“The Goal of the Site Inspection is to leave with all of the technical, operational and aesthetic information needed to design and produce the special event you are planning. ” A. Berlonghi, M.S.
In this lesson, as a caterer, you will gain a better understanding of risk analysis and solutions in order to see the bigger picture of event management. This lesson helps you to work as a team with all the stakeholders. This lesson may be the most important for managers but equally important to staff, as it covers a structured approach to events as well as common sense. Start right and all will benefit from your expertise!
Initial site inspections are generally taken with the venue contact, usually after the client has made a final decision on the site. However, many times the site has not been selected before the event manager, caterer, or designer, is hired. Many caterers trust their vendor team and bring them to the initial onsite before the client signs the contract. Ethical, preferred vendors will not shop their proposal directly to the client. If the site is local, or the event large enough to warrant the cost, a second site inspection may be desirable or even required, after the event design has been developed. If possible, the caterer’s event team may wish to make a site visit alone for creative purposes.
The Event Site Inspection Checklist is the most important element you must take on a site inspection! This lesson is based on the Special Event Checklist from the Special Event Magazine 2007 and other subject matter experts. It includes many more questions than answers as the site will tell you what you need to know. Ask the right questions and you will get the right answers.
Gather as much information as is currently known. Take the initial proposal worksheet, BEO (banquet event order) and/ the staffing sheet to see if the client’s proposed vision works in the event space. Bring a Tape Measure – 3/4″ or 1″ stiff enough to extend up walls, a Pad & a Pencil/pen, and a camera. You should bring an oven thermometer if you need to check the accuracy of the oven(s) on-site, and a tape measure because you might need to measure, for example, a door opening to ensure that a large piece of equipment can fit through it. These are part of the caterer’s toolkit for site inspections. Cell phones with a camera and/or digital cameras allow easy sharing of images, and finally, the Site Inspection Checklist*.
Event Profile: Much information is needed to successfully produce an event. Questions need to be answered according to the production worksheet. For example, does the type of event match the venue? The term SMERF comes to mind; are these events Social, Military, Educational, Religious or Fraternal? One of the most frequent challenges that caterers face is guest seating. Is there enough? Does the objective match the venue? For example, is the event a meet and greet? Is there enough space for high boy (some call them belly bars) placement for people to mingle? Are the chosen activities that occur during the duration of the event applicable to the venue? Will the venue successfully manage the guest count? Is the event American Disabilities Act (ADA) compatible? What does the fire marshal say about the guest count limitations per room or area? What previous events of the same kind have taken place at this venue? Has it been done before with the same demographic? Is there a pre set-up allowed? How many days or hours can set up begin prior to the event?
Permits. Does the event require permitting and with whom? Does the event require a COI, a Certificate of Insurance, for the venue to be additionally insured along with all vendors, including your company? Best practice is to have event assurance coverage, and always if the event is in a tornado-prone area. Will there be alcohol on the premise? Who will provide it? Clients can take out a one-day liability insurance permit with their home owner insurance company or with various special event insurance companies like WedSafe.com; https://www.wedsafe.com/Pages/home.aspx. Many caterers do not have an alcohol license but use a bartending company or a bar caterer who does. They can recommend that company to the client if the client does not want to take the responsibility. Where else can caterers obtain alcohol permits? In some states, they can go to their Alcohol Beverage and Marijuana Commission and get an off-premise one-day permit, but only if the company has an in-house license. There may be restrictions depending on municipal regulations. If a bar catering company is being used, the caterer should have a copy of their permit in the event binder at the event. In many states, the alcohol permit must be posted near the bar at the venue. Best practice is to always post the alcohol permit at all events. If the event demographic is on the younger side, be sure to check the local noise ordinance for decibel range. The home owners’ associations are especially brutal if large homes are near the venue.
Location. Who is the venue contact? Is there a catering agreement with guidelines that must be reviewed at the onsite to make sure that the caterer can abide by all the rules? If not, the event may fail to address the needs of the venue. What is the address of the loading dock and is it different from the event address? What is the distance to the event space from the loading dock? Is there a ramp for loading in heavy wheeled equipment like bakery racks, transport boxes, hot boxes and carts? Are there stairs and how many? Is the event on multiple floors? Build additional time into a setup and/or teardown for a party that is not on the ground floor of a building. Is there a freight elevator as well as passenger elevators? What are the dimensions of the elevator and can the catering equipment fit in it? How does it operate, and does it need special training? It is the caterer’s responsibility to ensure that the site has proper access for individuals with disabilities.
Are there any additional load in areas like a dock? What is the earliest time of arrival and the latest time of arrival? Is there a security check? Is it necessary for the catering company to give the driver’s and staffs’ names before the event for a background check? Many political events have massive security. Are there any built-in counters or tables that the caterer can use? If so, how many and what are the dimensions of the counters and tables? Are there delivery challenges? Can rentals be delivered directly? If so, will the caterer be provided with details on when and where?
ARRIVAL There are two areas to enter the venue, the front and the back. The front is usually for the guests and the back is usually for the caterer, unless the venue is old and back doors are too small. It is impossible to go up the stairs with heavy equipment if the venue is not available for rolling that equipment to the designated areas.
Parking. For the guest, is there valet and how much does it cost? Who is paying for the valet? Does valet parking already exist or does the caterer suggest a friendly vendor who they have worked with before? Does weather become a factor with guest arrivals? How far is the parking lot from the entrance? How are guests arriving; by bus, car, train or airplane with private transport to and from the airport? Is there special guest access to event space(s) with a separate entrance in case of rain, wind or for people with disabilities?
