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Catering to Dietary Requests

A recent “Special Events Magazine” survey of caterers revealed that special dietary requests from guests attending meetings and events now constitute 20 percent of an audience, up from five percent 10 years ago.

While requests for special meals due to religious or medical reasons must be honored, these days, requests are often more a matter of personal preference than necessity. Vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, and organic are common and easily accommodated requests. Things get more complicated (and expensive) when guests request specific food items or preparation techniques. Last week’s requests included steamed vegetables only, a particular brand of coconut water, and meat sourced from a specific vendor. The most challenging are people who walk in and announce their restrictions, expecting to be accommodated on the spot.

In our “have it now” society, guests don’t realize that catered events don’t have the flexibility of restaurants and that the menus for meals at a private home, the president’s official residence, for example, are planned well in advance. There is no larder behind the kitchen door stocked like a gourmet grocery store. Options for unexpected substitutions are often quite limited. What’s an event planner to do?

While it won’t always be possible to accommodate all requests, our job is to make everyone feel welcome. The foods we serve are perhaps the most personal way to do so.

The best way to prepare is by thinking in advance about the guest list, your locale, and the capabilities of your caterer. Caterers report the Millennial generation is the most apt to make special requests. More than half of the top ten vegetarian cities in the U.S. are university towns. If you live in one them, it goes without saying that you should be prepared to host many vegetarians at your events. If your alumni include a high percentage of people who observe religious dietary laws, obviously, you need to plan accordingly.

Discuss the guest list with your caterer in advance trying to anticipate special requests. For a served meal it is preferable to select a menu that can be discreetly customized so that all plates look the same. For example, a beef entrée with several sides of vegetables can be easily modified by substituting the meat with a vegetarian product and keeping the same sides.

On a buffet, offer a wide variety of options labeling each food, noting which are vegetarian, which have common allergens such as nuts or seafood, and which are gluten-free so that guests can select the foods that meet their needs.

Create a special request drop-down on computer registration sites or on rsvp cards. Limit the number of choices to help control frivolous requests such as one we recently received from a woman who replied to attend an academic symposium. She provided a long list of foods she doesn’t like and won’t eat, noting at the end she is, however, willing to eat organic honey.

State a deadline for special requests and note that while you will try to accommodate requests after that time, no guarantee is made. This gives you and the caterers time to prepare and some wiggle room when people show up at the last minute demanding a special meal.  One word of caution: When one events planner recently took dietary requests online, the responses jumped to 30 percent of the guest list.

If you’re the one with special dietary needs, it’s polite to confine your requests to restrictions based on serious needs (allergies, religious laws, vegetarianism) vs. simple preferences (you don’t like tomatoes). Always make your needs known when accepting an invitation.  If you forget, it is poor form to put your host on the spot by expecting to be accommodated when you arrive. Instead, simply avoid or discreetly decline the foods that you cannot eat and catch a snack on the way home!

 

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Webinar Gives Staff Confidence to Manage Mingling

August is New Year’s in higher education. By month’s end, the majority of schools are back in session and advancement teams are already involved in a tide of fall special events that entail managing mingling including football tailgating, alumni reunions, fund-raising programs, and student recruiting receptions. Hosting guests and making them feel welcome is one of the fundamental jobs of advancement professionals but “working a room” is a skill that isn’t natural and doing it well can take years of practice. These days, most people are far more comfortable texting than they are talking to the living, breathing humans standing nearby. This includes our own staff members, especially if they are newcomers to our profession.

Special events are some of the most effective tools for building personal relationships, but they are also one of the most expensive. When guests attend an event without being greeted, made to feel welcome, and encouraged to deepen their involvement because someone actually took the time to engage them in conversation and get to know them, events are simply a waste of resources. The obvious per-person cost of food and beverage notwithstanding, special events carry a large cost in planning, staffing, and follow up. But the irreplaceable fact that makes events worth doing is that they offer one-on-one relationship building opportunities far more powerful than any online campaign.

We’ve all experienced events where staff huddle talking to each other rather than working the crowd, or they make certain the boss sees them, then load up at the buffet and finally melt away without interacting with anyone. I’m not talking about just rookies. Senior staff are equally guilty!

As American culture has become more casual, many people have arrived at adulthood without knowing how to socialize in a crowd. This doesn’t mean they aren’t willing, it just means the opportunity to learn hasn’t been available. Giving staff tools for self-confidence through training is a proven way to boost performance and maximize ROI whether they are attending a board meeting, or mingling at a black-tie gala.

