PA Life Editor Amelia Walker hosted the third in our series of roundtable discussion with PA Life readers. This session’s topics – sourcing venues and the importance of good service.
Amelia: You ladies obviously work with a lot of venues; your suggestions can make or break an event with your boss and company, correct?
Lee: Yes. I’m not going to send people places that I’m not going to go to myself so everything has to be en pointe.
Emily: Absolutely. It’s your reputation that’s on the line. Once we trust a hotel or venue enough to book them for an event and then find on the day for example that they haven’t got enough chairs or wine glasses, that isn’t acceptable. The hotel is responsible, but as it’s our job to ensure things run smoothly then it is our responsibility when things don’t go to plan. Most of us make a mental note to say I am not using them again – they’ve let me down.
Lee: I had that happen with a well-known West End venue. The week before my event there the guy that I had been dealing with the entire time left, but didn’t even have the decency to tell me. What I had agreed with him and what happened on the day were two different things. Because I felt like it was going to be fine, I hadn’t gone there on the day, which was my own mistake.
One example why it wasn’t acceptable – I get a phone call saying that there’s 14 directors making their own coffee on only one machine. I reminded the hotel’s team that I spoke to them that very morning and stated that everything should be self-serve, in jugs, but it was not actioned. And that is London five-star apparently – anything but.
Emily: Service shouldn’t dip because someone leaves – it plays a large part in why we choose to book venues.
Amelia: Did they give you any compensation because you weren’t happy with what had been provided?
Lee: No. I thought let’s pay it and be done with it – we’re not going back there again.
Jessica: They should definitely have done something to acknowledge that they haven’t provided the event to your full satisfaction and said to you: ‘there was a lack of communication on our side, and we still want your business; let us make amends.’
Lee: I had an interesting experience at another well-known hotel. Their breakfast is amazing but ridiculously expensive; what you don’t realise when you’re choosing an item off the menu is that you also pay for this whole table of food that you haven’t even eaten! We had avocado on toast, bacon and eggs, two coffees and two juices – and it was over £70.
Jessica & Emily: What?!
Lee: Bearing in mind we were booking a function there anyway – and the host was recommending us things to try, so naturally we actually thought she was ‘comping’ for us anyway, knowing that there was an opportunity for them to be potentially working with us a lot. You’d think the host would have thought ‘let these girls have breakfast; they are going to be spending thousands with us and hopefully this will in turn bring repeat business.’ Bad service really.
Jess: For good service in London I’d definitely recommend our office favourite – a local Italian called D’martinos on Great Portland Street. It is a very casual little Italian. The food is good, courtesy of an authentic Italian chef in the kitchen. It’s the little details, like when my boss walks in they say: “Mr Ian, we’ve got your favourite today!” Aqua Nueva has just recently had a refurbishment that is really lovely so my boss goes there too. My private aviation boss Adam McIver wanted somewhere special for his wife, so went to a restaurant named Clos Maggiore; it was really romantic with great food and an amazing wine collection. You absolutely have to go there.
Actually we did the most amazing familiarisation trip for me and 10 other PAs at an incredible venue – Aynhoe Park in Banbury. It is a massive country manor filled with taxidermy, crazy artwork and every room in the main house is named and individually designed. I stayed in the Matthew Williamson room, which has a massive four-poster bed, copper palm tree light feature and the best bathroom I have seen – it is fantastic. The service is amazing, and the food too, and all of the different rooms are really something special. The east wing of the house has a different feel to it; it was more relaxed with dark wood, cashmere blankets – very country style. It even has an underground bar. I’d definitely recommend this place to PAs for away days, large parties, or even weddings. It’s really near Bicester Village and Silverstone, so great when the British Grand Prix is on.
Amelia: Do you work directly with hotels or work with the PRs when booking venues, and how do they treat you?
Lee: It depends what I’m doing. I tap other PAs at work for suggestions, but I prefer to go direct to the venue. If you have another person involved then you’re not necessarily communicating with the right person; you tell them one thing and are not sure things are getting translated.
Emily: I think the problem is that some people still don’t understand the PA role, so when PAs call to book venues, the people at the other end of the phone don’t realise that it is us that have the ultimate say in whether or not we say yes or no. As PAs we are not just secretaries – we are decision makers. In the job I do I sign things off, I budget, I organise without having to run things by my boss. And when booking an event it will be me that decides where we do it; my boss won’t get involved at all. Many people perceive us as secretaries. We are slowly, as an industry, moving in the right direction but we are still not fully understood.
Amelia: When sourcing a venue for an event, it is not simply enough for the venue itself to be the main reason to choose a location. Great service is paramount and can make or break a booking and the event overall. Bad service = no repeat bookings.
Part two of this roundtable discussion will be featured in the September/October issue of PA Life. Topics to be discussed are: the EA/PA debate – the difference between business and private PAs and email management.
With special thanks to Shaka Zulu for their generous hospitality; shaka-zulu.com.