How to make sure holiday events go off without a hitch

Even during a typical year, the holidays are among the busiest periods for the hospitality industry. But with corporate events and holiday gatherings finally making a return, event schedules are packed tighter than we’ve seen since pre-pandemic days. In times like these, it's easy for things to fall through the cracks — but to truly get back to business as usual, venues and vendors need to be at the top of their game.

To help ensure that your events go smoothly this holiday season, we’ve rounded up some of our best tips. Before you know it, you’ll be toasting to your year-end success!


1. Sweeten the deal for off-peak hours

Is your schedule jam-packed with back-to-back events? Consider offering incentives for booking events on less in-demand nights like Tuesday or Wednesday. While clients probably don't want to throw a late-night Wednesday party — especially if they and/or their guests have work the next day — they may be open to booking a mid-week event takes place in the daytime.

By spreading your events throughout the week, your staff won’t feel so overwhelmed on weekends. And if you book Instawork Pros to support your team, you’ll find that rates are often more affordable on off-peak hours like weekday afternoons. Bonus!

2. Plan for health & safety regulations

In the age of COVID-19, health and safety regulations have been constantly moving targets. Before any event, make sure you’re caught up on the latest state and local policies around things like vaccination status, capacity, and masks to stay in compliance with the law — and keep your team, clients, and their guests safe.

Communicate these requirements to your clients before the event so they know what to expect, making sure to mention any additional policies you or the venue might have of your own. Make sure to include detailed information about how you’ll follow these guidelines, too. If your venue requires vaccines, for example, let your client know how you plan to check for proof and enforce the policy. 

Some businesses ask clients to sign an acknowledgment of their COVID health and safety protocols to ensure they understand and agree to them. You may also want to encourage clients to notify their event guests about these protocols ahead of time — that way, you reduce the chance of unpleasant surprises on the day of the event.

Of course, you’ll want to notify your staff of these regulations as well so they can follow them accordingly. When building their schedules, you might want to allot extra time for setup, cleaning, and teardown. Depending on the COVID-related sanitation requirements in your area, these tasks may take longer than you think. And when it comes to health and safety, you don’t want your staff to feel rushed, or unequipped to meet the standards.

RELATED: [Takeaways] Making your business COVID-safe in 2022

3. Build flexibility into your operations 

With supply chain issues causing shortages of ingredients/equipment as well as shipping delays happening all over the country, being flexible is more important than ever this holiday season. After your client has selected their menu, for example, you may want to ask them which dishes they’d like as backup options. That way, you’ll set more realistic expectations and minimize disappointment if unexpected circumstances make their top choices unavailable.

It’s also important to be flexible with your staff, including where and how you assign them responsibilities. This will be helpful not only when you’re short-staffed in a particular area, but also in boosting employee engagement and satisfaction.

“We've recognized that we have an incredible amount of utility players that are talented and eager to grow beyond their existing function,” said Daniel del Olmo, President & COO of Sage Hotel Management, in a recent roundtable. “That creates a career path that might have otherwise taken longer or not even been recognized. And frankly, nowadays, I think it is critical to ensure retention.”

4. Scale back your offerings if needed

In the middle of a busy season, a complex menu and more time-consuming serving styles can slow you down significantly. So whether this means limiting courses or the number of menu options, don’t be afraid to pare down your typical services.

To keep the staff from feeling overwhelmed during busy seasons, Dede Gotthelf, owner of the Southampton Inn, has developed cleaner, simpler menus that require fewer hours (and people) to prepare — as well as more streamlined service.

“[When] we have events of about 40-100 attendees…  we try to offer more buffet menus than plated and seated options,” Gotthelf said.

RELATED: ICA webinar recap — a seasoned caterer's secrets for beating burnout


5. Get support from extra staff

Remember those utility players we talked about? If you have the budget, it’s a good idea to schedule a few of them on a busy event night in case anyone on your primary team is unable to make it or has to leave early — or if things just get busier than expected. With enough skilled on-call staffers, you'll be able to avoid overwhelming your team.

If you hire some extra hands only to find that you don’t need additional help with that event, you don’t necessarily have to send them home — they can always help prep for the next event.

6.  Have a team-building moment

The hospitality industry has always had fairly high turnover, but the current labor shortage is accelerating it all the more. At many hospitality businesses, new team members are joining and leaving each day — so at any given event, your team may be coming together for the first time. 

To build up trust and collaboration, consider adding some team-building time to your pre-event rundown. You don’t have to do any elaborate exercises — a short icebreaker, or even a quick round of introductions, can do the trick.

At Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s James Beard Award-winning restaurant in Philadelphia, Zahav, they take this a step further by dancing through their line-ups each night. Sometimes they even share these line-up dances on their Instagram stories.

For most folks in events, the business coming in this holiday season is a blessing after a difficult couple of years — but it may also be somewhat intimidating. It’s natural to be nervous about ramping back up after so much extended downtime, or worry about getting back into the swing of things. But if there’s one thing the hospitality industry has proven throughout the pandemic, it’s that the people and businesses within it are dedicated, resilient, and often capable of more than they thought possible. And with a little foresight and determination, you can make this holiday season one for the record books.

Scrambling to assemble a team for a last-minute request? Short-staffed for an upcoming event? Instawork can help. Our FOH and BOH Professionals are background-checked, experienced, and skilled, with the certifications to prove it. Learn more here or fill out the form below to get in touch.