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Being the person that speaks up at a holiday event planning meeting and addresses tough, valid and scary concerns around the safety and well-being of your guests, could earn you the nickname Ebenezer Scrooge, but rest assured you will soar to the top of the “nice” list when you save Christmas!

How can a holiday party planner be responsible for saving Christmas?  The answer is two words:  risk management.  Event organizers and hosts are responsible for the safety and well-being of their guests and the risks associated with events, in particular the serving of alcohol can be especially daunting.

During the holiday season there tends to be a heightened sense of awareness around impaired driving as corporate and private parties kick into high gear.  But in addition to alcohol there are many other potential risks that an event planner needs to plan for and mitigate in order to stay in Santa’s good books.

Here are some tips for things to consider before, during and after your event that will not only help ensure the safety and well-being of your guests but limit liability and risk for yourself and / or your organization.

1. Event Insurance

First and foremost, you will need general liability insurance.  Most venues require a copy of your insurance certificate and may need a certain dollar figure.  Without insurance you will leave yourself and your organization open to financial devastation in the event that something unfortunate should occur during your event.  Incidents can range from slip and falls, to the damage of venue property and in some cases it is recommended to conduct a risk management assessment with the venue manager.  For example, during the holiday season you may wish to ensure that the venue entrance is clear of any ice so that your guests arrive and depart safely.

2. Alcohol Management

Although liquor laws and service regulations vary widely, and you will need to become very familiar with the regulations in your own area, the serving of alcohol mandates a very distinct and necessary level of risk management.  

The serving and monitoring of alcohol is not an easy task, but there are many tactics that will make it much more manageable and less overwhelming. Here are just a few to consider:

  • Hire only experienced and certified bar tenders that are familiar with regulations around the serving of alcohol to ensure that guests do not become inebriated
  • Limit the amount of hosted (free) alcohol being offered by providing only a certain number (perhaps 1-2) hosted drink tickets, do not allow bottle sales, pay the extra to have wine servers (do not put bottles on the table), or cash bar service

3. Safe Transportation

Transportation to and from an event is also key to minimizing risk and ensuring safety.  Some of these elements need to be integrated into your event planning early, as more often than not, they can be difficult to arrange last minute.

  • Secure an event venue that is easily accessible by public transit and make your guests aware beforehand.
  • If public transit is not an option due to location or appropriateness, offer taxi vouchers to anyone who needs a safe ride home.
  • Have designated drivers.  These can be staff, colleagues, friends or family but should be determined ahead of time.  Offer these individuals complimentary alcohol-free beverages throughout the event as an incentive and a way of demonstrating gratitude.

4. Catering

Food is known to be the most memorable aspect of any great event and requires particular attention.  Food safety, especially if you are using outside catering services, needs to be strongly considered.

  • Does the venue have a server or food-preparation area that meets the food safe standards or your local area regulatory body?
  • Have you thoroughly vetted the caterer you are hiring?

In terms of actual food selection and menu it is also important to ensure that your catering offering is safe for all of your guests. This can be done by doing the following:

  • Ask your guests to provide a list of any food allergies in advance so proper arrangements can be made.  Buffet items can be labeled and alternative menu items prepared.
  • Guests can be provided with a dot on their name badge or a “chip” they hand or place at their meal place that will indicate to the server that they have an allergy or a food intolerance.

5. Action Plan for the Unexpected

Even with the best planning not all challenges can be avoided and you should have an action plan ready for those incidents that need to be addressed during your event. For example, if a guest does become inebriated what steps should be taken?  Or if an accident should occur i.e. a trip and fall of a guest, what action should be taken to ensure proper care and due diligence?  Again, it is important to review this with the venue manager and your insurance broker but here a few ideas you may want to consider:

  • Let your venue manager know who to connect with in the event of an injury or incident this way you will be able to assess the matter and ensure that it is handled appropriately.
  • Insist that an incident report be written up so that all details are captured in the event that a dispute ensues between any of the parties involved.
  • Hire security staff to handle any situations involving inebriated guests that may insist on leaving the venue without safe transportation.

Risk management may take the fun out of your event planning, but if done correctly you will definitely keep the BAH HUMBUG out of your holiday party and the lump of coal out of your stocking! 

Heidi Hughes

Heidi Hughes

Director, Sales & Marketing, Anvil Centre | President Elect, MPI BC Chapter

A 20-year hospitality sales and marketing professional, Heidi honed her skills working for some of the best hotels chains in the world, including Hyatt Regency, Marriott and Hilton. After almost a decade in conference and convention hotels, she spent several years as Manager, Events and Conference at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) before coming to Anvil Centre as Director, Sales and Marketing. Energetic and positive, her career has evolved from hospitality management, sales and marketing to include event management. Her devotion to being a contributing member of a growing and evolving industry that is continuously setting new and higher standards for best practices is echoed in her extra- curricular work and activities. Heidi is a former Instructor at both the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Art Institute of Vancouver and is highly active with Meeting Professionals International on both a local chapter and International Level. 

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