A perennial exercise of each new school year is holding planning “retreats” and training workshops to indoctrinate newcomers, update continuing staff, map out goals, and energize everyone for the work ahead. This is the perfect time to train your staff by honing their interpersonal skills which in turn will give them the confidence to take the lead in social settings.

Essential skills include knowing how to shake hands properly, make a self-introduction, introduce others, mingle while balancing food and beverage, enter and exit a group, enjoy conversation, and dress for the occasion.

This summer I recorded a webinar, “Conferences, Receptions, and Cocktails,” for the Council For Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), that covers these and other pertinent topics relevant to the variety of the occasions we encounter on campus. I encourage you to consider incorporating it into your fall retreat. Doing so will provide staff with the self-confidence to do their jobs, and help establish a standard code of conduct for your advancement team. The webinar is posted at case.org and is complimentary to members. Log-in at www.case.org and go to Publications and Products, Store, under Product Type, find Webinars.

Best wishes for much success in the new academic year!

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Dress for Summer Success

Summer weather arrived this week in full hot, sticky force making getting dressed for work a challenge. Despite the skimpy and skin-tight clothes that Hollywood wears, most of us live and work in far more conservative environments meaning no matter how hot it is, we can’t go to work barely clothed.

Special events planners and development officers must always look polished and put together. We never know when we may be called to arrange an impromptu meeting for the president, give a presentation, or have lunch with a donor. Here are some easy ways to look professional regardless of the humidity.

Women: Trade in your suits for polished dresses. I’m not talking about strapless sun dresses or those with spaghetti straps. Stick with sheath-style dresses that have a jewel or U-neck and short or cap sleeves. Light weight ponte knit is cool and resists wrinkles so you always look fresh. Dresses are more cool than pants because your legs aren’t wrapped in fabric.

Dressy sandals are ok in many offices; as long you have a pedicure. Flip flops are never appropriate for work. On important days, closed-toe pumps are the most professional. Either way, stick with heels that are three inches or less and avoid thick platform soles so that you can walk comfortably. Stockings are optional, but for important occasions such as a board meeting, or if you are interviewing, very sheer panty hose add a more finished look to your legs.

Jackets communicate an air of authority but there is nothing more uncomfortable than a heavy, lined jacked in the summertime! Summer suits are sometimes inevitable, so choose lightweight fabrics that hold their press and resist wrinkles such as tropical weight wool or synthetics that offer a bit of stretch. Linen is a great summer look, but it is notorious for wrinkles. Scale back what’s underneath to a breathable silk or lace tank, but choose a style that completely covers your bra straps and does not show cleavage. It’s fine to cool off by removing your jacket while in your own office, but definitely put it on when you leave your office for any reason.

Unless you are attending the office picnic, or an outdoor alumni gathering, skip capris and shorts at the office. Instead, pick full-length pants that send a polished and put together professional message. When the occasion is an outdoor function, good casual options are knit summer dresses or casual skirts and knit tops. The caveat is that dresses and skirts should not be super short, skin tight, or display your cleavage. Golf outings call for Bermuda shorts or golf skirts. Choose a length that extends to just above your knee.

Despite aggressive marketing messages to the contrary, unless you are a fitness instructor, clothing that falls in the “athleisure” category is not appropriate for the office. This includes leggings, stretchy skin-tight tank tops, yoga pants, sneakers, and slouchy sweatshirts (even those made of cashmere!). This entire category of admittedly very comfortable clothing, belongs at the gym or at home, but not at work or in public.

Summer means offices, restaurants, theatres, jets, and hotels are often freezing cold with overly aggressive air conditioning. Toss that ugly, old sweater that you keep in your office for this purpose and replace it with a stylish, lightweight shawl called a pashmina. Choose one in a summer color for a versatile and portable defense. A travel essential, a pashmina can be rolled into your computer bag or tucked into your in-flight carry on so it’s always conveniently at hand.

Men: At least one tropical weight wool suit is a summer staple and depending on where you live, can be worn up to nine months a year. Choose a classic navy for the most versatility. If you wear a suit often, other cool fabric options are seersucker, poplin, or linen. A summer-weight blazer in blue is a wardrobe essential.

On casual days, a dress shirt (plain or patterned with or without a tie) with sleeves turned up paired with khaki trousers and a great watch, is a good look. Never choose a short-sleeved dress shirt. Collared polo shirts are the next level down in casual, but appropriate for outdoor activities, sporting events, and golf outings. Polos should be in new condition, not faded or sagging. Tee shirts that have advertising or other sayings should never be worn to work.

