Off-site meetings have always had strong appeal in the corporate world, not only to minimize disruptions and improve focus, but also to give everyone a chance to escape the monotony of the daily grind.
And, whether it’s because of an improving economy or the continuing trend toward more informal corporate cultures, more organizations are now looking to host their meetings, retreats and special events at upscale clubs and resorts—and including lavish, corporate sponsored cocktail hours and dinners as part of the agenda. In fact, for many clubs and resorts, meetings and events can now account for from 30-60% of their overall food and beverage trade.
To get a piece of this growing pie, however, clubs can’t just tell potential meeting sponsors, “Sure, we’ll find an open room somewhere that you can use.” The increased demand has also brought increased expectations for not only dedicated facilities with state-of-the-art technical capabilities, but also comfortable and exciting atmospheres for the social segments of the program.
This can create special challenges for clubs and resorts, as they seek to offer versatile and functional meeting rooms without interfering with the overall recreational ambiance that’s at the heart of the club and hospitality field. But from heavily meeting-oriented resort properties to the most private club settings, management is finding creative ways to design the type of space now needed to earn the satisfaction— and repeat business—of corporate clients. Out of Isolation One key to helping event sponsors hold productive events while still avoiding “stuck in a meeting” drudgery is to centralize meeting facility space—but not isolate it or diminish its appeal, compared to other parts of the property.
For example, while the Camelback Inn, a J.W. Marriott Resort & Spa in Camelback, Ariz., resides on 127 acres surrounded by mountains, the 30,000 square feet of meeting and event space on the property is housed in one central location. The meeting rooms are separated from the guest rooms, pools and spa, but still offer the same desert views and ambiance.
“This is really nice for our groups, because they are often considering hosting meetings at other large properties where they’d have to walk 10 minutes from breakout to breakout,” says Stephanie Mahrer, Director of Event Planning. “Everything is more compact and centrally located; the [attendees] spend the whole day here.”
Obviously, the size of Camelback Inn allows for this increased versatility—but centralizing meeting space and keeping it in close proximity to other appealing parts of the property can also be achieved in modest-sized clubs and resorts.
For example, all three event and meeting rooms at the Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club in San Diego, Calif., are in the upper level of the clubhouse,making it easier to manage simultaneous events or meetings with multiple sessions.
At this club, when a company holds a meeting in the Directors Room (a formal boardroom), members can move directly from the meeting to an enjoyable cocktail or meal simply by crossing the foyer to the Chandelier Room, set up for social hour. “The boardroom table in the Directors Room weighs 600 pounds, so we normally switch the event over to the Chandelier Room [for a meal], which we set up as the meeting is going on in the Directors Room,” explains Charles Sirois, General Manager.
If space limitations put a cramp in plans for expanding meeting and event business, clubs can learn from the Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon, Calif. Its Garden Pavilion holds up to 300 people, but is too large for more intimate gatherings. Resourcefully, the club takes advantage of its Fireside Room—which is part of its restaurant— for events with 50 or fewer people. For these small groups, the event staff simply closes a set of large wood sliding doors, and the Fireside Room is immediately separated from the restaurant.
However, as in many clubs, noise can be a factor, and the impact of meetings on regular F&B business cannot be ignored. Bridges GC finds it best to be upfront and direct with potential meeting hosts about these issues.
“We have floor-to-ceiling doors, but the sound from the restaurant can still go through,” says Alicia Auser, Director of Special Events. “So even though it is a private room, I tell people it is semi-private.” Additionally, each meeting is assessed a food and beverage minimum and a room rental fee, to compensate for the loss of revenue from restaurant clientele.
Working Vacations While boardrooms and corporate meeting spaces tend to be more formal than a club or resort’s recreational areas, comfort is still key, and corporate clients appreciate having options.
Hosting a meeting or event at a resort instantly creates a more energized mood. “When meeting planners look at a resort destination they’re looking to reward attendees on a job well done, or for a relaxed atmosphere to get creative juices going,” says Mary Kay Ryan, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Longboat Key Club and Resort in Longboat Key, Fla.
