In this section, we're going to look at a real banqueting manager job description—as described by a professional; Nathan Homan, former Assistant Banqueting Manager, The Dorchester and former Banqueting Operations Manager, The Four Seasons.
Now let's hear a first-hand account of a banqueting manager job description from a professional:
Nathan Homan is Creative Director and Co-founder of special events agency Rouge Events, which specializes in brand communication events, product launches, parties and festivals for clients including Nissan, Jamie Oliver, Ikea, Sky, Ernst & Young, and Cartoon Network.
Prior to co-founding Rouge Events, Nathan worked in banqueting at The Dorchester and Four Seasons hotels in London, where career highlights included a state banquet for Nelson Mandela; a charity gala hosted by the late Princess Diana; a launch of Donatella Versace’s ‘million dollar dress’; and escorting Elizabeth Taylor to the stage for her final ever press conference in the UK, having just be invested as a Dame.
“I often recommend that people trying to get into the industry take the catering or hotels route, because you can get paid while you’re learning—as opposed to interning where you probably won’t.
Then, when you get to the point of applying for event-planning jobs—and you’ve got on your resume that you’ve waited at lots of big events at The Natural History Museum or you worked at The Dorchester ballroom for three years during university—you can bet you’re going to stand out more than someone whose just organized a couple of student balls or a small charity event.
I struggle to understand why people don’t take that approach more often. I guess it’s a kind of snobbery where people look down on service, like ‘why would I want to be a waitress?’—as if it’s not the same thing because you’re running around with plates rather than a clipboard.”
"My management training really started as I was working my way up to becoming a head waiter; and I’m still very proud of the skills I learned in those roles. First and foremost, it was about people management; dealing with lots of casual staff, lots of different nationalities, lots of recent immigrants—many of whom only spoke very basic English, and a big mix of ages from young students to professionals who’d been doing it for 20 years.
You basically have to stand there in front of 40 or so staff and explain to them how the sequence of service is going to run at that evening’s event. A lot of the time, they’ve heard it all before, but perhaps you want them to do something special for that event or you just need them to clear away and stack a bunch of chairs at the end of the night. I really developed strong negotiation skills and those have benefitted me all through my event career; just being able to walk up to someone and ask them to do something they don’t want to do, or get them to do it at speed and make them feel valued and appreciated.
You can’t just rely on the shouting technique, because you can bet if I’d just started shouting at a fifty-year-old Portuguese waiter who’s been doing it for 25 years, they’d just walk away and refuse to do it.
"Another fundamental skill that I learned in banqueting is that every event is a show; it’s live, there is a clock, and that clock is ticking. You might have an awards show that has to start at 9.45 p.m. and you’ve got to get a main course and dessert served and cleared by then, and it cannot run late.
You learn a general all-round confidence and the sense of being able to lead people into battle, which I know sounds really dramatic, but when it’s a live show that’s often what it feels like.
Working in banqueting really gave me the opportunity to experience what it’s like when things start to go wrong at an event and people panic. It taught me how to just get in there and take control of the situation. Those operational skills that you get as a head waiter are invaluable for event planning.”
“As a banqueting manager you step into the office-based planning side of event, which taught me a lot about administrative discipline; why filing, paperwork, and contracts are important. It sounds obvious, but when you have lots of different elements to an event, you’ve got to have all your paperwork up to date and organized.
It teaches you why having a backlog of emails in your inbox is a big no-no, because things can change so quickly with event planning so you’ve got to be up to date. It teaches you the right way to write a letter to a client. It teaches you selling skills—why you suggest the beef instead of the chicken; because the beef means an extra £5 profit per person for the hotel, or selling in other ideas like flowers or entertainment."
"At The Dorchester, you were assigned days in the diary and then every single function room, whatever the client or event was, would be assigned to you. Basically, you’d be there from early morning until the end of the night.
You might be planning a daytime conference in one suite, then you’d have a golden wedding anniversary for 100 people in another, or there might be a corporate dinner for a law firm for 400 people in the evening, or maybe a fashion show. You’d have a variety of events all happening in one day and you’d be responsible for overseeing all that.
You might have to take responsibility for 1,000 people spread over four different events, in different parts of the hotel, in one day. You might start at 8 a.m., then at 8.30 a.m. you’ll be down in the chefs office, surrounded by about 20 sous chefs and the senior head waiter, going through all the menus for that day; checking off special dietary requirements or discussing how the service was going to be done."
“Then, back up in the office you’ll either be working through your account files; pushing all the arrangements forward or doing site visits—which I absolutely loved because The Dorchester was such an amazing product to sell. I’d often get told off for spending too much time on my site visits because sometimes there might be five or six to do in one day, but I’d spend so much time suggesting all different things that the client could do that they’d run over.
Site visits take up so much of your time away from the office, so inevitably you’d end up working into the evening—assuming you didn’t have an event on—to do the write ups or keep up with all your normal work on your existing client accounts. Hence, on a supposedly quiet day, when you don’t have any events on, you could still be there at nine or ten at night working away in the office. Sometimes you’d come in on Sundays—there was very much an expectation that you’d just work every hour that there was to get the work done.
