As assistants, we wear many hats, and event planning is sometimes one of them. Event planning comes with huge responsibilities, particularly when it comes to negotiating the right space. This is especially the case when it comes to reviewing the venue contract.
When it comes to booking a venue, there are many line items to sift through in the contract. Whenever I was tasked with this undertaking, I always wished I had a list I could cross-reference when I was reviewing the document to make sure what I was signing off on was fair, made sense and could help to spot ways to add additional value in my company's favor. Here are some items to help do exactly that when reviewing and negotiating a venue contract for your next work event.
Keep in the back of your mind that the venue is most likely going to give you a standard contract template that they will have only made minor adjustments to. The salesperson expects changes to be made; it's all part of the negotiation process.
Don't hesitate to ask the salesperson to clarify anything in the contract that isn't clear. For example, if the language is hard to understand or if any of the items seem to unfairly favor the venue then ask for more details or explanation. The number one reason why people do not succeed in negotiating is due to not asking enough questions, so this is a great opportunity to collect crucial information (check out my article about powerful negotiation tactics for more tips).
Related to the above section, make sure you understand all of the financial commitments that have been outlined. I wanted to highlight this component since it is so important to not only know when certain payments are due and if all fees and gratuities are included but to know what the refund and cancellation policies are. If you are having your catering done through the venue, then you will need to look for any food and beverage minimums in the contract.
If you are renting more than one space at a property and want to ensure they are as close as possible and on the same floor, be sure to ask for exactly that. Don't assume the salesperson is going to go out of their way to optimize everything for your event unless you nail down those details.
In addition, ask as many questions about the room as you can so you can make sure you are selecting the best one possible. For example, it would not be a pleasant surprise to discover the space is located on the basement level with a weak Wi-Fi signal, no natural light, and no air conditioning. In addition, I have read that some venues do not mark columns on their floor plans, which could be a huge deal for some layouts.
Space-to-rooms ratio (SRR)
When doing research for this article, I stumbled across the importance of knowing your SRR if you are working with a hotel for your venue. Knowing your SRR gives you insight into how your group affects the hotel's meeting space inventory. Basically, hotels want to make sure they have a certain amount of available meeting rooms when they still have unbooked guest rooms.
Here is the SRR formula (from etouches):
Space-to-rooms ratio = (Total seats by day x 20 sq. ft.) / (Total guest room block that day)
If you are below the hotel's ratio then you have more negotiating power. If you are over the ratio then you might want to consider reducing your SRR. A few ways to do so are the following: reusing your main meeting room for breakout sessions, using an alternate space such as a suite for breakouts and/or picking room setups that help to reduce the ratio (source: etouches).
No relocation clause
If you are booking a block of hotel rooms, be sure to include a no relocation clause in the contract. Hotels overbook their rooms since they do expect a portion of the guests to be no-shows. However, if a hotel does overbook and guests in your event get displaced, Meetings Today mentions, "[I]t is the hotel's responsibility to assure comparable accommodations nearby, transportation, credit your room block for displaced nights, and place your guests on a priority wait list to return to the hotel with a suite upgrade, if available. I would also request an amenity and an apology note from the hotel GM."
No renovation/construction clauses
When booking blocks of hotel rooms, make sure the contract states that they are all renovated rooms. If a hotel is in the middle of renovations, you do not want to risk some of the guests having lovely, renovated rooms and others having shabby, dated rooms.
It is important to cover your bases in case of construction in the venue space as well. The construction clause requires you to be notified of any construction in the space you are renting during the date of your event so you have time to find an alternate solution. Also, if construction is going on in adjacent spaces, you need to be certain that the contract protects the room you are renting from being disrupted by noise, dust and debris.
I recommend confirming the hours you are allowed to access the space have been included in the contract. If any extra time ends up being needed be sure you understand what happens in those scenarios as well.
As I mentioned in my article about powerful negotiation tactics, "be optimistic and aim high." Put together a wish list of concession items, especially if your event is spanning over multiple days. A few items you can ask for are suite upgrades for VIPs, complimentary Wi-Fi in all meeting spaces and complimentary airport transfer for VIPs. Here are a couple resources that list some other great ideas: Smart Meetings and The Meetings Concierge.
Other included items
Make sure the contract details exactly what is included. For example, a catering team, a sound system, a wireless projector, etc. That way you know what gaps you need to fill.
Accidents happen, and hopefully one won't happen at your event. However, you do need to know what to expect if you find yourself in that situation. Make sure the contract outlines what to expect should damage occur to the property by one of your guests.
After all of the back and forth, confirm the final copy of the contract doesn't have any handwritten notes on it. You want to ensure if you end up working with a different person at the venue a clean, legible copy is the one that is signed and filed on both ends. This best practice covers everyone's bases.
Different types of events will require you to read through the contract and negotiate different items. For example, a themed company event featuring fire dancers will have a whole other set of priorities than a leadership summit bringing together a senior executive team from various locations. When in doubt, reference the section on "contract clarification;" it never hurts to make sure you have a clear understanding of each item.
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