Each meeting room at this resort can be set up with traditional six- or eight-foot boardroom tables, or in “classroom” or “theater” style, or with round discussion tables—options any property now needs to offer to be a serious contender for meeting business. But beyond this required flexibility, Longboat Key Club and Resort has discovered that the décor, no matter what the setup, is critical to creating the right mood.
With neutral earth tones, oversized windows, sliding glass doors leading to balconies, and tropical artwork decorating 7,000 square feet of event space, the Longboat Key rooms, in any configuration, avoid the stuffiness of boring boardrooms. “The rooms are all very light and airy,” says Ryan.
Despite the general trend toward more relaxed boardroom settings, many resorts find it’s still helpful to offer both formal and informal meeting space. Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club and the Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C.—two resorts under one management umbrella— offer a choice of environments, depending on the nature of the event.
For more casual gatherings, companies can choose Pine Needles’ rustic lodge-like ambiance, with dark wood details, beamed ceilings, exposed brick and a rich color palate of pine greens, khaki, maroon and plaids. The informality carries over to social events in Pine Needles’ Golf View Boardroom, which overlooks the putting green and first hole of the course.
Mid Pines, on the other hand, is a stately, three-story Georgian-style inn built in the 1920s. It exudes a formal atmosphere complete with cherry wood paneled walls, elegant wainscoting, and impressive crown moldings. Many meetings are held in its Julius Boros Boardroom, which features an 18-foot mahogany conference table; comfortable, caramel-colored executive chairs; its own set of gold tabletop china and fine crystal; and integrated audio/visual equipment and wireless internet.
“The two spaces have very different feels and allow us to be very flexible,” says Holly Bell, Vice President of Public Relations/Special Projects.
Similarly, the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., has two clubhouses with varied levels of formality. “We can have a casual business situation or an upscale setting,” says Scott Harrison, Food and Beverage Director/Executive Chef.
For casual affairs, company employees retreat to Ghost Creek, a contemporary clubh
ouse built in the 1990s with beamed ceilings, colonial maple stains and a design palate of purples, golds and teals. More exclusive is Witch Hollow, an Old- World, Scottish-style clubhouse with dark woods and an aristocratic ambiance. Both clubhouses are adorned with golf artwork in high-end frames, and both clubhouses have boardrooms, but the similarities end there. “The Witch Hollow boardroom has high-end furniture—high-backed old Scottish-style seating and very nice tabletops,” says Harrison. “Ghost Creek has portable tables that require linens and stackable chairs.”
Meet & Then Eat Regardless of the degree of formality, being able to seamlessly change over a meeting room so it can then host a cocktail hour or meal is a critical part of the versatility that clubs and resorts need to be able to offer and display to get their share of meeting and events business.
At the Camelback Inn, a room attached to the professional boardroom is separated by a sliding copper door. Staff can enter this room through a back entrance while a meeting is in progress and set up the food and beverage stations.When the meeting is ready for its break, the copper door slides open, and the food service can begin immediately. “This allows the staff to set up without interrupting the meeting,” says Mahrer.
While this is the only room at the resort with backdoor set-up capability, the resort often does meal service in the conference rooms. Rather than setting up standard banquet tables with linens and skirts, Camelback Inn has custommade wood tables on wheels, with granite tops and built-in induction burners that can be easily moved into a conference room for meals. “The buffets are versatile and beautiful; they look like a table you would have in your home,” says Mahrer.
Some clubs rely on alternate spaces for seamless transitions. When a meeting ends in the Fireside Room at the Bridges Golf Club, the event staff often moves the group into the club’s bar area for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, as the staff rolls in necessary tables and chairs, tops the tables with linens, china and centerpieces and then dims the lights and lights candles.
In the club’s larger Garden Pavilion, set-up for meal functions typically happens the day before the event. “We can partition off different areas so the meeting takes place in one section of the room and the food is in another area,” says Auser. “We use completely different tables and set-ups and try to give the area a different feel, so people don’t feel like they’re stuck in a meeting.”
