First time planners are often stricken with complete fear! Even those that plan events over and over again still fear that something will go wrong and they will be the subject of ridicule. Hopefully we can allay the fears and quell the butterflies in your stomach by helping you through the entire project.
There are a lot of questions you need to ask. First timers probably don’t have the foggiest idea what questions to ask, so, the first thing we’d better do is outline these for you.
Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to fill out a form. (I love forms!)
If you were to phone me and ask me to help you make arrangements for a special event, the first thing I would do is reach for a blank form, and over the phone we would fill it out. When I had all the information, I would be better prepared to help you.
Before you continue reading, you may want to print the banquet planning worksheet(PDF) from my website. That way you can follow along with the worksheet as I describe the planning process. I’ve also included a pre filled sample planning worksheet that you might help.
Let’s begin with fact finding.
The first question to ask is, “What is the purpose of the event?” This question should be really easy, but it’s perhaps the most important. The purpose of your event will determine your event’s agenda.
Break out your calendar to decide a date for your event. Look for possible conflicts. It might be tough to get people out to a Saturday night banquet if it’s a three-day holiday. It would be unwise to put on a church social if your local school, where most of your congregation had children attending, were having an open house or play that night.
Pencil in a date and then try to think of possible conflicts. I know of one organization that booked a very popular and relatively expensive Jewish comic into the club house of a predominantly Jewish retirement community. Attempts to sell tickets failed miserably, because they had not realized they had scheduled his appearance on a Jewish holiday – a very expensive oversight!
There are many, many determining factors in establishing a budget. First of all, how many are expected to attend? You might have a pretty good idea for a company party, but in some cases you might just have to make a “guess-timate” until you can get more information. Make the best possible estimate based on what facts you have, and proceed.
Another factor to determine before we select a location is how much your attendees are willing to pay. Sure, we can work the other way: we can pick a location, hire a band, select the menu, etc., and then add up how much it all costs and thus determine how much everyone needs to pay, but doing so will probably leave you hurting in the end.
If you expect 1,000 people, and you determine $25.00 a person is acceptable, then your entire budget for food, printing, entertainment, etc., is $25,000. If you expect only 20 people and you know they won’t come if it’s over $5.00 a person, then you know you’re far more limited.
Determine the geographical area where the event is to take place. If you live in the area where the event will take place, you may already know of various hotels, country clubs, restaurants or catering halls that can accommodate your group. If you don’t live in the area, be sure to go look at the potential location before you book it. If the event is in a distant city and it’s not possible for you to travel there, and the event is a significant one, I suggest you hire a professional meeting planner.
I once attended a banquet in a quaint “50’s malt-shop-type restaurant. The party planner had not gone there to look at the room where the party was to be. She had just taken the word of a friend. True, it was a great restaurant, but their “room” had about 5 permanent booths on each wall. Guests were facing in all different directions. This made it almost impossible for the magician they had hired to perform. To further confuse the issue, it was not even a private room. Restaurant customers could not get to the restroom without disturbing the party, and the 50’s music continued to blare through the ceiling speakers throughout the evening because it was piped throughout the whole restaurant and could not be isolated from one room. A visit beforehand could have prevented this nightmare.