Up The Function - Ashdale Business Consulting

Up The Function


Over the years I have attended all sorts of different functions, from very formal dinners to more informal team meetings and away days.  I have also been involved in organising quite a few events.  The biggest of these was as part of a team who created a companywide 2-day event at a conference centre. This included building a bespoke bar onsite as well as filling the venue with arcade games.  To say it was challenging would be an understatement.  However, as it was a great success it was also one of the most rewarding things I have done.

Although most of the other events I have been involved in organising haven’t been on such a grand scale, they have still required a reasonable amount of time and effort to ensure that they were successful.  At the heart of every one of these was the choice of venue both from a physical point of view and what facilities and level of service they were able to provide.

In some cases, the venues that we used specialised in catering for functions, but in many other cases it was just one of many services these outlets provided.

This had me thinking, what sort of things do operators need to take into consideration when it comes to hiring their venues out for functions?


Specialist vs. generalist

One of the biggest challenges some venues face is what I call “over promising”.  By this I mean trying to deliver against a brief which they are ill equipped to provide.  The best example of this is those outlets that offer up their venue for weddings but lack the expertise to deliver an appropriate experience.  For many reasons weddings are one of the most stressful events an operator can wish to host.  Tensions often run high and if there are the slightest of problems things can often escalate quite quickly.  I would always recommend that unless you are geared up properly, attractive as hosting weddings might seem, I would think twice about doing it.

My advice, especially when first starting to host or run events, is to keep things as simple and straight forward as you can.  The more specialised the offer, the more complicated it is likely to be to deliver and the higher risk that something will not go to plan.


Pricing structures

Very much linked to the above, once you have decided that you are going to make your outlet available for functions, what should your approach be when it comes to charging for it?  Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer here, but here are some different options you can consider.

One of the most basic approaches is to simply charge a flat rate hire fee based on how long someone needs the venue for.  This can often be quite low for small venues, all the way up to £1,000s per day for larger and more prestigious locations.  Often what you charge for the hire may also depend on what if any other services you are also providing.  If it’s a ‘dry hire’, so just the physical space then you will obviously make a charge.  If, however you are providing other services such as catering then some operators either charge a nominal room hire fee or waive it altogether.

A watch-out on this type of hire is to manage the number of people who attend.  The industry is full of horror stories where events have attracted ridiculous numbers of people to the point where health & safety concerns can be quite serious.  If you do go for a ‘dry hire’ or similar approach, then it’s always best to be clear on the maximum number of people that you can allow to be in your venue at any given time.

If you are providing other services, be that catering or even technical equipment another common approach is to charge by the person.  This also has the advantage to the operator of indicating how many people are likely to be in attendance, which in turn can help when deciding on the number of staff you may need to cater for the event.  This approach is very common with hotels and conference centre, and allows a more all-inclusive approach, which can be quite attractive to some customers.

The final area worth thinking about is that of a minimum spend.  Hiring out a room or your whole venue may sound great but it’s no good if only a handful of people turn up.  If you agree a minimum spend with the organiser it means that if the event isn’t as successful as planned, then they have to make up the difference to the operator.  This means that at the very worst you can cover your running costs.  A slight variation on this is to work on a minimum number of guests.  This can work if you have a good handle on what their average spend is likely to be, so quite a good option for regular and reoccurring events.


Be clear who is in charge

It doesn’t matter whether you are hiring your rooms/venue out to a local family or a big corporation the reality is that not everything will always run smoothly.  And depending on the nature of the event there may also be alcohol involved, which can sometimes not help situations.

It is therefore very important that you have the right rules, procedures and practices in place to keep all your staff and your guests as safe as possible.  If there are any conflicts, you need to act swiftly and appropriately to deal with them.

I would also always recommend that you have at least one contact, who is actually attending the event , who you can go to if you need to either calm a situation down or explain why you have had to take the course of action you have taken.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with charging a deposit upfront for ‘breakages’ etc. especially if you are dealing with new or one-off customers.  Remember in most cases you are hosting functions to drive business to your outlet and hopefully make a profit.