The guest experience – how to make your event memorable (for all the right reasons) – #4 in our event series

In Events, News by Anna Bailey

With any event, it is easy to get caught up in the logistics of it all and stop thinking about the actual reason you are holding it – which is essentially the enjoyment, entertainment, or education of your guests! But this really should be paramount and is easy to achieve with the right level of planning and consideration. This blog outlines the steps you can take to achieve this for both private and corporate events.

Private events

Take a special birthday party, for example. You might be a party animal that loves a night of dancing with a great DJ and many of your friends are likely to be similar-minded. But what about your friends and family who might prefer something a bit different – or those with small children who find partying like they used to utterly exhausting?

When considering your options, talk to a cross-section of your potential guests and try and gauge the appetite for the various ideas you have. Perhaps, rather than one big party, you could do a series of events? A sportier activity such as paddle boarding lessons or a day of clay pigeon shooting might ‘hit the mark’ (pun intended) for some, whilst something more cultural might appeal to others, such as a spot of wine-tasting at a local vineyard or a theatre trip?

If your friends’ bank balances vary, then make sure you allow everyone plenty of notice to a) save the date and b) give everyone the time to save up to join in if they wish.

Whatever the event, people always like to receive an invitation – particularly in the post – so, if you can stretch to it, it really is worth going the extra mile. If you would rather email your invitations, then why not design and attach an invitation as a PDF? If you are hoping that your guests will join you overnight, do the research for them and include an information sheet with hotel options and taxi numbers – as you might for a wedding. We all lead busy lives, and your guests will really appreciate this; it also shows that you are going to a lot of effort and putting a great deal of thought into the event.

It is also worth being very clear what it is you are offering at the event. If you are having a party and providing catering, then say so on the invitation. You should be as specific as possible so that your guests know what to expect (for example are you providing a three-course meal with wine, a full evening buffet or simply a light buffet)? If the latter, then they will most likely need to have something decent to eat before the event.

If you are offering one welcome drink on arrival, then make it clear that there is a cash bar available (which indicates that you are not paying for unlimited drinks). Also, with us fast becoming a cashless society, do find out in advance whether your venue will take card payments at the bar and – even better – if they would be willing for guests to have bar tabs. This might seem like a lot of planning and detail but being upfront with your guests will avoid a lot of potential awkwardness on the night.

Don’t forget to ask your guests to RSVP and provide a date by which they should do so. This enables you to gauge numbers and invite any further guests should you need or want to.

Once you have received your RSVPs, you might want to set up an event group on Facebook for communicating any updates and for creating a buzz around your event. You could also then email those guests who are not active on social media, so they also feel included.

Before the event, review your guest list carefully. If there are there any guests attending who don’t know the others and might feel rather isolated at the event, then appoint a good friend to keep an eye out for them so they don’t feel left out. Even better, try and introduce them beforehand (although this is not always possible, especially if they live further afield). Also, think carefully about your table plan if there is one. A good tip here is to scatter your ‘livewire’ guests throughout the tables and avoid having them all one table as this will totally unbalance the room!  Also, and this goes without saying, avoid putting people together that you know won’t really get on – this can be a recipe for disaster.

Consider your venue carefully when booking it. A long narrow room is not overly conducive for mingling whilst a nice square room enables guests to move around more easily. If you are inviting children, then you might like to consider some entertainment for them – this doesn’t have to be expensive, just age-appropriate distractions such as colouring books or packs of fluorescent jewellery that they can make (make sure you have lots of these as they are also usually popular with adults after a few drinks)!  If it’s a party, where will the DJ be? Where is the bar situated? This can be key, as if it is outside the room you can often lose guests who don’t like dancing and would rather stand at the bar all night.

At your event, do try and welcome everyone personally. If at a party, this can be quite an overwhelming task so perhaps ask your partner or a close friend to help out to ensure that everyone is greeted/told where they can put their coats, where the toilets are, where to put any presents and the bar policy if there is one.

