Use this time to improve your business and prepare for what’s coming.

The coronavirus has had a worldwide impact on the hospitality and events industries, causing event planners globally to cancel and postpone events. Recently, a survey was conducted by Tripleseat asking event planners what they are doing to restart the industry in 2020, and any plans they have for future events this year. 

Two very encouraging and compelling statistics came from this survey—the first being that 96 percent of planners will reschedule their events (not cancel) and the second being that planners are looking to reschedule 76 percent of those events to later in 2020, not pushing to 2021. For those worried about when and how the event business will come back, I think this speaks volumes. The business is going to come back, and it’s going to come back this year. 

Corporate Events Will Make a Comeback

Another thing we learned is that the majority of the events being planned for later this year are corporate. After speaking with event managers over the last couple of weeks, a common concern is that the corporate business is going to dry up. With companies slashing budgets, how can events possibly make the cut? With 76 percent of respondents reporting that they are planning corporate events such as conferences, meetings, networking parties, and other activities for businesses, the outlook for the remainder of 2020 is promising. After spending months in isolation, organizations are going to want to bring their employees together as soon as it is safe.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

The survey showed that 74 percent of event planners are most concerned about cancellation policies. What can you do to prepare for business to return? It’s important to make sure your cancellation and reschedule policies are crystal clear. Also be extremely clear on your hold policies with your guests and your team. It’s important to be firm, but also flexible in case there is a second wave of COVID. As people start to scramble to rebook, there will be those hot dates on the calendar that everyone wants. If you offer courtesy holds, be extremely clear with guests about when that hold expires and what you need to do to confirm and lock it in. That way you do not lose out on the next person in line, and you don’t burn a bridge. You should also consider giving clients a longer grace period to rebook and use their deposit. Offering clients the opportunity to use their deposit as gift cards for catering or other options is worth considering as well so you recapture as much as possible. 

At Eleven Madison Park in New York City, where I was an event manager, people inevitably got upset if they couldn’t have the date they wanted. Being honest and upfront was always the best way to navigate those situations. Start to think of ways to offer Sundays, Thursdays, or other days of the week that may not have been popular before. Fridays and Saturdays are obviously going to go first. 

The survey also showed that about 37 percent of respondents were interested in special incentives for booking events. It’s a good idea to figure out if you are able to offer discounts on any of your spaces or menus and assemble a package that will make those less desirable days of the week more attractive. 

We are Living in a Virtual World

What can you do in the short-term to secure revenue before you are able to host live events in-house again? Find a way to get in on the virtual event business! When prompted with this question in the survey, the answers mostly involved online solutions: webinars, virtual events, virtual meetings, virtual happy hours or networking parties, online office hours, online conferences, and livestreaming on social media platforms.

For restaurants and caterers, this presents a unique opportunity to offer packages for virtual events. Put together breakfast, lunch, and AM/PM break “to-go boxes” at a competitive price that can be strategically delivered to all conference attendees the day before or the day of the event. There is also an opportunity for an upcharge if your local laws allow you to offer to-go cocktails, wine, or beer. 

For event planners, think about adding virtual experiences to your repertoire. Corporate and social planners are always looking for fresh ideas and new ways to entertain guests. Adding virtual cooking classes/demos, or offering a virtual tasting menu with to-go boxes to a restaurant or venue’s offering can be another source of revenue during and after this crisis. Other ideas can include wine tastings, cocktail demos, and virtual instruction on how to pair wine with food. Pivoting to capture the virtual business will give you an additional revenue stream in the short-term, while also providing opportunities for your chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, and other front of the house staff to contribute.

When One Door Closes Another Door Opens

The hospitality and events industry is preparing to get back to business, as some cities and states discuss plans for reopening. There are a number of resources available to restaurants and event venues to help navigate the process such as the National Restaurant Association’s reopening guide and federal guidelines for businesses that are located in areas that are lifting restrictions. 

As Alexander Graham Bell famously stated, “When one door closes another door opens.” If anything, the key takeaway here is to not be so discouraged by the current situation that you are oblivious to the new opportunities it presents. Use this time to improve your business and prepare for what’s coming. There is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, and it will be here sooner than you think.

Growing up with her mother working in catering exposed Whitney Edwards to the hospitality and event industry from a young age, although it was not until Whitney attended New York University that she realized her passion for events. Since then, Whitney has set off on a successful career in event management working for such restaurants as Marc Murphy’s Landmarc and the prestigious Eleven Madison Park. Whitney has returned to her roots in Nashville, TN, where she now works as an account manager for Tripleseat, the leading sales and event management platform for restaurants, hotels, and unique venues. She is also the recipient of the Top Women in Metro New York Award from Total Food Service & Hospitality magazine in 2018 and 2019. Connect with Whitney on LinkedIn.

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