Event Planner Smarts: Eating and Drinking on the Job

dining on the jobRecently, Kevin England, CEO of Vonazon Inc., wrote an interesting LinkedIn blog post called Why Eating on the Job is Never Appropriate. The main focus was on trade show booth etiquette but this issue is relevant to all event planners.

I shared the post with the Event Planning and Event Management Group on LinkedIn and it certainly has lead to 2 spirited discussions that are still very active: one focusing on dining (31 Comments) and the other dealing with drinking (71 Comments).

It is important to distinguish between when one is "on the job" and attending a social event. For example, there is a difference between drinking when one has been hired by a client to run an event and when an event planning firm has invited clients or prospective clients to a reception, dinner, or client appreciation event.

Just Say "No" to Drinking on the Job

In terms of drinking on the job, this is a clear no-no.

The event-planning team needs to be alert and on top of its game. There is no way to do that and drink at the same time. In some jurisdictions, there could also be a liability if an emergency or accident is mishandled and staff has been drinking. Even taking a small amount of wine to sip during a toast can backfire if some members of the party feel this is inappropriate and comment about it later.

When event planners are picking up the tab or hosting client appreciation events, moderation in alcohol consumption is important.

Dining Etiquette for Event Planners

Dining scenarios aren't always as clear cut. Dining separately has the benefit of avoiding the embarrassment of spills, picking up urgent emails or texting at the table, popping up and down to deal with situations, or being perceived as gobbling down your food before rushing back to work.

If event staff is large enough, negotiate with the venue for a comp green room. Ensure that staff and entertainers are served there before the event. Schedule breaks. (I have previously shared tips for green room selection and set-up and provided suggestions for event crew meals on the Cvent Event Blog.)

After dinner speakers usually dine with guests. The same usually applies to facilitators for business meetings and team building retreats (especially if a working lunch format is used). Still, it can be tricky.

I was once invited to speak at an out-of-town breakfast meeting. I was to stay at a hotel across the road from where the event was to be held. My speech was to begin 10 minutes into breakfast. I attempted to arrange to eat early and be on hand to welcome the guests. In this instance, the client preferred for me to dine with the group, get up, give my speech, and continue dining. It did not seem appropriate to me to be perceived as gobbling down breakfast. So room service at my own expense followed by sipping coffee with the group before and after my speech appeared to be the best plan to accommodate the client's request and ensure that I still looked professional.

This scenario highlights the importance of clarifying expectations for event staff up front and asking speakers, facilitators and entertainers to clearly specify food and beverage requirements in their contracts. (I covered this in detail in tips for engaging entertainers.)

The Bottom Line

It may be awkward to raise questions about meals and refreshments but is is essential to ensure that your expectations are in sync with those of the client. It would be far more uncomfortable to join the group for dinner and discover that the client (or your new contact if this is a regular client) felt this was inappropriate.

The most prudent default position is to assume that you will be dining separately unless you are specifically invited to join the group. Even then, be sure to verify that all members of the party will be comfortable if you dine with the group.

For more tips, read Corporate Event Planning Keeping Booze in Balance.

Please Weigh in

  • What best practices should event planners follow for drinking and dining on the job?
  • Is it ever appropriate to join a client group for dinner during an event that one has even paid to organize?

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

blog comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter
Receive updates on the latest trends, best practices, and strategies
to transform your meetings and events