Anatomy of a Successful Event: The 2013 Seattle Wine and Food Experience

Seattle Wine and Food Experience - Jamie PehaThe crowd at an event last fall hit me just before the pain in my feet arrived. It was a high-profile shindig, with big names scattered throughout the scene. I scanned the clearly oversold room, a wave of dread slowly taking over. After hiking up the fifty or so entry stairs in four-inch heels, shaking my fist in the air, I was hit with a wall of people, chaos in every direction. No vendor map, no clear path of movement to the room. Guests were crowded six deep at every table, glasses of wine and beer, plates precariously handled barely making their way past me. I paused and prayed that an aimless elbow jab wouldn’t result in the ruining of clothes. Reaching for my camera instead of a plate of food, I hoped I could get my photos and escape the madness as quickly as possible.

My exciting night on the town quickly became a daunting task to be completed in the shortest time allowed. There were no signs for entry and exit, no directions for the bathroom. No place to pause and set down drinks to take notes, or a spot where a weary heel-wearer could sit and determine her next plan of action. I snapped photos of everything I could, making my way to the other side of the room post haste, a beeline for an exit that lay just beyond another fifty or so stairs descending out the back door. Escaping from the craze, an exhale and a new plan for the evening appeared as soon as my feet met with the sidewalk.

Some saw a room of stars, some saw a room of endless indulgences, but this is, sadly, how I saw the event. Sure, there was plenty of food and a bevy of beverages but the actual comfort of event guests had been pushed inexplicably down the checklist.

This past weekend, I ventured up to Seattle for the Seattle Wine and Food Experience – one of the few events I attend every year – and every year, I am impressed at the quality and coordination.

Planning an upcoming food and wine affair? Follow the lead of the sharp folks at Jamie Peha Promotions, curators of the SWFE, and watch your event thrive as well.

Seattle Wine and Food Experience1) Get in the flow!
Choosing a venue is always your first task, but the flow of the room should really be your first priority. Guests will always stop to talk with friends or to shovel bits of food in their mouths, and if your event doesn’t allow for that space, you’ll be sunk. Designating areas for congregation and conversation pulls those gatherings out of your flow of traffic, allowing for other guests to continue their way through booths and vendors. Some of the more organized events even utilize those spaces as opportunities for additional sponsorship opportunities, like the Snoqualmie Casino Luxe Lounge at SWFE.

2) Don’t fear the tables and chairs.
As I tweeted during SWFE, event planners shouldn’t be afraid of allowing space for tables and chairs. They don’t have to be placed in the middle of the room, but for crying out loud, certainly make sure they’re somewhere accessible for guests. I can’t tell you how many events I’ve attended where there are droves – DROVES – of people who leave early, complaining of the lack of space where one could rest and enjoy the experience. You’re not running a supermarket – it is ok if guests, who often pay upwards of $100+ for a ticket, stop for a moment during their hop between booths. Unsurprisingly, if guests feel comfortable and taken care of, they’ll be more apt to return the next year – and tell their friends to attend. The very definition of a successful event!

3) Get your social media organized ahead of time.
Whether you have a dedicated event Twitter account, or whether you’re tweeting from your company’s handle, make sure guests are informed. Determine a universal hashtag that guests can use during the event if they want to share photos or comments – and make sure it’s on your marketing materials, email blasts, tweets, etc.

Go one step further and support those vendors who have paid to be included in your event by offering up their contact information as well! I was thrilled to see Twitter handles on all the vendor signs at SWFE. This year’s winner was Allium’s shrimp and wild mushroom chowder – so why not let your guests shout it from the rooftops and include them in the props? Your vendors and your guests will thank you.

4) Make sure your marketing materials answer all the questions.
I don’t want to know how much you spent on that event guide. I also really don’t want to know how you managed to miss website addresses of your vendors or details on the dishes and drinks they were serving. Not offering thorough information is a disservice to both your vendors and attendees – and a general waste of your cash. A map of the room’s layout, a list of participating vendors and their offerings, and plenty of contact information should be in your event handout every time.

5) If you’re not sustainable, you’re not paying attention.
Compost, recycle, avoid offering landfill-filling bottles of water to every guest – even if the company offered you a sweet sponsor deal. With so many avenues from compostable serving utensils to food scrap collection services, there isn’t any reason your glamourous gathering shouldn’t be eco-friendly. Particularly with the evermore earth-friendly, food and wine-savvy attendees, your choices will directly impact future ticket sales. Sustainability and success can go hand in hand. And while you’re at it, make sure there are plenty of trash and recycle bins to go around so you can avoid those dreaded dirty plate pileups in bathrooms and random corners.

6) Don’t oversell yourself.
I realize it’s a fundraiser, I realize the money is going to a great cause, a worthy charity, but it won’t help if you lose a few hundred guests because you overpromised and underdelivered on your event. Take whatever the venue claims it can hold and reduce it by 25-50 guests. Cap your ticket sales appropriately to allow for additional space and flow. A cramped room will only make for cranky guests, who, again, will be sure to tell their friends all about it.

7) Come rain or come shine.
Along with tables and chairs, I think a coat check is an absolute must, particularly if your event is held during winter and fall months. Bulky coats only get in the way and can make for an even more crowded room. Again, your guests will thank you.

Now, go forth and throw a great event, like this one…

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~Jennifer Heigl

*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender

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