or light pink is a flattering color for people. Blue is romantic, but not flattering to the skin. Likewise green or purple can be unflattering. Only white light should be used on food or flowers.
A Lighting Designer plans the lighting design, designs the light plot for the room and creates lighting cues.
A Lighting Director supervises on-site installation, makes adjustments, supervises the show and programs final lighting cues.
A Production/Lighting Company supplies light and sound.
Here are some lighting terms you should be familiar with:
- keyboard_arrow_right Backlighting: lighting behind items
- keyboard_arrow_right Dark Time: no one is allowed in room
- keyboard_arrow_right Dimmer: control over Levels of Lighting
- keyboard_arrow_right Lamps: (light bulbs or lighting fixtures)
- keyboard_arrow_right Gels: heat-resistant plastic film
- keyboard_arrow_right Uplighting on foliage, plants, trees, etc. (do not uplight people or they look like ghouls)
- keyboard_arrow_right Accent Lighting draws attention to a specific item or area - can also use color lighting
- keyboard_arrow_right Clip on lights
- keyboard_arrow_right Spot Light
- keyboard_arrow_right PAR Cans: Stage rear and front truss
- keyboard_arrow_right Truss: Metal that lights attach to
- keyboard_arrow_right Intelligent Lights: Moving and programmable
- keyboard_arrow_right Lekos: Designed mostly for Gobos
- keyboard_arrow_right Gobos: Stage, walls, floors, dance floor
- keyboard_arrow_right Intelligent Lighting
- keyboard_arrow_right Robotic Lights or Moving Lights
- keyboard_arrow_right Can be programmed to travel all around the room
- keyboard_arrow_right Fog is added to enhance the effect
- keyboard_arrow_right More expensive however, very dramatic
- keyboard_arrow_right Can also add gobos
For more décor info, read Jim Monroe’s book, The Art of the Event: A Complete Guide to Designing and Decorating Special Events.
Tablescape is a term used to describe the table top. It includes the centerpiece, linens, dishes, flatware, glassware and any other décor. If you are on a tight budget and don’t have much to spend in the way of décor, put your money in the table top. Once guest are seated, the table top is their view for the rest of the event.
Tablescapes can set the mood. They can be themed to the event or the meeting. Pay attention to color. You do not want colors that clash with the carpet or other colors in the room.
When you're dressing a table you should be considering how you would dress for the occasion. The tablecloth can be seen as the gorgeous gown for the base of the look, with the napkin rings chosen to be as beautiful as the cuff bracelets you would display on your wrist. Picture the centerpieces draped with jewels the way you would wear a stunning chandelier earring...no detail should be overlooked! You can mix a combination of high and low end pieces to achieve this look if you keep in mind that it should overall be a polished and glamorous experience for the guests gracing the tables that evening.
How To Create Magic with Stunning Centerpieces
Centerpieces can greatly enhance the ambiance of a tablescape. They should never be at eye-level, which creates a ‘disembodied’ voice coming from across the table when you can’t see the person sitting there. Centerpieces should be low, or raised high with a tall, slender epergne to ‘cap’ the table.
Photos of award recipients can be incorporated into centerpieces. I attended one awards event where the recipient’s childhood photos were in the centerpiece and we had fun guessing who was who.
Flowers should always be ordered a few days before the event so they have time to open to full bloom. While flower buds are beautiful, you want your flowers fully bloomed in all of their glory for your event. A beautiful floral tablecloth with a centerpiece made of the same flowers depicted on the tablecloth can make a stunning appearance.
Be wary of flowers with a strong scent, such as tiger lilies or hyacinths, as the scent can interfere with the palate.
Centerpieces can be highlighted with pin spots (small spotlights) from the ceiling. This can be very dramatic in a dimly lit room. Lately it seems that a lot of centerpieces have LED lights incorporated to give a dramatic effect.
You don’t have to have the same centerpiece at every table. You can have a variety of different centerpieces around the room, which gives visual interest.
I am a big proponent of edible centerpieces. Appetizers or desserts can be displayed attractively instead of flowers. Baskets of assorted breads, lavosh and breadsticks are always a welcome sight, because most people love good breads. Interesting centerpieces can be made from fruit or plates of petit fours. This Pinterest site for edible centerpieces has a collection of ideas.
