Rob’s Rules: Dear Rob

June 1, 2010


By Rob Schaefer

It seems that wherever I go, people have questions about event planning. I receive numerous e-mails and letters, so I thought I would take this opportunity to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions.

Dear Rob, how do I get taken seriously as an event planner?
Rob says:
Look and act the part. If it looks like you can’t dress yourself in the morning, you will not garner the trust and respect of potential clients and associates. I am often shocked by the casual and unprofessional appearance of event professionals. Although many work environments have gone casual, you must set an example. As a planner, your role encompasses theme, style, organization and creativity.
If you can’t handle putting yourself together each day, why would someone trust you to coordinate his or her event? In my previous column, “Where to Wear,” I break down acceptable dress code standards and offer advice for looking the part.
If you are an event professional, you should look equal, if not a step above, the dress code for the event. Always appear in pressed corporate basics and add your personality in small doses. People may not compliment your appearance, but they will notice.
Professional appearance is imperative to gaining the respect of others in the industry. However, there is more to it. Before you meet with vendors or clients, take time to research their products and companies.
As a sign of respect, arrive at your first meeting with the knowledge of who they are and what they do. Greet others by name and use a firm handshake. Respond to phone calls and e-mails in a timely manner and be friendly but professional with all vendors and clients.
Finally, never stop growing! Attend industry events, research trends and etiquette, constantly seek additional training and certifications, and take advantage of every resource that is available to you.

Dear Rob, our company employs people with wide-ranging backgrounds. How do I plan an event that everyone feels comfortable attending?
Rob says:
I believe that you can make almost any event fun for most people, but you have to provide attendees with specific details. If guests have all of the information and time to prepare, they won’t be left feeling doubtful and apprehensive about the experience. Inform guests of the reason for the event, the time and location, what to wear, what food and beverages will be served, how to behave and when to go home.

For example:

Please join us to celebrate the retirement of John Smith and his 30 years of dedication to our company.
When: July 25th, 6 p.m. (sharp!)
Where: Tall Oaks Pavilion, Oak Hill Park
Dress: Casual resort apparel, no jeans or shorts
R.S.V.P. by July 15th (REQUIRED)

Savor an authentic Mexican fiesta including beef, chicken and veggie fajitas and other Mexican favorites. Each guest will receive 3 drink tickets good for margaritas and Coronas. Unlimited soda and iced tea station. The festivities will conclude at 9 p.m. as we all have to work the next day!

If you are hosting a formal event for employees, offer an etiquette class in the lunchroom. Reward the attendees with the option of leaving an hour early that day. In addition, offer additional collateral, besides the invitation, that can help prepare guests. Examples of what to wear, accompanied by pictures, can be helpful. For example, “long-sleeved shirt with dress pants and tie” or “sport coat with dress pants, tie not required.”

Prior to the event, send an e-mail restating company standards of behavior. Remind guests that unruly drinking and tasteless acts will not be tolerated. No one should feel uncomfortable at a beautiful party if they know what to do and how to look.

Dear Rob, how do I select a menu that everyone will like?
Rob says:
You can’t! It is impossible to please everyone on a culinary level, but you can come very close. Be very clear about what is being served and try to offer at least one meat and one vegetable option. If you make it known ahead of time what is being served, it becomes the guests’ responsibility to notify you of any allergies or dietary restrictions ahead of time so that you can be accommodating.
Themed events often have specific culinary choices that are exciting and unique. Don’t punish the masses with a boring menu because a few might have problems with it. Stay true to the integrity and vision of the event, but be creative with the culinary options.

Dear Rob, I want my linens to stand out and be unique, but I am afraid of color. What do I do?
Rob says:
Don’t be afraid of color! Use color to enhance guests’ experience. Identify the purpose of the event as different colors evoke different reactions. You want to choose colors that target the response you are looking for. Do you want your guests to feel energized, impulsive or relaxed? For more advice on colors and themes, read my article, “Color Basics,” or watch the online video at
If you are planning a general meeting, try using corporate colors to reinforce the company’s identity. If all else fails, use colors that lend themselves to the season you are in.

Dear Rob, due to budget restrictions, our holiday party was cut. What other ways are there to increase morale and show our appreciation to employees?
Rob says:
One of my favorite things to do is to allow the staff to come in an hour late and have a savory breakfast waiting for them including waffles, eggs, crisp bacon and other yummy breakfast items. It is an affordable and fun way to show gratitude. A delicious hot lunch featuring comfort food favorites or a mid-afternoon tea or coffee station accompanied by rich, sinful chocolates and desserts are also crowd pleasers! If all celebrations in all forms have been restricted, offer employees an extra paid day off to shop, rest or spend time with their families.

Dear Rob, I know specialty lighting is important, but what are my options on a tight budget?
Rob says:
My favorite look is to pin spot the table centerpieces and use theme-colored can lights on columns, pillars or windows.

Dear Rob, I plan basic meetings for our company, including board meetings and lunches. What can I do to make these meetings more enjoyable and unique?
Rob says:
Relate mundane events to current events, fashion, television or movies. Was your meeting rescheduled due to bad weather? Make the luncheon disaster ready with plastic tarps as tablecloths, flashlights on the tables pointing upward like candles, kerosene lanterns on the buffet and prepackaged treats like pudding given as a snack. Having a sense of humor has served me well over the years! Is the office buzzing about a reality show, such as Jersey Shore? Treat your employees to a typical boardwalk lunch with street fair cuisine. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Dear Rob, do I really need insurance for my event?
Rob says:
YES! Insurance is especially important if the event includes any type of alcohol, traveling or physical activities. Most vendor and venue contracts list their liability and cancellation policies. Be sure to read them!

Dear Rob, I am typically so nervous at the events I plan that I am unable to enjoy the result of my hard work. How can I relax and enjoy myself?
Rob says:

I always assume that my event will be a grand success. I visualize every event in its natural progression in order to prepare for possible scenarios and resolutions. It is imperative to clearly communicate with vendors and strictly adhere to timelines. I make copies of the schedule and distribute them to everyone who has a role in the event. If I see that someone is running late, I call. And when I know everyone else is doing their job, I can relax and do my job. Preparation is your best prescription for anxiety.

Do you have a planning question for Rob? Please e-mail him at [email protected]

This column is meant to provide practical advice, tips and rules of engagement you need in the meeting and event planning industry. If you have a question, whether it’s how to dress, how to address your guests or what to serve as the main course, e-mail Rob at [email protected] Your question might just inspire the topic of his next column! Rob Schaefer is Vice President of Steven Becker Fine Dining in St. Louis.

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