To prepare a daytime meeting room for a dinner, Longboat Key relies on portable set-ups and wastes no time. “We get staged in the breezeway and when the meeting ends, we’re ready to go,” explains Ryan. “We can turn a full classroom setup into a dinner for 100 with round [tables that seat] eight. The classroom tables go out, the rounds and bars get rolled in, linens go on, candles get lit, and centerpieces are placed. The canned lights get turned down and the wall sconces turned up. It’s a full transformation.” No Technical Difficulties To say that today’s business world relies on technology is an understatement. And clubs and resorts certainly need to stay up to date with technology to maintain an edge when competing for meeting and event business.
But how can you incorporate the latest technology without detracting from a room’s ambiance? And what can you do to ensure that technology will run without a hitch?
Fortunately, as technology grows more necessary, equipment gets smaller and less obtrusive. With three formal boardrooms, the Camelback Inn knows technology is a must. The professional boardroom houses a 20-foot table fully equipped with hidden outlets and jacks accessible through small built-in doors on top. “When you’re not using them, the flaps can be closed and the table looks flat; you can’t even tell they’re there,” says Mahrer.
Providing advanced technology also requires on-call tech support to alleviate unexpected technical glitches. The Longboat Key Club and Resort provides on-site audiovisual assistance. “Thirty to 40 days before a group’s arrival, we give a list of groups coming to the woman who runs this for us, and she will contact the individual planners to discuss the audiovisual needs,” says Ryan. “That way, companies get as much attention to their AV needs as to their catering needs.”
And while clubs and resorts can’t afford to ignore the demand for technology, incorporating it into their meeting offers doesn’t have to break the bank. While the Bridges Golf Club’s Fireside Room has wireless Internet, projector screens and conference call capabilities, sometimes their inhouse resources are limited. “We rent quite a bit of AV equipment,” says Auser. “The company we work with comes out to set things up and explain it to us.”
And sometimes, a club can get lucky enough to have clients well-equipped to take care of their own needs. Although Intel is headquartered practically in its backyard, Pumpkin Ridge describes itself as relatively low-tech. But that doesn’t stop the big chip maker from hosting training sessions and large meetings at the club. “When Intel has meetings here, they bring in all of the equipment—so it hasn’t really been a problem for us,” says Harrison. C&RB
Summing It Up
• An improving economy and the continuing trend to more informal corporate cultures have more organizations looking to hold off-site meetings and events in club and resort settings—but only at locations that can meet their requirements for upscaled facilities andamenities.
• Meeting space should be centralized to help promote productive business, but not isolated or designed with diminished appeal, compared to other parts of the property.
• At smaller properties where space is limited, the best approach with potential meeting hosts is a direct one, so they understand what else will be occurring at the club and resort and how it may affect their affair.
• Offering both formal and casual options, and being able to quickly changeover and expand existing space, are two keys to maximizing a property’s potential for fully capturing available event business.
Themed Events: Don't Be Chicken
Think theme parties are limited to birthdays and weddings? Think again. More and more corporate meeting planners are requesting themes for corporate functions, allowing clubs and resorts to infuse business spaces with personality.
The local history and folklore of the old Southwest comes alive immediately within the Esplendor Resort in Rio Rico, Ariz. The Spanish hacienda styled resort has Geronimo Indian carpet, antique artwork and costumes. “The staff wears costumes from the old West,” says Linda Cormier, Director of Marketing. Esplendor’s mock ghost town is a popular ev
ent space with its stage, fake noose and graves, and mock buildings.
At Camelback Inn, 95% of the groups host one event at Mummy Mountain—the resort’s Western town. “It has Western facades and fire-pits,” says Stephanie Mahrer. “We bring in country/western bands and play country/western games.”
Theme parties are also the name of the game at the Colonial Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, Va. An onsite floral designer and interior designer team up to ensure unique décor. “We think about history and hearken back to earlier times,” says Susan Lindsey Winther, Director of Design. “One group wanted a country party, so we used bales of hay and 18th-century chicken baskets with live chickens in them.”
The special events team fine tunes every detail to create a “wow” factor. “The details make your event,” says Clark Taggart, Floral Designer. “Whether it’s the fold on the napkin, the way the menu card is placed, the china, or the linens, we try to establish a firm background in the tablescape and setting.” — DM
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