Good casual pant choices are khakis or chinos that will hold a press and look polished. Resist the temptation to wear your favorite jeans (you are not a college student), especially ones that are faded or have a saggy seat. Shorts are not appropriate for the office but you may need a pair for outdoor activities and the golf course. Shorts should be tailored, pressed, and worn with a belt, of a length that reaches to just above the knee, not the shapeless, super-casual pull-on variety. Many golf courses have dress codes that require men to wear collared shirts and that specify the length of shorts. Always check to avoid being denied access or asked to change into a spare pair of “house shorts” kept on hand for this purpose. You can never go wrong doing as the touring pros do and wear long slacks instead.

Sandals not appropriate for men at work, but remember that you will need seasonal footwear to match your summer attire. This includes dress shoes for your suits, and loafers or similar for more casual looks. Socks are essential when wearing trousers or a suit. Ditch the athletic shoes. They are too casual for the office. For those times when you do need sandals (escorting an alumni kayaking trip, for example), be sure your feet are appropriately groomed by treating them to a pedicure.

 

 

 

 

 

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Business Etiquette Week Prompts Positive Conversation

The Protocol School of Washington (www.psow.edu) has declared June 4-10 National Business Etiquette Week with a theme of “Toxic Workplaces: How to Resurrect Civility in Business.”  Bravo to them because we could all use a reminder about now. Incivility is rampant. It is an insidious poison that degrades our relationships with individuals and nations, and erodes our own happiness. Incivility breeds incivility but the good news is that civility is contagious and far less stressful than living in a constant state of self-absorbed, aggressive snark.

National Business Etiquette Week and its theme prompted a healthy discussion in the university events office, not only because we are the keepers of campus protocol, but we are often the face of the university to alumni, donors, and our community. We are expected to be considerate, after all, that is our job. The flip side is that we are also the recipients of rude behavior from entitled guests who fail to r.s.v.p., announce dietary restrictions as meals are being served, demand to know why arrangements aren’t tailored to their personal preferences, arrive late, show up to adult occasions with children in tow, or worst of all, r.s.v.p. and then don’t show up at all. Through it all, we must maintain composure and treat everyone with unfailing politeness. It’s not always easy. Our conversation led to the consensus that business etiquette boils down to showing respect for others (even when we disagree with what they do or say) and treating them the way we would like to be treated. It’s thinking more about the other person than ourselves.  We created lists of the behaviors we don’t like, and the positive behaviors that we do like. Thinking about business etiquette helped us re-focus on what we can do to make our world more respectful. I hope you and your staff will take the time this week to do the same.

Here is our list of every day ways we can be part of the solution.

We pledge to respect others by:

  1. Affirming that race, religion, politics, and sexual orientation have no bearing on our ability to be polite. Everyone has value as a person.
  2. Being on time. Doing so shows respect for colleagues and guests.
  3. Being prepared for meetings by having the items we have been assigned completed or ready for discussion and all needed materials with us.
  4. Returning all messages promptly, including e-mails.
  5. Keeping our inboxes clean. (Nothing says “disorganized” or is more frustrating than hearing a “this inbox is full and cannot accept messages” recording on cell or office telephones.)
  6. Eschewing foul language, especially the once taboo but now ubiquitous “f-bomb.”
  7. Dressing professionally which means wearing clothes and accessories that are appropriate for the office, modest in styling and that cover cleavage, tattoos, toes, and upper arms. For men, it means shirts with collars and trousers on a casual day, coat and tie otherwise.
  8. Keeping the office kitchenette and break room tidy. No dishes in the sink, litter or spills left behind on surfaces or in the microwave, and only fresh food stored in the refrigerator.
  9. Keeping private life private by not talking about personal problems in the office or online.
  10. Treating coworkers with a cheerful attitude and a sincere willingness to help accomplish goals.

 

 

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Polish Your Formal Meeting Manners

Advancement professionals are often asked to make presentations or represent university leadership at formal meetings such as those conducted by the school’s board of trustees, alumni or foundation boards, community non-profit organizations, or local government. Presenting yourself and your school with polished meeting manners goes a long way toward establishing credibility. Here’s how to project a professional image when you are attending a meeting.

Arrive on time in business attire (suits for both men and women), prepared for the topics to be discussed. Review any background materials, including minutes of the previous meeting, that were distributed in advance. Familiarize yourself with the names of board members. If you are making remarks or giving a presentation, plan and rehearse what you will say. Have your papers and relevant materials neatly organized in a folio so you don’t have to dig for them. It is considerate to give your business card to the meeting secretary so that your name and title can be accurately recorded in the minutes.