Chef Michael Napolitano, Food and Beverage Director, Renaissance Catering, Las Vegas says clients have been asking for centerpieces with finger foods on them when there will be an awards ceremony taking place, “so the guests can nibble while the awards are given out.”
The following tips will help you design a stellar place setting:
The cover (place setting) should match the menu. For example, if you are having soup, there should be a soup spoon.
The bread plate, forks and napkins are placed to the left of the plate.
Knives, spoons, glassware, cups and saucers are placed to the left of the plate.
The dinner knife is immediately adjacent to the plate, with the blade turned toward the plate.
The water glass should be placed above the knife blade.
Wine glasses would go to the right of the water glass.
If you are serving more than one type of wine, the wine glasses should be placed in the order they will be used. The first wine would typically be a white wine, so it would be furthest to the right.
The dessert fork and spoon can be set above the plate, fork pointing right, spoon pointing left.
The bread and butter plate should be placed on the left above the forks and at about a 10:00 position in relation to the dinner plate.
There should never be a ‘naked cover’ which would be an empty space where the plate will go. You can fill the space with a napkin, a menu, a pre-set appetizer or a show plate. A show plate is just that – strictly for show. It is removed after the guest is seated and before any food is served. A base plate serves as a base for several courses.
Cream soups call for a spoon with a round bowl, thinner soups would be served with a large oblong shaped tablespoon.
If you are serving salad, a smaller salad fork should be provided.
Fancier meals may call for small demitasse spoons, individual salt spoons, fish forks or other type of specialty flatware .
You should have more than one set of salt and pepper shakers, creamer and sweeteners on the table, as a convenience to the guests.
Cups and saucers should not be pre-set at a formal meal. It is often done for expediency, but they should not be brought out until coffee is served. And, the cup should never be turned over so the guest view is the bottom of a cup.
Never place the forks on top of the napkin, the napkin should be placed to the left of the forks, unless you are using it in the center of the place setting.
Choosing the right room:
- keyboard_arrow_right Requires knowing what you will need to fit into it.
- keyboard_arrow_right If round tables are used, you should allow about 12 ½ square feet per guest.
- keyboard_arrow_right This includes their portion of the table, plus the space the guest seated in a chair would need.
- keyboard_arrow_right You should allocate about 10 square feet per attendee if seating is at rectangular banquet tables.
- keyboard_arrow_right These estimates are for standard banquet chairs where the seats measure 20 inches by 20 inches.
- keyboard_arrow_right You should adjust your estimates if smaller chairs (seats measuring 18 inches by 18 inches) or larger armchairs (which usually have a minimum width of 24 inches) are used.
- keyboard_arrow_right Round tables are the easiest for the staff to service and they maximize interaction among guests.
DON'T FORGET THE AISLES!
Aisles allow people to move easily around the room without squeezing through chairs and disturbing seated attendees. They also provide a buffer between the seating areas and the food and beverage areas. They are also essential for staff and server access and maneuverability.
- keyboard_arrow_right Aisles between tables and around food stations, beverage stations and around the perimeter of the room should be a minimum of 36 inches wide.
- keyboard_arrow_right It is preferable to have 48 inches.
- keyboard_arrow_right When planning aisle space, remember to leave enough entry and exit room for attendees.
- keyboard_arrow_right You should plan to allocate sufficient cross-aisle space, i.e., aisles used for attendees to collect and funnel in and out of the function areas.
- keyboard_arrow_right A cross-aisle should be approximately six feet wide.
- keyboard_arrow_right Cross-aisle space is very important when setting large functions.
- keyboard_arrow_right For a function requiring 100 tables, the caterer should not set a square layout of 10 tables by 10 tables without allowing some additional aisle space for attendees to maneuver comfortably to the middle tables from the outside perimeter.
- keyboard_arrow_right If you need 100 tables, you should set up four blocks of 25 tables.
- keyboard_arrow_right Within the 25-table block, 48-inch aisle space is sufficient.
- keyboard_arrow_right However, there should be a six-foot-wide cross aisle surrounding each block of 25 tables.
Before making final decisions regarding aisle space, the caterer must check the local fire code for specific requirements. In Las Vegas the fire Marshall must check and approve any layout for 200 or more attendees, because of major hotel fires in the area in the early 1980s.
GRAPHIC ROOM LAYOUT SOFTWARE
Many caterers utilize graphic layout software, such as AllSeated or Social Tables to design the room setup. This helps ensure that the design meets the meeting planner’s needs and the fire code regulations. They offer a 30 day trial/demo period.