All in all, we consider it vital to fully plan your guest experience – and this is arguably even more important if they are paying for the privilege of attending or if it is a corporate event and your client is trying to impress their guests.

Corporate events

When planning any corporate event, you need to consider the guests who are likely to attend and the type of event that will be appropriate for them. We have arranged many events over the years and throughout the country – DJ events at university, nights out for holidaymakers as a holiday rep in Spain, countless birthday and anniversary parties, weddings, drinks receptions, team-building events (including wine tasting evenings and driving days), many quiz nights and golf days, as well as large-scale conferences (and since Covid many of the above on an online forum). We have also managed exhibition stands for large organisations.

We have worked with many friends and clients over the past 30 years to produce some highly memorable events; and we are able to evolve as their requirements change. For example, for many years we managed a seasonal drinks reception for a membership association in a prestigious club in Mayfair that the members loved but over time they have simply outgrown the venue and we have had to be creative in locating a suitable alternative venue for this important fixture in their social calendar.

When planning a drinks reception like this, for example, whilst it is important to consider the guest experience, it is also very important not to over-engineer it. If many of your guests know each other, then the event should run smoothly enough, as industry peers simply greet each other and catch up. However, if many of the guests don’t know anyone else, then you could consider some form of entertainment (but not one that precludes networking). What works well on these occasions is an icebreaker; a magician who can ‘work the room’ is usually a great option and live music is also a good talking point (but it just mustn’t be too loud).

You could also consider holding a charity raffle; in our experience, these are always very popular. These take a lot of extra work in obtaining the prizes in the run-up to the event but also create a feel-good atmosphere, not just amongst the winners but also for all those who have helped the selected charity by purchasing a ticket.

For a corporate event it is ‘de rigeur’ to issue joining instructions a few days before an event. These are vital to the smooth running of your event. If holding a charity raffle, for example, then make sure that this detail is included so that they bring some cash with them; doing so will avoid disappointment (especially if the prizes are top notch) and you will raise more for your charity of choice. Other considerations for the joining instructions are directions, a reminder of timings, a reminder of any key entertainment and the all-important dress code. At the private members’ club in Mayfair, the wearing of a tie was compulsory for men, and we always made sure we had spares to avoid embarrassment!

The event team will always have various duties to perform, but at a networking event it is always good for them to also be on hand and willing to introduce guests. A copy of the guest list at the entrance table can be helpful, as those attending alone can have a quick scan of it and ask if a member of the event team could introduce them to other guests they are keen to meet.

When planning an event, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of your guests. Are they coming straight from work? If so, does the budget stretch to canapés? If not, then at the very least there should be some crisps or other nibbles; the DRIVE team is particularly partial to a cheese straw!

You also need to carefully consider what you are going to offer your guests in terms of ‘liquid refreshment.’ The acceptable ‘norm’ is to offer a good red and white wine, a selection of beers and something for those not wishing to drink alcohol. It is also considered essential to have access to water. It is always worth offering a ‘straightforward’ white wine – usually a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc or a Bordeaux can also be a good option. It is normally best to opt for the house white as by its nature this will be a popular drop (and more affordable than another on the wine list). Again, with the red, it is best not to offer anything too heavy – a Bordeaux or a Pinot Noir usually work well.

If your budget stretches to it, you could offer your guests a goody bag. In our experience, unless there is sufficient budget, these can be a total waste of money and are often just left on the tube/bus or given to guests’ children the next morning. Unless the budget is significant, it is very difficult to locate a gift that everyone will enjoy and make use of!

We hope that this blog has been useful reading in illustrating that the ‘devil is in the detail’ when planning a memorable event. It really is worth taking the time to plan it all carefully and to consider any of the points above that are relevant. When starting to plan an event, simply aim to walk it through as though you are in your guests’ shoes, from the moment they receive the invitation to the moment they get home safely.

We would be very happy to help you with any event requirement, either by supporting your in-house team or managing the whole event on an outsourced basis.

Do you have an event coming up and no idea where to start?

Please get in touch and contact us here, we’d be delighted to help you!