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COVID Event Guidelines as of March 2021

The days leading up to the shutdown, clients were calling to cancel their celebrations and we were rescheduling their events 2-4 weeks out. Yes we all thought this would be over in 2 weeks! Now here we are almost a full year after the events world was demolished by COVID-19 and we have some exciting (although underwhelming) news for event professionals and event seekers in the New York and Connecticut areas. Both states have similar event guidelines beginning this month. Keep reading to see what’s happening!

📢PSA: If your event is during the summer, please do not begin to worry! Think about how much changed every week in 2020 and where we are now. The biggest difference being the vaccine roll out. I am not an expert nor a fortune teller, but based on last year I expect updated guidelines for the summer.

New York Wedding & Catered Event Guidelines as of March 15, 2021

  1. Venues may operate at 50% capacity with a maximum of 150 people per event.
  2. All attendees must be tested prior to the event.
  3. Upon entering the event, attendees will be required to sign-in with updated contact information to assist with potential contact tracing.
  4. Masks must be worn at all times except when seated, eating or drinking.
  5. Dancing is permitted! HOWEVER, the dance floor must be split into zones with at least 6 ft in between each zone. Guests may only dance with those in their immediate party, household or if seated at the same table. Guests can only dance in their zone. If you have a live band or performers without masks, they must be 12 ft away from guests and/or have a physical barrier.

Connecticut Wedding & Catered Event Guidelines as of March 19, 2021

  1. Venues may operate at 50% capacity with a maximum of 100 people for indoor events and 200 people for outdoor events.
  2. All attendees must be tested prior to the event.
  3. Upon entering the event, attendees will be required to sign-in with updated contact information to assist with potential contact tracing.
  4. Masks must be worn at all times except when seated, eating or drinking.
  5. Venues must notify local health departments of large events, above the social gathering limit, in advance.

I hope this news brings you a little joy! Stay positive and ready for the future.

All information was found on credible state government websites March 3, 2021. This information is not final. Expect updates on the most current available guidelines in your area.

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Building Genuine Connections

Virtual events have been our main way of connecting for almost a full year thanks to the COVID lock downs of 2020. Even with a strong comeback of in-person events, virtual is here to stay. Virtual meetings and events have shown that we can connect to a much broader audience in the comfort of our own homes. Companies and their associates have discovered that they can have the same success without the daily commute and typical office expenses. However, with more and more businesses working remotely, the question becomes, how do we build genuine connections with our teams? It is extremely important for managers to develop and implement programs that truly acknowledge and show appreciation for their associates. The following three ways can help bridge the gap to cultivating better relationships between managers and their associates.

Personal Video Messages
1. Yes! Take the time to make a short individual video that says the person’s name. One way to make this task more manageable is to split up the names of your associates by birthday, department or work anniversary and record a few videos each month. This is a great way to help your associates be seen by you!

Casual Convos
2. Schedule a 15 minute one-on-one conversation with each of your associates using the same method as in the idea above to make it more manageable. Use this time to learn about their lives outside or work and who they truly are. Our founder, Sam Rocc, found this technique very helpful in building a genuine connection with her restaurant team. After asking about what they liked and what they would improve, she would ask about their favorite meal. Why? Everyone loves to talk about food and there is most often a story connected to their favorite meal! It is a simple question that can really break the ice.

Appreciation Gifts
3. It 2021 and nothing brings more joy than seeing that your Amazon package has been delivered. You may not want to admit it, but you know its true. We love receiving gifts! Send your team a custom Brilliant Event Box to say thank you to your team.

Each of these suggestions can be implemented for in person and virtual offices. What do you think? What strategy will to try this year to better connect with your team?

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Embracing Digital First

We can build a better future by embracing and supporting a digital first mind set. What is a digital first mindset? As defined by Wilson Fletcher Consultants, “digital-first means approaching any new opportunity, or problem, with the assumption that the solution should be as digital as possible”. It sounds scary and some are opposed to this theory, but most of our daily lives already revolve around digital technology! The opposition is change and change is good.

Thinking back to the March 2020 shutdown, there were thousands of events unable to host in-person and being unfamiliar with the virtual alternatives caused a ripple effect of devastation. Associations and organizations who pivoted survived, while others closed indefinitely. Learning from our mistakes, our industry is now making the transition to hosting hybrid events and rebuilding our risk management plans. It is important that we adopt the digital first mindset as it will future proof our business by forcing us to prepare for all possible outcomes.

If we have learned anything over the last seven months, its that nothing can fully replace the in-person experience, but technology can certainly keep us connected and moving forward. Let’s continue to innovate and find creative ways to improve our industry through the use of a digital first mindset. It can be as simple as always having a webinar scheduled as back-up, digitizing all files or utilizing online tools for marketing and communication. There are many steps we can take. Its important that we just start.

