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Know Thy Team

Posted on January 31, 2007

By Kelly Rush

"Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success."

-Henry Ford

Recently on the MIForum, I posted an answer to questions about writing a service clause into a hotel contract and referenced speaking with the banquet management team to answer questions and concerns regarding service.  I discovered through the course of this conversation that not everyone realizes, or maybe understands, the planning process from a facility perspective, perhaps because, as a client, groups tend to communicate with the facility sales team or the catering/convention services team.  To better meet our goals and objectives of the week, I thought it might be helpful to offer a quick primer to the "who" of making your event happen.  Please keep in mind that job functions vary by property, so the following is a general illustration of how the process flows from the facility side. 

Sign on the Dotted Line
First contact is normally made by someone from the sales team, whether that is a catering sales manager or representative or, for groups, a convention sales manager.  The responsibility of this individual is to solicit new accounts and maintain current relationships to sign repeat business.  It is their job to develop a proposal and food and beverage minimums, room rates, and, at smaller properties, block space for your group.  In short, this is the person who develops, and gets you to sign, a contract. 

Let the Planning Begin!
Once a contract is signed, at most properties, the catering manager (or catering sales manager) retains responsibility for the service and detailing of the entire contract for social business. By detailing the contract, I refer to the process of reviewing the contract details, menu planning, room sets, audio-visual needs and reviewing the status of the rooming block.  For group business, most properties will turn the detailing and service of contracts over to a convention services or conference services manager (the difference in terminology is really semantic, most often reflecting the size of the property, with convention services being used by larger properties) or CSM.  Once the CSM has begun detailing the various group functions, they begin to communicate with the cross-functional teams--banquets, culinary, and set-up--via the Banquet Event Order, or BEO (more about them later this week!).  About one month out, this manager is responsible for distribution of your group resume to all of the hotel departments.  The resume will outline the myriad of details for your group in a broad way and include room pick up and arrival patterns, accounting details such as authorized signature and payment methods, special housekeeping requests, activities (particularly if the property has its own personnel coordinating recreational activities), spa appointments, transportation needs, amenity deliveries, and the outline of meeting schedules and catering functions--including location and number of attendees.  When the group contact arrives, the CSM is responsible for coordinating a pre-con (pre-conference, or -convention) meeting on-site with representatives from each department, usually a day or two prior to the start of your event.  During your conference or convention, the CSM is responsible for checking in daily (sometimes more than once) with the group as well as reviewing billing with the group contact.  Finally (!), the CSM is responsible for conducting a post-con with the group contact to review and evaluate the property and, if all went well, attempt to resign your piece of business (or other, new pieces of your business) for the facility. 

Making It Work
When the Banquet Event Orders are created and distributed, the actual execution of your events are taken over by the banquet management team.  The composition of this team is highly dependent on the size of the facility; some properties may be small enough that only one person--the banquet manager--coordinates the set-up and service of your event from room set to supervising the function itself.  The banquet manager schedules and supervises captains and servers, maintains inventory, and processes billing charges for your events.  At a larger property, the several of the responsibilities outlined above may be delegated to another department--a set-up department, for example, that is responsible for setting up rooms with tables, risers, hardware, or audio-visual equipment.  In short, however, the essential function of the banquet team is to implement the group functions, as opposed to the catering or convention services team who primarily handle the selling and planning chores. 

The last position that I'd like to mention as part of the banquet team, as it's very near and dear to my heart, is the banquet captain.  In a very general sense, the banquet captain is a room manager in charge of the service at a meal function.  The captain typically oversees all activity in the entire function room, or a portion of it, during a meal (Hotel Catering: A Handbook for Sales and Operations, Patti J. Shock and John M Stefanelli, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992, p. 18).  At smaller properties, the captain may be a lead server who takes over the functions of the banquet manager in dealing with the group contact when the banquet manager is not available.  At larger facilities, a banquet captain is responsible for the execution and supervision of specific events, as opposed to the banquet manager who oversees all events on property.  It sounds semantic, but let me give you an example.  In my current captain's position, I requisition all the flatware, china, glassware, skirting, linens, etc for the set up of an event, as outlined on the Banquet Event Order from our storehouse.  I supervise the assigned banquet staff in the set up of the room or location and coordinate with cross-functional teams such as conference set-up and the beverage departments.  On larger events where we are using outside vendors, I am responsible for ensuring that they are set up on time, in the right location, confer on agenda, etc.  During the event, I control the flow of the agenda, communicate with the kitchen, observe the banquet and bar staff, and check in with guests on their experience.  After, I am responsible for the break down of the function room, making sure that all the equipment we used is cleaned and returned, that all cross functional teams have been notified that the event is over, review service notes with staff, solicit feedback from guests and staff, and submit a report detailing any issues or guest comments at the end of the night.   

I'm guessing that some of this information is old hat to some, but know that it’s new for others.  Understanding how many people are involved in the facility event team, and what their roles are, prepares us, I think, for the discussions that remain.  Tomorrow, I'd like to take this information and start to illustrate why, when an event isn't a success or doesn't achieve quite the vision we hoped, it almost always points to a breakdown in the communication between the various teams, particularly between planning and operations; and suggest some ways around that breakdown. 


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