Curb Appeal. What is the curb appeal for the guests? What would be their first impressions of the entrance? Curb appeal is very important to the success of the event. It includes the area around the venue as well as the road and the parking lot. Is there a lot of glass to clean on the entrance doors to avoid fingerprints? Is there a smoking area that needs to be monitored and a receptacle for the cigarettes in a safe container?
Dining Room. Important elements of this area include; accessibility for people with disabilities, landing space like high boy tables or counters for people to set their drinks and used plates, and places for the kitchen staff to brew coffee if the kitchen facility is not available. When determining the layout of the dining room, allow twelve (12) square feet per person for guests seated at seventy-two (72) inch rounds. A complete review of this area allows catering managers and staff to complete the rental list. Be sure to order a few additional chairs, napkins, and place settings. Make note of company owned equipment and what is available for use on site outside pf the rentals (NOG – Not our Goods). Plan sufficient space if the band needs staging or the wedding officiant needs a sound system. The head table is no longer in vogue primarily because it takes up too much space. Many brides choose a “sweetheart table” for just the bride and groom as they never sit down during the wedding reception.
Restrooms & Registration. Where are the restrooms located? Are they the right size for the amount of attendees? Four stalls for women and three stalls for men for a one hundred & fifty (150) to a one hundred & seventy & five (175) person wedding is usually adequate. Yes, women need more stalls than men. That works out to be roughly one bathroom per twenty -five (25) guests. Are there any amenities requested like flowers or décor? Does the client have any additional special requests for the bathrooms or do they wish to provide their own amenities? Money can be made here for the caterer. Are catering and vendor staff able to use guest bathrooms or do they have special bathrooms designated for staff only? Is there adequate space for a registration table and coat rack/check area and who is monitoring it? Are catering staff responsible for these front of the house additional areas? If so, more staff is needed.
Back door. Back doors, loading docks and back of the building areas are usually reserved for vendors like rental companies, audio visual companies, caterers and staff. What is the ease of access to dock? Is there a turn-around or do the trucks have to back in? Are there ramps or steps? How high is the loading dock?
Service Access. Identify which doors are critical like the banquet room and kitchen door locations. Are the locations for the kitchen and staging areas near the event area? Is there enough room to stage equipment before loading trucks?
Parking. Where is the parking location for trucks and staff. How far away is it from the loading dock and how many spaces are there? Does the staff need to carpool? Is there a cost for parking staff and trucks? If so, will the venue give validation for free parking?
Security. Are there security and dock controls or a dock supervisor that must liaison with the catering staff and drivers? It is necessary to make sure that the security guard or dock controller has a copy of the staff names and their driver’s licenses for a security check at check in? Many VIP events demand a background check for all staff.
ROOM SPECS – Space plan or diagram. Get a floor plan off the website or at the onsite inspection. Find out if there is a ceiling plan with rigging points if banners and drapes need to be hung from the ceiling and are not free standing. Many venues do not allow you to put anything on the walls like tape, paste, staples or nails. Find out if there is a typical table layout that is best for the room. Where is the water access? Is there room for crate storage space and staging areas? What are the dimensions of smallest door into the space? When you start with a blank canvas, like this barn style event space below, do you have permission to attach anything to all the beams?
Is there adequate storage space that you have to share with other vendors and how far is it from the loading dock and dining area? Where is the bride’s dressing room? Is there enough kitchen, scullery area and workspace for the proposed menu and the equipment? For sanitation purposes, the scullery (dirty dish area) must be far enough away from the food preparation area. If the event is plated, more space is needed. Are there working ovens and are they electric or gas? If their adequate refrigeration? Is the refrigeration a reach in or walk in? Is there a potable water source? (excluding the bathroom). Is there an exterior water source?
Power Distribution. What are the electrical and audio-visual requirements? Does the client need a screen and projector for presentations? Is there an in-house system? If so, is there an additional cost to the client or caterer? Where is the fuse box? Can it be accessed by catering staff during the event? Where are the power outlets? Is there only one circuit and only twenty (20) amps? If so, the caterer and the musician cannot plug into the same designated power outlet because the planner told the caterer that musician takes precedence? Make sure you understand the circuit amps for applicable use. “Using the power equation of 1 watt = 1 ampere × 1 volt and translating that formula to find volts, you end up with 1 volt = 1 watt ÷ 1 ampere. Divide one thousand (1000) watts by ten (10) amperes and the resultant voltage would equal 100 volts. Most venue designated electrical outlets are twenty (20) amps each, but be careful if the electrical outlets are in parallel that share that 20 amp load. Coffee pots take fifteen (15) amps to perk and five (5) amps to keep hot, so perking two (2) coffee pots at the same time on the same circuit may blow a fuse on a 20 amp circuit.
Are there enough designated outlets for heat lamps and other high voltage equipment? Do you need additional generators for high volume electrical requirements? According to the National Electrical Code, many critical appliances and vendors require a circuit all their own called a dedicated circuit. Because it is used by only one appliance in most cases, putting two (2) fifteen (15) amp pieces of equipment on a twenty (20) amp circuit will overload it and hopefully just blow a fuse and not turn off all the event lights. So, you might ask how many circuits are available for the caterer’s use? Are these circuits in parallel or series? May the caterer use candle sterno or any flame? Does the venue require electric chafers? Are generators needed for outdoors events? Are they provided by the rental company and what is the cost and capability requirements if the caterers need them and must charge the customer? Trash Disposal. Is there a dumpster available on site or does the caterer have to remove the garbage at the end of the event?
The devil is in the details. Answer these questions where applicable, and you will have a safe and successful event.