If you are a guest or newcomer to the group, make your presence known by introducing yourself to the meeting chairperson or planner. He or she should indicate where you are to sit. If not, ask before taking a seat. Place your computer bag, tote, or purse on the floor beside your chair (never on the meeting table).  Silence your cell phone and put it out of sight. Peruse the agenda so that you know when it will be your turn to speak. Introduce yourself to others and make light conversation with the people seated beside you until the meeting begins. Don’t arrive with a to-go cup of coffee, water bottle, or food in hand. Doing so lacks polish and hints that you don’t trust your host to offer refreshments.

If you are making a presentation that requires audio visual equipment, arrive early so that you have time to test it. Avoid computer compatibility problems by bringing your own laptop, connector cables, and your own remote. Always have a copy of your show on a thumb drive not only as a backup, but so that it can be given to the AV techs in the event all shows are being run from a house computer. Test all Internet or Wi-Fi connections if they are essential to your show. Remember that your computer may have to be signed-on to a secure network in advance.

When it is your turn to speak, take your tablet, laptop, or notes to the podium. If you’re using written notes, carry them in an attractive portfolio. Don’t place them on the podium in advance because other speakers may need room to spread out their things and you run the risk of them being accidentally being picked up by another speaker when he or she leaves the lectern. Respect others by confining your remarks to the amount of time you have been assigned.

During the meeting, keep attention focused on the purpose at hand by refraining from texting, checking e-mail, or doodling.

If no refreshments are offered, don’t ask for them. When beverages are served in cans, pour the contents into a glass before drinking. Keep your seat during the meeting and keep your place at the meeting table free from litter. Place dirty cups and trash on a side table (if one has been provided) during an appropriate break in the proceedings.

Don’t interrupt others or comment on everything that is said. Organize your thoughts before speaking. If you disagree with something that has been said, do so politely and avoid credibility-damaging outbursts of anger.

When the meeting ends, thank the chairperson before you leave. Follow up promptly on promises or assignments.

 

 

 

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Be A Polished Meeting Leader

Much of a meeting’s effectiveness boils down to manners (or lack of them). A well-managed meeting increases productivity and runs smoothly, largely because the meeting’s chairperson and participants know their roles. Here are some tips for chairing a meeting.

The first step toward meeting success is having a clear purpose and knowing what you want to accomplish. Define the meeting’s objective, and then determine who needs to attend to accomplish it. Invite only the people necessary to fulfill the task. Not only will a smaller group speed things along, people appreciate not having their time occupied unnecessarily.

Schedule the meeting for early in the day, so people can stop on their way to work. This strategy lets you harness participants’ creativity while they are fresh and energetic and helps ensure attendance because you catch people before they get bogged down in problems at their own offices.

Set an agenda and distribute it beforehand via e-mail. Include background information that will help make the time spent together more productive.

Select and prepare the meeting room for maximum comfort. A room that is brightly lit and cool will help keep people from becoming drowsy. Check the room arrangement by actually sitting in different locations to be certain everyone can see and hear. Cue computer slides, videos, test Wi-Fi connections, and conference-calling gear. Know what to do if equipment malfunctions or, if you are in a hotel or conference facility, how to contact the on-call AV specialist. Practice dimming and turning on lights. Thoroughly test sound equipment, including all microphones, and adjust volume levels. Tape electrical cords (especially those around the podium) to the floor for safety.

Offer beverages such as water, sodas, coffee, and tea. Other refreshments are not necessary unless the meeting will be long or encompass a meal time.

It is the chairperson’s responsibility to introduce people to each other and to tell them where to sit.

If your meeting is formal or will involve unfamiliar people, prepare each person a name plate that can be read by others in the room. Assigning seats also gives you the opportunity to strategically seat people together or to tactfully keep adversaries separated. Remember that the second most important person present should be seated on the chairperson’s right.

Begin on time, and don’t interrupt progress by stopping the proceedings to fill-in latecomers. Instead, keep the meeting moving, and bring those who are tardy up-to-date after adjournment.

Don’t allow phone calls or interruptions, and politely request that cell phones be silenced.

Set the tone and establish control by delivering a crisp welcome and very brief overview. Stick to the agenda, and guide conversation to keep things moving on track. Limit circuitous discussion and disagreements and don’t let the meeting disintegrate into bickering or aimless rambling. Settle differences by taking a vote, or if an issue cannot be resolved, assign the subject to a sub-committee for further study.

As chairperson, see to it that people speak in turn and that everyone has a chance to contribute. Call on quiet people to encourage their participation, and tactfully cut off a windy person’s lengthy remarks, especially when they are inappropriate or off-subject.

Take minutes, and distribute them via e-mail before the next meeting. Minutes serve as a reminder of who promised to do what by when.

Next week: Polished Manners for Attending Meetings