Banquet manager was not the first job I had in the hospitality industry, but it was by far the most challenging and to be honest, it was a bit overwhelming at first, with so many moving parts and an operation that more or less runs 24/7/365.
This is not a position for the meek at heart, but it is a position any manager hoping to go through the ranks in food and beverage will need to take on at some point in their career, especially if they aspire to be a food and beverage director or hotel general manager.
As a banquet manager, you will often find yourself torn between loyalty to the property, your staff, and the guest. Believe me, there will be more than a few occasions where two out of the three will not be happy with a decision you make, and you can guess who the most important of these is to make happy. You are truly a diplomat in the hotel trying to sometimes make peace between three different countries in what is often a no-win scenario for you.
Now, it is not all bad. Actually, as challenging as the position can be, it is even more rewarding when you pull off the perfect function, especially a wedding or charitable function. Honestly, though, that will be a challenge early on, as you will be challenged by salespeople and the staff on almost every front. Over time, though, everyone understands and respects each other’s role, and functions are sold and carried out with that mind. If I have not yet scared you off the position, let’s take a look at the role of banquet manager from beginning to end as well as some tips on how to make you successful at this position.
Banquet Manager Duties
The duties of this position literally run the gamut in terms of boring, exciting, and challenging. When performed properly, though, the department will run like a top:
- Scheduling and management of staff: Assistant banquet managers, Servers, Banquet housemen
- Event planning and coordination for social, convention, and corporate functions
- Management of functions
- Maintaining equipment and inventory
Banquet Manager Skills/Attributes
The challenge of this position is that you will need to have a variety of skills that work in conjunction with each other to plan, schedule, and carry out functions. This must be done while maintaining a positive relationship with multiple sales and catering managers as well as your own staff and of course, the guest.
Organization – being organized is by far one of the most important skills you will need while running a banquet department. You must be able to schedule and plan events weeks in advance to ensure they are carried out properly. Not only that, but you must also be able to juggle multiple events of different types all at the same time. It is not uncommon to have a corporate event in one room, a social event in another, and a meeting or convention going on in the main ballroom.
Temperament/Patience – it is very easy to lose your cool in the heat of the battle but being both calm and patient is a must as a banquet manager. There are going to be times you have guests, sales managers, and staff all coming at you at the same time. There will also be times when you have sales and catering managers from functions going off at the same time coming to you with what they deem to be an immediate concern. It will be up to you to prioritize and work your way through that list without risking the success of any one function.
Diplomacy – a successful banquet manager will be able to maintain relationships on all fronts without creating animosity, and this will not be easy. As stated above, you will have times when a catering manager is coming at you over their wedding, a sales manager coming at you over a meeting, and your staff coming at you over a problem with the BEO. You cannot make them all happy at the same time, but you need to figure out a way to pacify each of them until their concerns can be addressed. It is about setting a priority and a clear plan of action to work your way through that list.
Taking Charge/Being Accountable – as the banquet manager, when a function is going on, you are in charge, period. If your bosses do not accept that, then you are working for the wrong people. Ultimately, it is your job on the line and other people directing your staff or making decisions will end up hurting your operation. Everything must come through you, but you have to be willing to own the department in order to do this. You must also have coworkers and/or supervisors willing to take your direction and defer power to you during the function.
To be honest, this is the one thing that prevented me from having early success in my career. I had a Director of Catering that constantly meddled in functions and gave orders to my banquet captains behind my back. I had sales and catering managers constantly directing my housemen and server staff without going through me. It led to functions crashing and burning and me in the GM’s office trying to explain it.
After I sat down with the GM, however, he immediately called a meeting and told everyone, point blank, I was the boss during functions, period. Direction would only come through me. To his credit, that included him. On multiple occasions, my GM had ideas about how something could be accomplished, but he always presented the idea to me and left it up to me to implement it with my staff.
You also have to remember, for every catering or sales manager, their function is their number one priority and they want everything set perfectly. However, when their function goes off at 5 pm and a function going off at 2 pm has set up issues, that function takes priority, which makes it very important their requests go through you, not directly to your server or houseman staff. Their requests will be handled, but it just may not be to their timeline. You have the big picture in mind, they generally have ONLY their function in mind.
Customer Service – this one should go without saying, but is obviously a major part of your job. You are going to have guests that will flat-out lie about things they were promised and guests that were simply told something that could be done and it is not possible. How you present solutions to those guests will make all the difference.
My rule of thumb was to NEVER tell a guest “there is nothing I can do.” I always had a solution. It may not be what the guest necessarily wants, but I did have a solution. For instance, a guest was told they could have a specific setup by a new salesperson unfamiliar with a room’s capabilities. If all the other rooms are taken and the guest has no choice but to use that room, it will be up to you to give them a setup they can work with and live with. “Can’t” and “Won’t” should not be part of your vocabulary in these instances. You really need to focus on the positive and what can be accomplished rather than what cannot be done.
Preparation – the importance of this cannot be overstated. Doing research and running through every scenario before your banquet event order (BEO) meetings is a must. You literally have to pour over every detail of every function and have your questions ready for salespeople when their meeting or event is being discussed. If not, you will find yourself right before a meeting or function realizing something cannot be accommodated… and at that point, it is on you. You literally have to know how many people each room can hold, max setup types for each room, how much equipment is being utilized at the same time, and how many staff will be needed.
Stamina and Durability – being a banquet manager is a young man’s job. Know right out of the gate you are going to be working 12-16 hour days as well as working six or seven days a week at times. There will also be times you will go two or more weeks without a day off. To be a good banquet manager, you must be willing to work when there is business, and in some hotels, that may mean a work week of 60 or more hours a week. There will be down times when you can rest up, but even five-day work weeks will be longer than the typical 40 or 50 hours most people work in the hospitality industry.
This is NOT a 9am-5pm job, anything but. You will sometimes be in work long before the sun comes up and are often there long after midnight. You will not have weekends off and you will be working holidays. Get used to it, because that is the life in hotel operations, especially in the food and beverage department.
Thick Skin – if criticism hurts your feelings, you are in the wrong business. As a banquet manager, you will hear it from clients, coworkers, bosses, and staff. You need to be able to let harsh words roll off your back while taking critical points to make the overall operation better. Some of the worst arguments I had in the industry were with some of my best friends, but we all knew work was work and were able to separate professional disagreements and critiques from our personal lives. Use criticism as a motivator, not a depressant.
There is no hiding the fact being a banquet manager is a hard and challenging position. However, as challenging and frustrating as it can be, it is the path to bigger and better things in the hospitality industry. If you can run a large banquet department and do it successfully, you will have a bright and successful future in the hospitality industry.
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