punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,
punkwalrus
punkwalrus

How to Screw a Con: Hotel Catering Rules

Didn't I write some entry about why I'd never run a convention? Oh, yes, I did. Well, here's something I have actually seen before, but never to a convention at the scale of Katsucon: they said, at the last minute, "NO FOOD." We had a con suite... "TOO BAD!" But we had a staff suite for our staff --"TOO BAD!" But the guests need--"TOO BAD!" I am not sure if the hotel had this in their contract with us or it was a verbal agreement. All I know is that we have pallets of food that will now spoil or go otherwise uneaten at a cost of thousands of dollars to Katsucon.

Hotels make money several ways. First, and the most obvious, is the rooms. But they also make use of "function space," the huge rooms that most common hotel guests are not really aware of. You remember that scene in "Ghostbusters" where they trap the green Slimer Ghost in a ballroom with all those tables and glass chandelier? That's a "function room." Hotels have several kinds. Some small hotels have only a small room, good for small wedding receptions. Some bigger ones will have a ballroom, or rent out their suite rooms. Then the big hotels in cities have several rooms, usually one big room with moveable wall dividers. They sell that space, but if a convention gets a "block" of rooms, the hotel will "give" functions to you at a reduced rate, or even free. The third, and most major way hotels make money is by catering. If a hotel has a restaurant, they probably have catering. Hotels in major cities have an almost Nazi or Union-like rule system about catering that sci fi cons have found hard to work around. Big Hotel chains sometimes have contracts with their own caterers that NO food will be allowed to be served by anyone else. The prices for the food would never be considered reasonable to the average human. Let's say you go to an average restaurant and get a steak dinner with a glass of wine and a dessert. In our area, that will run you about $20-25 if you don't go to some fancy-shmancy schmaltz-ridden place like "The Four Seasons." Now if you order from the Marriott-catered hotel a steak dinner for 200 people, you'd think you'd get a discount for 200 steak dinners with wine and dessert, right? Try $70 a plate. And they certainly aren't the quality you'd get at The Four Seasons. How about this, a small business meeting with soda and chips? An 8 ounce bottle of soda (about the size of a small can) will run about $2.50 each. Bag of chips about $3, and they won't be "super-sized," either. AND you have to buy in bulk amounts, like you can't have 10 bottles of soda, you have to have 32 at a time. Plus you have to pay for some dude to stand at the table and serve it, even if no one is at the table serving. It's a union/contract thing. I have seen these planned for my company as well as conventions. While sci fi conventions run on a shoestring budget, most companies just pay without questioning because the purchasing agent isn't paying for it, the company is. So who cares if we paid $6 for a $1 pair of items and didn't use them all?

So bring your own food? Pah! But some hotels, knowing we bring in thousands of people, will bend the rules, but you have to have it signed in the contract. Now, hotels break contracts like pie crusts: easily made, easily broken (thank you, Mary Poppins). Sometimes this is because they promised something they couldn't possibly deliver ("Yes, we can reroute our whole phone system for your demonstration"), or can do, but won't ("Yes, we'll have a bouquet of 144 red roses waiting for the bride when she arrives"). Now, hotels will usually try and get away with a lot, hoping that you won't take the time to call them on it, and even if you do, won't prosecute because it takes too much time and money. I mean, I don't want hotels to look evil, but in some cases, communication is their major problem. In our area, it's usually a change of staff. Like say in June of 2002, you sign a contract for a big Christmas party for your company in mid-December. By the time December rolls around, I can bet you the hotel manager, the guest liaison, and the head of their catering has changed. At least. In our area, the whole hotel could be bought out by another hotel company. What was a Doubletree in June is a Marriott in December. Think they remembered your contract? Hardly. So in December, when someone calls to give the hotel a head count, you realize that smiling girl who answered "No problem" to everything you asked for is gone, and replaced by someone who has pulled your contract out of the filing cabinet for the first time in her life. Ooooh... you've been double booked with the "Southern Baptists for Christ" rally that same weekend. Both of you have the ballroom. Now it's a guess as to what to do.

Now, to be fair, hotels have a LOT of meetings, parties, and conventions pull out on them. I bet half the time they double book they get no conflicts simply because they book a wedding reception for June, and when June comes around, they call and see how many are coming only to get a sad answer the wedding's off, and didn't someone call you? Of course, a GOOD guest liaison will constantly keep updates and a chart... but GOOD people like that are rare. You end up with, and this seems to be a major city thing, half-assed lazy employees who only care about selfish short-term needs. Hell, if they get fired, they can easily get a job elsewhere. This is the city, where there is no "reputation" for a job well done... or a job done poorly. Hell, DC residents voted for Marion Barry. Twice. Even after he was caught on film smoking crack with a prostitute and was jailed. They still re-elected him. The city life is great for slackers. So that spills over into work habits, and hell, the people who make promises to hotels, for that matter.

Of course honorable people and groups, like Katsucon, are royally screwed when the other end slacks. I don't know the full details, but I am sure I'll hear more before the end of the con. My wife runs the staff suite, and now suddenly, her work is reduced to handing out cheese doodles and small snack-wiches, so she and her staff of 11 will have no problem with this vastly reduced work load, but what can you do? How come the other two years we had a staff suite, the hotel let us? Oh... change of management. Again.

Stupid hotels.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000047.html
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