Bonus Definitions As we find more ways to support this mindset beyond beyond the zoom room, here are three acronyms that are used interchangeably yet are very different.

  1. Virtual reality (VR) is when a person is completely immersed into an artificial world. Think about being in your living room then putting on VR goggles to be in the rain forest. All you see is the rain forest with no signs of your living room.
  2. Artificial reality (AR) is when technology overlaps the real world. Pokemon Go is the perfect example of AR. You can be hiking up a mountain and be next to Cubone…even though you can’t touch it. If Pokemon Go wasn’t your style, think about when you are looking for furniture online and can “place” the couch in your living room to see how it looks.
  3. Artificial intelligence (AI) on the other hand is technology that can think like a human. It can answer questions, solve problems, make predictions and replace mundane tasks. Siri and Alexa are examples of AI. How many times a day do you ask Siri a question because you don’t want to research it yourself? The greatest event AI I have seen over the last few months is translation AI. This allows anyone to translate the presentation into their native language. This is fantastic for event producers as they can now reach a much greater audience, have a more diverse group of presenters and create a more inclusive experience.

Hope these bonus definitions help clear up any confusion!

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The Future of F&B

The food and beverage industry pre-pandemic had been continuing to culminate as chefs around the world were pushing the envelope on ingredients, preparation and presentation. Now those supply chains that chefs relied on for the best ingredients have been broken and new safety requirements have been established to keep associates and guests safe. The new question we are all asking ourselves is “where do we go from here?”.

Virtual Eats Connecting virtual attendees to a food experience is a great idea! Whether you are sending snacks, wine and cheese or dinner it makes guests feel appreciated and connected. The question has come up in my MPI community asking if its worth it. I say yes. Think about that feeling you get when you receive a package or a gift, it sparks so much joy. If an Amazon package can do that, I am 100% confident a curated gift from you to your attendees will do the same. Here are a few box ideas: local snacks from a specific destination, chocolate tasting and cookie decorating. You can even turn some of these into a team building/networking session!

Buffets Buffets have always been my least favorite (even before the pandemic) as I never liked the idea of multiple people touching the same serving utensils and food sitting in chafers. Safe to say I LOVE THAT WE ARE RETHINKING BUFFETS! Before the shut down, many venues were moving towards single serve displays in lieu of classic giant hotel pans and serving bowls. This helped the lines move faster and kept the stations cleaner. As events begin to re-emerge, I believe this trend will continue and we will see more pre-packaged or pre-plated stations with plexiglass barriers.

Cocktail Service Cocktail or butler service is when a server roams the event room with a tray of food or drinks. As much as I like this style of service, it seems to put the server at the most risk. An idea to keep your team safe while still providing the same variety of appetizers is to make individual small plates with the selection of hors d’oeuvres. This can be set-up as a self-serve or server staffed station with plexiglass. You should consider your staff’s health just as much as you do with your guests. Everyone’s health and safety is important.

Floor Plans & Rotation Think about the last conference or gala dinner you planned, worked or attended. What did the rooms look like and how did they feel? Maybe for you, the rooms are packed, sometimes almost shoulder to shoulder, and there is an enormous buzz from the chatter and the energy. Now think about planning, working or attending that same conference today. Probably not going to happen. If you are starting to plan your annual conference for 2021, think about what will need to be different and speak with your venue regularly as mandated restrictions may effect your expected event revenue and contract obligations. Here is a crowd density calculator to assist when it comes time to create your floor plan.

Your floor plan will greatly impact your food & beverage service as the number of guests permitted in a space will be limited. It may mean moving towards meal rotations or shifts that would extend your food & beverage service times and increase staffing costs.

Sustainability & Cost Even though pre-packaged items will be the leader of food service, it is extremely important that we choose sustainable packaging. This could be re-usable glassware, recycled paper, bamboo or seaweed materials. Sustainability doesn’t stop with packaging. It goes deeper to where the food is sourced, how it was farmed and the used labor practices. When you have the choice, speak with your venue chefs to see where your food is coming from. Supporting local farms reduces carbon admissions by reducing delivery distances, ensures better & healthier in-season produce that has not been artificially ripened by chemicals, and keeps local farmers and their teams employed. Eco-friendly products may be more expensive; however they are the right choice for the environment and our communities.

If I have learned anything from the food, beverage & events world, its that those in this industry never pass on a challenge. Yes the industry that we know is in jeopardy, but I am confident these talented minds will recreate and elevate the guest experience.