ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Hotel Banquet Department Staff Now Part Of The PR and Marketing Team.
By Doug Kennedy
Tuesday, 3rd September 2013
Over the many years I have been conducting on-site training for the hotel industry I have trained nearly every department from front desk through hotel maintenance on hospitality and guest service excellence.  

Yet until recently one department I had never been asked to train before was the banquet services.   When I received the call from an existing client to train the 100+ banquet servers and bartenders I immediately thought it was a good idea. Yet the more I thought about it I realized it was actually a brilliant idea for management to recognize the importance of this unique department.

It really hit me when my client contact mentioned that his team served over 300,000 guests last year at all types of events including association meetings, conferences, awards dinners, business events, city-wide events such as the marathon, and just about every type of social event imaginable from weddings to retirement parties. 

Most of those who attend are not staying over in the hotel nor using the food and beverage outlets, so their only impression of the hotel is from their experience as a guest at an event catered by the banquet staff.

In preparing, I remembered back to my first job at the Marriott Resort in my hometown of Lexington, KY when I started out in banquets before transferring over to the bellstand.  (I still worked in banquets when they needed me for all three years I was at that hotel.)  Back then we had something called "word-of-mouth" advertising.  I remember my managers telling me that unhappy guests tell at least 10 other people. 

In today's world, we can call it "word of click" advertising or even more aptly "word of tweet." But it's not just messages going out on Twitter and Facebook postings, we now have guests making selfies and posting them on Instagram along with pictures of their dessert or entrée. 

In fact, in preparing to present this training I did a little online searching myself and found  both highly positive and highly negative reviews for a number of hotels in this major city at places like Yelp and Event Library. (Interestingly, both the most positive and most negative reviewers wrote more about the staff than they wrote about the facilities or the food.)

While the front desk team certainly has a huge opportunity to help market the hotel by creating memorable experiences that result in positive TripAdvisor postings, the banquet services team has perhaps an even bigger opportunity to generate positive social media buzz. 

How many brides-to-be might be attending the wedding of another friend prior to picking their own venue?  How many of those attending an awards dinner might have upcoming meetings or events at their own companies?  When you think about it there are likely to be prospects for future hotel sales and catering business at just about every event the banquet team serves.  

Based on my own experiences at attending conferences, meetings, and trade shows, there are many hotels that could benefit from providing more hospitality and guest services training for this highly important yet often overlooked department.   If you are looking to conduct your own training for your banquet services team here are some training ideas:
  • Conduct searches at online social networking and business review websites regarding hotel banquet events such as weddings and company meetings.  Share the information with your team to remind them of how we are in a new area of transparency of guest service. 
  • Discuss the positive (or negative) impact of even just one social media posting or review.
  • Conduct role-playing activities and video tape the participants.  Then play back the results so that everyone can see how they are actually performing.   Some might think they are smiling when in fact they are not.  Others might pick-up on closed body language or gestures such as leaning on the bar or chair back.  It's always fun to first have the participants demonstrate the wrong behavior first to break the ice, and also to show there is in a fact a wrong way. 
  • Review essential hospitality skills that all colleagues need to display, especially those working in a highly visible position as the banquet server or bartender such as these:
- Always acknowledge and greet others you pass by in the conference hallways and public areas.
- Be aware of the names of key contacts for in-house events you are working. 
- Familiarize yourself with the locations of other major events taking place in other areas of the hotel so you can direct guests.
- Greet the meeting or function planner when they first enter the room.  Help them get in touch with the right contacts they might need such as related departments (Media services, banquet set-up, etc…
- Display a calm demeanor when faced with long lines, such as when working the bar at the very start of an event.  This way those in line will know when their turn comes soon enough, they will have your full attention.
- Anticipate needs in advance before they become requests by "reading the table."

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry.  Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry's conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades.
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