Event planning may not be on everybody’s radar just yet, especially those who work at companies that have gone fully remote/distributed. But as things slowly begin to open back up, now is a great time to begin thinking about ways to socialize professionally, whether it’s happy hour at the local watering hole or the annual holiday dinner. Keep in mind that many things have changed and there’s going to be more than we can cover in one article.
Prior to the pandemic, event planning was still a very involved process. That’s why those who could afford it would hire a professional whose entire job was event planning. It’s hard to say now if this will still be common practice, but for all the executive assistants (EAs),
office managers, and other folks for whom event planning is only one of many responsibilities, these tips should be helpful. Using emotional intelligence in event planning will guarantee you better results and happier employees, even if they don’t quite realize what you did - this kind of work is often subtle and not easily understood, but that’s exactly why it’s so important!
1. Dietary Restrictions
In recent years we have seen a pretty dramatic increase in the number of people with dietary restrictions, but it’s no coincidence. As the science of nutrition advances, so too does our awareness of what we can and can’t (or shouldn’t) eat. Although there have been instances where specific dietary restrictions have been treated like fads, the best practice is to take them seriously and respect everyone’s needs and preferences when planning an event.
Dietary restrictions can include allergies, sensitivities, and lifestyle choices such as veganism, vegetarianism, etc, as well as religious observance such as halal or kosher food preparation. As you can imagine, the larger your team, the more likely you are to have a variety of dietary restrictions to work with. There will often even be overlap, which can make things more confusing to keep track of. One option for managing this information is to create a spreadsheet or use HR software like Typeform - the latter will make it very easy to collect the info you need and store it easily. With a spreadsheet that means employee names in column one with different restrictions across the rows. For the sake of employee confidentiality, it’s best if you ensure that as few people have access to this document as possible. Maybe Jerry in accounting would rather people not know that dairy causes him intense gastrointestinal discomfort, or Rashid in operations doesn’t want to be questioned about why he doesn’t eat pork. At some point if you haven’t already, message everyone privately to check in about their dietary restrictions and just be sure to communicate that it’s for event planning so they know why you’re asking. After all, people appreciate being accommodated!
2. To Drink or Not to Drink
Going out for happy hour is probably one of the most common ways to spend time with your coworkers when you’re “off the clock.” It’s also fairly easy to arrange and usually doesn’t require much planning ahead of time beyond asking everyone in the office if they’re free after work that day. However, as with dietary restrictions, more and more people are either limiting their alcohol intake or abstaining altogether for various reasons. If you want to be a mindful event planner, it’s extremely important to assess your team and reconsider focusing so much on alcohol. While it’s true that alcohol can help many people loosen up and enjoy themselves -- especially if the boss is doing the same -- it can also be an uncomfortable situation for those who don’t drink, particularly if they’re recovering from alcoholism, or have a medical condition that limits or prevents them from drinking, such as pregnancy. Maybe even a pregnant women are not ready to reveal. Regardless of their reason for abstaining, employees should never have to be put on the spot when it comes to engaging in the use of substances that substantially alter their brain state.
This is not to say that individual employees can’t go out for drinks on their own, or that managers can’t take their teams out for happy hour to celebrate their wins. The idea is to think about ways to remove alcohol as the primary bonding agent for your team. Not only is this more inclusive for employees who don’t drink, it’s also more effective at helping your team bond.
Scheduling is not most people’s favorite part of event planning, but it’s unfortunately a pretty crucial detail. You’ll never be able to pick one date for anything that works for absolutely everyone, at least not once you get past a certain team size, so you’ll have to accept early on that some people just won’t make it. That’s okay! That’s why as long as it’s within the budget you should just make sure to schedule as many events as you can, so that everyone will be able to attend at least one or two at some point.
As with dietary restrictions, it’s a good idea to communicate with your team individually and find out who might have specific scheduling conflicts. For example, parents will probably have certain days or times when they’re unavailable because of childcare. Other folks might have D&D night every Thursday or have dinner with their in-laws on the 3rd Friday every month. If your company is big enough that the C-level executives have EAs, you can rely on the EAs to help with scheduling around the bosses’ schedules fairly easily. For everyone else, find out their schedules and make a spreadsheet! Or use specific software designed for this purpose such as Doodle or again, Typeform. This won’t cover last minute cancellations or one time events that come up and cause folks to miss the company event, but it’ll help you stay organized and on top of things so you know which days generally tend to be the days when most people are free.
When all is said and done, wrangling your team and figuring out everyone’s individual needs, preferences, and scheduling conflicts, there is the matter of booking the event. If you’re doing something more casual then you don’t have to worry about this step quite as much, but we still recommend reading through it.
If you’re planning an event that requires a certain amount of space, food, and entertainment, you’ll definitely want to find and book a venue, especially if you know more than 5 people will be attending. For something fairly simple like dinner, you should ALWAYS make a reservation. If your party is going to be more than 10 people, check with the venue to find out what options they have. Many nicer restaurants in major cities will either have private rooms or separate dining areas for large parties that you can rent out for a fee, and they’ll happily work with you on a specific menu. The best thing you can do when in the planning stage is communicate with the venue. That means gathering information like party size, dietary restrictions, and time and date ahead of time, and letting them know as soon as any of that info changes.
If you’re unsure exactly how many people will be attending, let the venue know, but try to be as accurate as you can, because it can cause major problems for the venue. Depending on the size of the place and the amount of seating they have, even 2-3 extra people can throw it off. This might may having to push your team to commit to attending the event when they’re waffling.
Trust that they care about you and your party and are working hard to ensure you all have a good time! And when the time comes to pay the meal, be sure to check for the auto gratuity. If the venue adds one, they will most likely have informed you ahead of time, but you should always check the percentage, as many places will only add 15%-18%, while the standard tip is now generally agreed to be 20%. Knowing how hard your server or servers have worked for your party, it’s excellent practice to add to the auto-gratuity so that it’s 20%-25% total, or more if you feel so inclined. If you feel the staff truly went above and beyond, ask your server to grab their manager so you can tell them. NEVER just say “I’d like to speak to your manager.” because many servers will think you’re going to complain about their service. It’s far better to say “You’ve been so wonderful, could I please speak to your manager to let them know?” If you do this on top of tipping well it will make your server’s night, and possibly their entire week.
Event planning can be stressful and often thankless depending on your team, but it’s something that requires a great deal of skill and finesse and will reflect excellently on you if you do it well. Using emotional intelligence will guarantee you a more successful event and a happier team and you’ll be able to feel satisfied knowing how much harder and better they’ll work together because you gave them the opportunity to get to know each other better while rewarding them for their passion and dedication.
If these tips were helpful, or if you could use help tailoring them to your business, we’re always looking for new clients and opportunities to strengthen emotional intelligence in the workplace! Book a call today so we can learn about how we could help your company and staff.