Summertime, and eventing is easy
28 April 1998
Pessimistic party planners will be organising their summer events al fresco with one eye on the weather and contingency plan B at the ready in case the skies open. Summer events should not be confined to the simple pleasures of drinking and eating indoors protected from the elements that characterises so many gatherings during the cold winter months. The good weather is an ideal time to get your colleagues and contacts into the great outdoors for some serious team building.
Try the usual hospitality, but with a twist - something more entertaining or stimulating that will get them climbing trees, reading maps or building bridges. Or you could try something completely novel - hot-air ballooning or a boat party on the river are both popular choices in the summer.
Whether you are planning an event in the office, outdoors with a marquee, or something more strenuous, the main consideration is the budget.
Once you have decided on the date of the event and the likely venues, and whether or not you are providing both drinks and snacks or something more substantial, you can ring around the various external caterers or corporate hospitality organisers for quotes and ideas.
If you opt for an event which involves an activity which is slightly more adventurous than eating canapes, then you should point this out in your invitation and detail exactly what the participants are letting themselves in for.
This covers the location and the logistics of how they will get there, who is providing the transport there and back, how much time it will take and whether special clothing or equipment is supplied or required. You should also give an idea of how strenuous the activities will be and how long they are likely to last.
If the participants are likely to get involved in some rough-and-tumble activities - anything from fairly physical management and bonding skills tests, to driving armoured vehicles - then obviously you should tailor and target the right sort of participants for those particular exertions (and make sure that they can drive, or at least have a good sense of direction).
The fact that certain 'great outdoors activities' will obviously have to take place some distance from the City may mean that you will not get a very large acceptance rate, so factor that into your planning. Invite more people than you expect to come and make sure the activity is one that can be enjoyed in small groups.
Likewise, as good weather cannot be guaranteed, you should also make sure that you have an equally entertaining alternative activity lined up as plan B, should plan A be rained off.
Even if all that you are organising is a themed drinks or cocktail party, you should always take into account that there is a fine dividing line between what is seen as innovative and good taste, and what is not. This is where personal recommendation and experience can come in handy. It is also an ideal excuse for attending every single party that you are invited to - because you are doing in-depth research into the best possible location for your firms summer gathering - and the latest canapes fillings.
Another thing to bear in mind is that huge numbers of set events are already taking place in the summer, many of which revolve around the sporting calendar such as Wimbledon and the cricket. If you are planning your event on the same day as a World Cup match, do not expect a great turnout.
Weather permitting, for the less strenuous event, a popular idea is to hire a marquee. One of the most important aspects to bear in mind is that if it is good weather and the venue is outdoors, some kind of cold food storage will be absolutely essential. In warm weather, the risk of food poisoning rockets and, despite the fact that you can sue if food poisoning strikes (and even get insurance to cover inclement weather), you should, of course, plan to avoid the worst case scenario of your party going down with a bug instead of a bang. Check with the organisers that they have such matters covered. If it does turn out to be good weather nearer the date of the event, it is also sensible to invest in some insect-repellent flares.
If you are hiring a marquee, you should also look into whether or not to book either hot or cold air blowers as well as portaloos (which can range from £25 for the standard, to £3,000 for the deluxe version).
As to the specifics of what to provide to sustain your guests, one organiser advises that 'the cheaper the drink, the less will be drunk; if you serve good champagne, guests will probably drink twice as much'. If, however, you do want to impress your guests by splashing out on good wine, do not, as has happened at one function, put all the bottles of good champagne into vats of ice and water. The labels will peel off the bottles and your guests will assume you have deliberately removed them to disguise the fact that the wine is from the cheaper end of the market. This unfortunate scenario can be avoided by tying a small plastic bag around each bottle before chilling them.
Plan to strike a happy medium, with the view that people are there to enjoy themselves and do want not to drink too much. Provide soft drinks and, more importantly, make sure that the drinks are properly chilled. Remember, the biggest faux pas would be to run out of food or drink. In practical terms, in hot weather, the guests will usually drink more and in colder weather, they will eat more. Obviously, if the event is something more physical, cut down on the alcohol.
In terms of timing, having a party mid-week in the City is likely to attract a larger turnout. A rough rule of thumb is that you can expect an acceptance rate of about 50 to 60 per cent and try to send invitations out about six to eight weeks in advance. Obviously, there is the risk of pressure of business or a better party being announced in the meantime, but a mid-week party may also mean that people are less likely to drink as much with the thought of work the next day. If the party is at a brand new venue, the turnout is likely to be increased by the purely curious.
Even if it is a workday the next day, it is not always easy to dislodge guests who are enjoying the party. If the event is at an outside venue, such as a museum, the invitation should state that the party ends at least an hour before the booked time, to allow time for the caterers to clear up the debris and to allow guests to finish their drinks and conversations. If you overrun the allotted time for the venue, you may have to pay out more. Do not, as happened at one firm's drinks party in its offices, flash the lights on and off in a desperate attempt to announce that the party is over.
Wherever the event is, one option is to provide transport from the venue, and/or arrange cheap entrance to a nearby club, so that you can ensure that your guests have an alternative option if they do not want to go straight home. With the right planning, whether you have entertained, exhausted or exhilarated your guests, you can make sure they will want to come to your next event.