Monday, November 24, 2014

Apparently, I Am an Event Planner Now

A little over a week ago, [Business School Employer] hosted it's annual International Night. Running this event falls under my job description.

The [Business School Employer] International Night is the only International Night event on campus and is open to the public, so it is actually a pretty large event. It is comparable to IU's World's Fare, which just so happened to be on the same night up in Bloomington. I think our event is smaller though. We had 10 booths representing nine countries and one larger cultural region (African American and African Culture), as well as four performances and two children's entertainers. Almost 600 people attended the event.

This is the largest event I have had to organize, given that in my previous positions when a large event fell under my purview there was also a professional event planner on staff who could organize all those important details that you never realize you need until it is happening (unless you are a professional event planner who thinks of these things).

Organizing the 10 booths was a little like herding cats...incredibly busy, full-time MBA cats. I quickly discovered that instructions I thought were sufficiently detailed (as the un-detailed information was clearly intuitive) were clearly not and that students never ever read those materials anyway. I was also working through intermediaries in many instances, as the leadership from a student organization co-organizes this event and were communicating with the booths. Logistics I had outlined in detailed instructions never made it to the intended recipients. Given that I was new to my position and the students were new to their positions, no one was really to blame as none of us knew who was really in charge of what.

The trickiest part of the event is the food approval. At IU, the event is hosted in the Union and no outside food vendors are allowed. The booths share recipes with Union catering and it is all done in-house. At [Business School Employer], each booth could contract with a restaurant or caterer to provide their food. First though, the vendor had to be approved by the Heath & Safety inspector, which included booths submitting (on time) vendor requests that included a copy of the vendor's city permit. We asked each booth to submit at least two vendors in case one was not approved. Only two booths did this. We had several booths with vendors with expired city permits and other booths that couldn't seem to supply the city permit. So that was a fun process that went down to the wire with some booths. Next, the food had to be delivered by the vendor. The students were not allowed to transport it themselves. Until one booth informed us just days before that their restaurant would not deliver, and we had to improvise a compromise with the inspector. Finally, before the event doors can open that evening, all the food must be at temperature when the inspector comes around. In past years, they have opened the doors up to 30 minutes late because dishes weren't hot enough. This year we failed to calibrate the thermometers we gave to the booths and they were actually reading lower than the temperature. So booths were thinking their food was not hot enough and not requesting inspection when in fact they were good to go. Luckily, we got that cleared up. We also had booths with cold dishes and no ice to cool it with at first. Somehow, we managed to open the doors only two minutes late.

I constantly marveled at this attention to detail with the food. At IU, during the great Ramadan debacle of GBI, I was picking up trays of food from Taste of India, loading them into the trunk of my jeep and trekking them over to the dorm each night, curry slopping all over the trunk. No one ever asked to see a city permit (though Taste of India was an approved vendor, so I assume someone had seen one at some point) or tested the temperature of the food or questioned the back of a jeep as a transportation method. I suppose it is a miracle we all didn't die of food poisoning.

Next year I am going to be the best International Night event planner ever.


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