While these programs are great for banquet room sets, they are not as good for trade shows or outside events. ExpoCad is specifically for trade shows.
Google has a free app called SketchUp that will create any design in 3D.
- keyboard_arrow_right If the function includes dancing, the caterer can provide (or can rent) about 3 square feet of dance floor per attendee.
- keyboard_arrow_right Most of these types of portable dance floors come in 3 feet by 3 feet sections; plan on using one section for every three attendees.
- keyboard_arrow_right A 24 foot by 24 foot dance floor covers approximately 600 square feet of floor space; this would be sufficient for a group of approximately 200 attendees.
- keyboard_arrow_right For very large functions, a second dance floor is very convenient.
- keyboard_arrow_right Guests at the back of the room will not have to negotiate the long trail leading to the front where the single dance floor normally is located.
- keyboard_arrow_right However, this arrangement does divide the guests into two subgroups.
- keyboard_arrow_right Two dance floors placed as diamonds with the points abutting keeps separate dance floors connected.
Be sure the dance floor is safety-coated with an abrasive to improve traction. Be sure sections are flush against each other and there are no cracks in which a lady's high heel could get caught. All sides must be completed with trim pieces that slant and will not cause someone to trip.
STAGING AND RISERS
If you are having a band play, estimate about 10 square feet of space per band member. Drum sets usually require about 20 square feet. Large pianos, synthesizers, runways, sound boards, and so forth need additional space. Disc jockeys will need space to hold their equipment; however, today’s technology allows a DJ to work with a small computer and small speakers to generate a high-quality sound and an extensive catalog of music genres. You should check the entertainment contract as it may set forth the floor-space specifications.
Band stands and other similar attractions are sometimes elevated on risers. Stage risers come in many shapes and sizes. Their purpose is to elevate speakers, other entertainers, or audiovisual equipment so that a large audience can see what is taking place at one end of the function room.
Most risers are 4 feet by 4 feet, or 4 feet by 8 feet, folding risers that can be adjusted to several heights. Risers should be set up with steps with attached handrails and light strips. A lawsuit can occur if a guest falls from an improperly set stage.
Head tables usually need about 25 percent to 100 percent more floor space than regular dining tables. If the tables will be placed on risers, you must increase your space estimate accordingly to accommodate the platform area, steps, and the need to spread the table-and-person weight properly over the stage.
For instance, if using typical platform sections measuring 4 feet by 4 feet and 4 feet by 8 feet, you would need to connect a 4 by 4 and a 4 by 8 to have enough space to accommodate a dining table measuring 3 feet by 8 feet. In other words, you will need about 48 square feet of platform space to accommodate approximately 24 square feet of dining-table space. The 48 square feet will accommodate four guests seated at 24-inch intervals. 12 square feet per person is usually the minimum amount needed for head-table guests.
A raised head table for twelve people, plus a lectern, should be a minimum of 26 feet long. The rule of thumb is 2 feet per person, plus 2 ½ feet for the lectern. For more comfortable seating, allow 2 1/2 to 3 feet per person.
If you have head tables reserved for speakers, dignitaries, or other VIPs who will be addressing the guests after the meal, you may ask the facility to set up extra dining tables on the floor for them, near the head tables, so they can eat without feeling like they are on display.
Some people do not want to sit at an elevated table and eat. If there is enough space, they can eat at regular dining tables, and then move up to the head tables just before the program begins.
Setting up extra dining tables allows you to maximize the number of VIPs who can be accommodated at the head tables. For instance, if you have ten VIPs and ten spouses, you can set up twenty places at regular dining tables. Then, instead of setting up a head table for twenty, you can set one for only the ten VIPs. The spouses can remain at the dining tables after the meal.
Awards, Trophies, Plaques and Gifts
Award recipients are typically given a memento of the occasion. Inscribed trophies, are all different shapes and sizes. Think carefully before you decide.
I was once given a crystal bowl that sits on an inscribed base. As I was standing for photographs, the bowl was accidentally knocked out of my hand and shattered on the floor.
I have also been given items that are either too big or too heavy to fit in a suitcase. Once I was given a picnic set that contained steak knives. I only had carry on luggage, so I had to leave it behind.
Protocol is defined as rules of etiquette and ceremony. There are expectations for dinners in terms of the head seating arrangements that event planners should follow.
