This post is the fourth in a series, celebrating my 20 years in NACE.
Nancy Turner (pictured right, with her then-boyfriend/now husband, Matthew Martinucci) became my next big influence and a wonderful friend. She worked at Hotel Nikko, alongside fellow San Francisco NACE member, Kalson Pang.
Quite innocently one day, she suggested that I attend the NACE National Conference, being held in San Diego… at least I think it was an innocent suggestion. As a member of the chapter board of directors, it didn’t take much convincing. In my 20’s, I had been involved in the AAF (American Advertising Federation) and attended its regional and national conferences. As well, I had attended music industry conferences over about a 15-year period.
My conference experience would set the trajectory of my future involvement in NACE.
The conference was hosted at the historic U.S. Grant Hotel. About 250 members traveled to San Diego from across the United States and Canada. The caterer – vendor mix was about 80/20.
I learned quickly that caterers were both an appreciative and a tough audience, simultaneously. The would whisper and comment about the insufficient number of salt and pepper shakers or creamers on a table. Whatever one’s part in the event industry, I think it’s in the DNA to critique the work of your peers when attending an event or conference. Caterers are no different. It wasn’t negative… just interesting.
The opening keynote speaker was a handsome and dynamic restaurateur, Nicholas Nicholas. No, that’s not a typo. That’s his name. He owned a number of hotels from Honolulu to Boca Raton and gave a riveting presentation on themes of training, continuity, and excellence.
His presentation stuck with me for a long time. Several years later, I took a vacation in Honolulu and dined at one of his restaurants. The continuity of service between everyone in the restaurant (host, waiter, busboy) was impeccable. It was as though they were handing enough a baton in an Olympic relay race. The food and service were nothing short of superb.
I quietly asked the waiter to send the manager over without explaining why. He seemed a little nervous about my request. I explained to the manager that I had seen the big-boss speak years ago at the NACE conference. And, thought it seemed impossible, my dining experience had exceeded my expectations. He broke into a huge grin. I went back twice during my week in Honolulu.
It never rains in Southern California
I knew many of the mobile DJs from San Diego, and they were involved in various events at the conference. I’m still in touch with Duffy Fainer and Toby Russell, today. Great people.
NACE commandeered the hotel sports bar for some informal karaoke on the first evening of the conference, but event that would challenge everyone was an outdoor event. The event was sponsored by Captain Morgan. Some poor SOB was wearing the Captain Morgan outfit… This is well before their TV commercials of today.
It never rained hard, but began to mist. Not quite enough to end the event, just enough to set any disc jockey on edge. It seemed to me that they were right on the verge of shorting out the whole system, but they stuck with it.
The Phantom Final
The final night dinner was hosted at the Hotel Del Coronado. What a landmark property. An incredible ballroom, round dance floor and high stage. NACE members Randy & Marilyn Tichauer (Rodeo Drive Music) performed songs from Phantom of the Opera.
Dinner was exceptional, but dessert was the best. Each guest enjoyed a chocolate piano, filled with vanilla mousse topped by a white and dark chocolate phantom mask. A lot of work in preparation. Beautiful.
The whole experience was overwhelming, really. I had part of a chapter delegation of a dozen or so. They introduced me around, and I met leaders from throughout NACE.
This was 1992…. or was it 1993? NACE would return to San Diego for its summer conference in 2003. The San Diego Chapter of NACE has been one of the strongest in the organization, for my entire 20 years. Their hospitality and overall excellence in helping conduct the conference was very important and resonates with me to this day.
It became clear that I had become involved with an organization that was much bigger than just my hometown. I had grown closer to my fellow San Francisco members and made new professionals friends. That would set the stage for what was to come.
Axioms such as this are a dime a dozen. Oops, there I go again. There is also a lot of truth in them.
I just spent four nights in San Diego, for the Special Event Show. I stayed a very nice boutique hotel, The Sofia Hotel. It’s an older building and has been beautifully renovated. A wonderful boutique hotel, with stylishly furnished small rooms.
It has a small restaurant and bar. Both are outstanding in style and substance.
That’s the good news. The challenge is that the hotel is on the edge of the hotel district, a couple of blocks west of the historic U.S. Grant Hotel; about six to eight blocks from the San Diego Convention Center. The Sofia Hotel shares its block (fronting Broadway) with the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, the Greyhound Bus Station, and Pizza Hut Express.
When I woke, the first morning, I noticed there was no newspaper in front of my door. There were no papers anywhere. I racked my brains to remember the last time I stayed at a nice hotel and didn’t receive a paper. I couldn’t remember that far back.
I went downstairs and asked someone at the front desk, “Where can I get a paper in the hotel.” I was told that the hotel didn’t carry papers, but if I went out the front door, and walked about a block, East, there was a 7-11 store. Not great, but I can walk a block, and return to the restaurant for breakfast with my paper.
However, to get to the 7-11, one must run a short gauntlet of a half-dozen panhandlers. After doing this for four mornings, upon checkout, I was ticked. I inquired with the front desk attendant as to which rocket scientist had made this obvious bean-counter decision. It was the general manager, using the logic of saving $40/day.
Doing the math, I quickly established that for $1200 a month, the property was jeopardizing the current and future business of every guest. When I’m spending close to a $1000 for a hotel stay in an otherwise nice property, I’m probably not up for the ‘daily gauntlet.’
And then again, you never know who your guests are. The one guest in your restaurant could be a critic for the local daily. The guy who expects a paper might be a blogger with a big audience.
Penny wise; pound foolish.
As you strive to trim expenses, make every effort to keep a grip on common sense. If you’re not the boss, have the guts to point out when the boss is about to make a very stupid mistake, in the name of economy. Most people won’t point out the error. They just won’t be a repeat customer.
Special Event Magazine is bring its conference and trade show to the San Diego Convention Center this coming week. Special Event professionals from the North America and beyond will converge on the conference for specialized education, networking, and an always-exciting trade show.
I’ll be giving seminars on Exploring New Social Media (Tuesday – 10:30am – 11:30am) and Effective Print Advertising (Thursday – 10:30am – 12:30pm). The education is broken into specific tracks, to frame specific areas of interest.
Some of the buzz centers around WIPA (Wedding Industry Professionals Association). There is a wedding lunch event on Wednesday. After that event, WIPA will be holding a ‘state of the wedding industry’ panel. In addition, WIPA will have a booth in the trade show.
My presence at The Special Event is sponsored by NACE (National Association of Catering Executives). A number of NACE members will be giving presentations. NACE is also in charge of the Wednesday evening event. Those interested in finding out more about NACE should visit their booth in the trade show.