David B Townsend
Off-Site Event Planning- Logistics 101
Whether you’re planning a wedding or a company event, the logistics of getting everything together at a specific time at an off-site venue may seem daunting when you start to make lists of everything and everyone needed to manage the outcome. As the Event Coordinator, possibly a position you've simply been assigned, you need to be organized in a fashion which meets your experience level or management skill. Spreadsheets used as timeline guides work well. MS outlook calendar or even free project management software, like 'Freedcamp' may be your choice to keep things documented and in one place. However you choose to use modern management tools, there are certain principles you need to keep in mind.
Like a PERT* chart which uses the principle that one thing can only happen after a preceding thing has finished, while other tasks can happen simultaneously and finish at their own pace, the principle it uses are important to all event planning. In organizing the event, several steps need to have started days, weeks, or even months ahead of time. It's the “Day-of” the Event that I wish to address in this article. Although the same concepts apply to corporate events, I'm using a Wedding Ceremony & Reception as our sample.
You’ve booked a venue, got the insurance, hired the caterer, a D.J. and Band, as well as recruited a handful of family members to help pull it all together. You’re expecting 200 guests and you have a limited time to set up and be ready for a 5:30 wedding and 6:30 reception. All the various décor items will need to be loaded, delivered and set up at the venue. There are restrictions for delivery and set –up to plan around. The Caterer will take care of the tables and chairs as they are provided by the Venue, while the Florist will finish the table ‘settings’ and centerpieces. You’ll have other flowers, favors, a seating chart, a guest book, props for photos, even a rented vintage sofa and old car as a backdrop for the photos to create a theme of an old time wedding. Consider this: everything you hang, attach or set up in a given area will take one or two people to complete in 10-15 minutes or more. You have to think this through for every element of your décor and staging.
In this Scenario, you have 2 ½ hours to set up, and at the end of the day 1 hour to get it all down, packed and out of the venue. Normally, I recommend that you hire a Wedding Planner, not necessarily months in advance, but as a "Day Of" planner to help execute the following. But let’s assume you're going it alone.
Here is a sampling of items often being brought into a typical 'high-end' wedding venue.
1] Food Service rentals- silverware, glassware, plates, linens, napkins, ice buckets, ice, bottled water.
2] A Sofa to be used as a photo shoot area on the lawn
3] A backdrop screen to place behind the sofa, with lights strung on it ahead of time- (electricity will be needed)
4] Antique Baker Cabinet- the bride wants to use for candy table, with small sacks, and jars of hard and soft candies.
5] A farm table used for gifts and the guest ‘sign in’ booklet.
Every item needs to be brought in, set up, and finishing décor applied at the last minute. You will need to have enough 'hands-on-deck' to take responsibility to complete each and every task.
Think about every creative idea you want to stage: A hanging Neon Sign over the bar. This one task takes 15 minutes with two able bodies to hang, straighten and plug in and test. You will need:
1] Two people
2] Long zip ties
3] An electrical outlet (located ahead of time with possible extension cord.)
4] A ladder (not a guaranteed the venue will have one available)
5] 15 Minutes.
Your time-management and available manpower will determine your success. Another couple tasks:
Assemble the seating chart, made of a metal wire tripod frame, a wood framed board, and individual cards to attach. Some of this can be pre-assembled, but not all.
Set up the photo shoot area with sofa, background piece, props, and pillows.
The Candy Bar set on a Baker's Cabinet you have brought in for the event.
You have custom signs placed around the event site to guide guests. These not only take time put up but you need to consider how to get them down in relative darkness as the event progress into the evening
If the venue gives the option of service road entry rather than the general parking area to unload do your vendors and family know how to access it? What time restrictions exist? Not everyone needs to be on-site at the same time. Off-site venues usually have restricted parking near the event site just for delivery vehicles or vendor staff. You may need to simply drop off items, with two people in one car, and then have the driver find other parking while the other person gets their stuff organized, and begins the task at hand.
The Caterer is setting up tables and will put linens on once all 15 tables are taken from storage and arranged as pre-determined by the bridal party. Then the linens can come out and be placed on the tables. Next, the silverware, glassware, and napkins are set. Your Florist has negotiated to help finish the table decor by placing the centerpieces and finessing the table setting. They are charging you an extra $75 for an hour to complete this. If you have them arrive before the tables and linen are ready you may be wasting their time or incur further charges. You need to schedule them to arrive about an hour after the caterer's crew arrives and has completed the table placements.
Also to consider, the florist will bring in a mini-van full of flowers and six 2-foot tall vases to use along the aisle at the ceremony. At the end of the event- who takes the flowers and vases home and in what vehicle? It’s the same consideration for the Beer Kegs. Two or three kegs take up the same room empty as full. Plus you’ll have ice buckets, a ‘jockey box’ and Co2 canisters. If a vendor is bringing the beer and wine INTO the venue- who takes it all OUT? This alone can be nearly a full pickup truck. Will there be trash, or does the Venue allow you to use their garbage facility?
As you can begin to see, there is a lot to consider in pulling off an event like this and every aspect takes an assigned person, specific drop-off point, and distinct time-frame to get it done. So, in your initial stage of planning - and now I’m talking of weeks or months in advance, you will need to make a full listing of every item- where it starts and who is picking up, where it lands at the venue, and who takes it out the end of the night.
You can organize in several ways, and if you use a spreadsheet or similar software, where you can sort you can see the tasks in helpful ways. Sorting by vendor- responsible person, drop-off area, and ultimately by Time you can get a perspective of who is doing what and if there appear to be any conflicts of overlapping tasks.
Following is a list of the types of items and concerns you need to be asking all throughout the planning process.
Power: DJ, Band, coffee makers, espresso or smoothie machines, Photo Booth, Extra overhead or string lights on buildings or trees. All these need power and most likely some will need dedicated circuits- you don’t want the music quitting just as the coffee maker is plugged in.
Beer & Wine- delivery and removal of bottles or empty or kegs.
Cake- when to deliver and where to store
Florist- time frame should be after tables are set up
Caterers - need for extra tables for buffet, bussing area, dessert table- and linens to go with them.
Weather- should you have bottled water available in various locations, bug spray, sunscreen
Rental Companies: Deliver Maps, timeline, where to place items pre-set up
Rest Rooms: rented port-a-potty placement, or trailer facilities.