Rank and Status
First, you should develop the protocol for order of rank or status. This will depend on your organization. A corporation may list the CEO as number one, whereas an association may list the volunteer chairman of the board rather than the paid association executive.
If it is an awards dinner, the honorees should be given high priority. If there is a noted speaker, he or she should also be high on the list.
The event host or hostess should be seated in the center of the table, with the main VIP (award recipient) seated to his or her right. The second most important person should be seated to the left of the host or hostess. It then continues right, left, right left, until the table is filled. (So, the least important person is seated to the far left).
If there is a lectern on the table, the host/hostess would be seated to the right of the lectern, and seating would again go right, left, right left. In this scenario, the second most important person would be to the immediate left of the lectern.
Everyone at the head table should be formally introduced at the beginning of the meeting or event.
Additional head tables may be arranged to seat all those who need to be seated at the head table. I have seen a head table for 48 chefs at a culinary convention. There were four rows of twelve, with each back row elevated in tiers on risers. (It was difficult to follow protocol for this event, because many of the chefs were the size of Paul Prudhomme, who was one of the chefs at the table).
This meant they had to take the weight of the chefs into consideration so the weight would be evenly distributed.) In the case of tiered tables, the first, or closest table to the audience would be for the higher ranking officials and guests.
Each seat at the head table should have a place card, thus eliminating confusion on who sits where.
The head table should always be served first.
It is important to have a responsible member of staff remain in charge of the head table arrangements to give special consideration to details and to foresee problems before they occur.
There is no better way to end the dinner portion of an event than to schedule an ‘After Glow’. Dinner is over - it’s time for coffee and dessert. People are full, yet you want the attendees to interact, dance, and enjoy themselves. Rather than force-feed them a calorie-laden dessert, let them get up and move about a bit before tackling the sweets.
After-glow stations are a great way to do this. Serve the following at stations around the room: cappuccino, espresso, international coffees, cognacs, cordials, and bite size signature desserts.
An After Glow can also be held in a separate room, away from the room where the dinner was held. An After Glow would be preferred by those who wish to get away from loud music, and have a place to talk. They can enjoy coffees and desserts at their own pace. If the budget allows, you can add more variety of options.
Put in some lounge furniture like easy chairs, sofas, and coffee tables to make it comfortable and inviting.
Creating Memories through Gift-Giving for your Guests
To leave a lasting impression, many events give their attendees favors or ‘swag bags’ which are goody bags. They can be something as simple as cookies or a bottle of wine. Popular items include: reusable water bottles, chocolate truffles, candied popcorn, flash drives, luggage tags, and so on.
You can include items with sponsor logos. Or items that reflect the destination. Or items commemorating the event.
The best known swag bags are given to celebrities at awards shows, such as the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes. If you search Swag Bags on Pinterest, you will see many ideas for both bags and unique contents. EMB has a post on Swag Bag Ideas too.
Event Planning Checklist for an Award Show
When organizing an award show this quick gala planning checklist details the important steps you will follow during the planning stages:
Determine Reason for Event, Goals and Objectives
Develop Request for Proposal (RFP)
Confirm Date and Time with Venue
Negotiate Details with Venue and Sign Contract
Select Award Recipient(s)
Select Design and Theme of Event
Hire Entertainment/Book Speaker
Get Cost Estimates and Contract with Vendors (AV, Florists, Photographers, etc)
Create Award Ceremony Invitation.
Promote on Social Media and Website
Create Media List and Press Releases
Confirm Number of Attendees
Create Draft Award Ceremony Script and Production Schedule
Walk Through to Confirm Room Set Up
Some of the information in this article was excerpted from my latest book, written with Lisa Lynn Backus: Catering and Convention Service Survival Guide in Hotels and Casinos.
In summary, exceptional awards events do not happen by chance. It takes a lot of planning and logistical expertise to pull it off. Every element must be considered, from the menu to the décor and beyond. You must know who is attending, what they expect, what they need and how you can surprise and delight them. The award recipients must be made to feel as special as the occasion.
Now onto you:
- keyboard_arrow_right What are the essential tips and tactics when planning a successful award show, gala dinner or black tie event? Comment below and share your expertise with other event professionals.
- keyboard_arrow_right Do you have a tip to make this page better? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- keyboard_arrow_right Do you have a colleague who may benefit from reading this page? Share it with them!
Hungry for more? Read 5 Tips for a Successful Awards Ceremony.