Admittedly working conditions and practices have improved a great deal since the early 90s when I begin my career in hotels; that said, I am glad I had this type of working experience nonetheless."
"If you think about the types of events that you do at hotels, they’re either business events or social/charitable events.
With business events, you’re often working on confirming running times, audio- visual requirements, any specific delegate requirements, and, if they’re part of a group, there might be accommodation requirements. That would involve liaising with the front of house team, planning the meeting room set-ups, break-out rooms, and lunches or coffee breaks.
Meetings and conferences were the easiest to work on really, because they were often just a case of run repeat, run repeat, run repeat—pretty much the same format and requirements from client to client, because it was largely package based. Inevitably we’d only provide so much AV, because if it was a big event there’d usually be a separate AV company that would handle all of that—which sometimes we booked—but often it was the same AV and stage set-up that worked in a particular room every time.
If it was a customized set, then the client would have brought that in anyway, but you still had to make sure arrangements had been made for that set to be loaded into the building at five in the morning and that it will fit through the loading bay doors. You can almost end up planning pretty much the entire event, because sometimes there won’t be a production company involved. The client might book the hotel directly, say for a wedding or a party, so there’s a great opportunity for the banqueting manager to make suggestions and provide other services such as flowers, lighting, bands, DJs etc."
"One of the advantages of doing events in hotels is the sheer volume of events you’ll work on. There might be 60, 80, 100+ events each month, ranging from a boardroom meeting for 10 to a charity ball for 1,000. It’s a bit like clocking up air miles!
You’ll just learn so much by working on a wide variety of events, each with different formats and different dynamics, and understanding how events are different for the different types of people that attend—from corporate conferences to society balls.
One minute you’re working with a conference producer, the next you’re dealing with an entire charity committee. You have to wear so many different hats and be able to switch between different ways of dealing with people.”
"With the evening events, the more social ones, there’s a lot more attention to detail. This is where you start getting into styling and design. How’s the room going to look? How will the tables be dressed? What menu are you having? Where will the auction prizes be displayed? What celebrities are coming? Will there be press photographers outside? Will there be any special security arrangements? Are there bands performing or other entertainment? I was always pro-active about selling additional services to the client, offering to find them a band or a good florist, because I just saw that as part of the service."
"The other thing you get experience of at hotels is the turnaround time. There’s a classic golden hour where the hotel has booked in a conference during the day, which has a vacate time of 6 p.m., then the next event starts with a champagne reception at 7 p.m. You’re all poised and ready to go at 5.55 p.m. and someone shouts’ turnaround!’ and you’re off.
Everyone’s been briefed in advance on exactly what they’ve got to do and it’s just a mad rush to make it happen. You always think ‘oh my god we’re never going to make it in time’, and often you’re still vacuuming in the main room as the guests are arriving and having their champagne reception on the other side of the door. During the Christmas season, that sort of thing would happen every day.
Being able to do that takes some serious logistics and organization, which, as banqueting manager, you’re responsible for; making sure all the different teams are delivering to make that happen—because there’s no margin for error. Although that can be a real challenge, but it’s also what makes it really exciting.”
“The downside is that, with banqueting, as a department within the hotel, you work some of the longest hours by far.
Rota? What rota? You come in at 8 a.m. but you’re leaving at midnight after an evening event. Whereas housekeeping, front office, restaurants; they’re all doing set shifts every day. Although, consequently you are granted more flexibility and latitude by senior management, as a reward I suppose.
On event days, you literally don’t stop. You’re constantly up and down the stairs from your office, to the ballroom, and back again, trying to juggle your normal office work with the event set up.
Of course, guaranteed every time you get back to the office a call will come in saying the client needs something from you in the ballroom. It’s up down up down all day.
Then someone’s booked in a show-round halfway through the day. So it’s up down, up down, up down again. Then you’ve got to pop down and see the chef because you’ve also got a menu tasting that day for another client. Up down, up down, up down.
You’ve really got to have lots of stamina, the pace is pretty intense, and you’re on your feet for 16 hours straight.”
"Planning skills, administrative skills, selling skills; they all came to the fore as a banqueting manager and those skills underpin everything in events. Are you organized or are you disorganized? There’s no grey area for me. It’s a mind-set and you’ve got to be so committed to it as a philosophy.
I’m so passionate about that because, funnily enough in my first 12 months of being a banqueting manager, I was the opposite. I thought I could just do everything instinctively; no computers, no systems, no schedules, but I learned the hard way. So that discipline is so important.
Working in conference and banqueting is also a great way to network, because you’ll be dealing directly with event agencies and clients. I traded on my experience of working at The Dorchester for the first few years when trying to persuade clients to work with Rouge Events—because that’s all I had.
My advice to anyone who’s thinking about getting into events via banqueting is to start at the absolute top; find the very best hotel or caterer you can work for and start at the bottom of their organization if need be.”