Are there weddings in your business future?

I worked as the Director of Sales and Marketing at Steamboat Landing, a lakeside banquet and conference center in Canandaigua for three years. I booked the weddings for both our 235 seat banquet room as well as our 110 passenger paddlewheel steamboat. I sat through endless meetings with brides, fiancées and their mothers trying to decide on napkin colors, centerpieces, menus and other arrangements. Some families were painful beyond measure, some were so wonderful I cried at the reception along with everyone else. But there is no doubt that weddings can be a big revenue stream for many locations. The website costofwedding will allow you to get an estimate for all the expenses incurred at a wedding based on the zip code of the wedding location. In Canandaigua, the venue and catering cost averages between $7,520- $12,534, with many weddings ending up paying closer to $20,000 for catering and the venue when you include professional wedding planner services, upscale products and unique services.

The recent economy has encouraged couples to look at unique venues; those that are more cost-effective and less formal. Do you have space that would lend itself to a ceremony? Spring Lake Winery, on the Niagara Wine Trail, has evolved into a wonderful wedding venue. They found that brides would ask if they could hold their ceremony on the grounds, and the business has evolved into a major piece of their website. They also know their strength is their location; they don’t try to provide food service or flowers, or a band. They can provide the wine, and this is a great way to get new people to try their wines.

If you are considering stepping into this world, it is very important to write down all your policies and develop a contract. Brides tend to want everything their way and it helps if you can refer to a document that says you can only accommodate 100 people, or that your town’s noise ordinance requires music to end by 11pm. The Granger Homestead in Canandaigua has one of the best policy and pricing information packets I have ever come across. It is clear and easy to follow. I am sure my friend Lonna, the Director of Marketing and Events at Granger, wouldn’t mind you borrowing some of her wording for your facility.

Weddings can be another way for your property to create revenue. Start slowly, ask questions of other wedding venues and have fun. Or at least write down the stories – only others in the wedding industry will ever believe you!

There’s never anything to do in your own hometown

Here’s one of the challenges with young frontline staff- they always think there is nothing to do in the area. In fact, I had a student that I have been training for a position in the hotel industry tell me she didn’t know why anyone would even come to her hometown! And this from a resident of a town with women’s history, wineries, state parks, lakes and the Erie Canal! But her view is not unique. I think that many staff feel that way if they haven’t had the opportunity to see their hometown through a visitor’s eyes. As tourism professionals, our job is to make sure they have the experiences and information they need to sell the area and inform guests about all there is to see and do. Here’s some ideas to consider for getting front line staff fired up about their destination:

– Develop Frontline FAM (Familiarization) tours. This is a great way to get a lot of staff to see many places in a short amount of time. However, for this to be effective, managers must be willing to pay the frontline staff for their time on the FAM. Very few frontline staff are motivated without it, but it is a worthwhile investment. The payback will be when your waitresses or front desk employee can tell guests about an attraction they have visited. These FAM’s are most useful at a time just before the busy season hits; your employees have been hired, but are not working full time yet.

-Establish a reciprocal program with other attractions. Ask local attractions to give 2 passes for each interested employee. That way an employee can visit the attraction with a friend or family member. Ask employees to write a one page review of the visit and post it near the time clock so everyone can read it. You should extend this invitation to everyone – from the dishwashers, to housekeeping staff to the groundskeeper. Some staff might need help writing a review -please provide the help. Not only will it be seen as an employee perk, but your other staff will know who to ask about different attractions.

– Have a Chamber staff member or Visitor Bureau member speak at your next employee meeting. They will be happy to attend and will bring visitor’s guides and answer questions. It is in their best interest to have residents who understand their jobs and can help to promote the destination.

– Create a Frontline Passport Program. This is a booklet with various stops of the area listed by page. Frontliners will have their passport stamped at each location. Completed passports can be submitted for prize drawings. There can be sponsors for this program, which will help offset printing costs.

All of these ideas are not one time events.  The hospitality industry has a very high turnover rate and the same programs should be run every year. Knowledge of your area and the ability to answer visitors questions is a valuable asset for any frontline staff. Involvement in these programs could also result in a certificate for attendance and participation. A potential employee could use that document  in job interviews to show that they have made a commitment to learning about their hometown. And that’s a win-win for all of us.

Loving your job- lessons from my septic men

For those of you who live in the lands of sewers and public water, let me explain septic systems. It’s basically a huge holding tank buried underground adjacent to your home. Everything that leaves a drain ends up in the septic tank which is why it needs to be pumped out regularly. As you can imagine, it’s not a glamorous job, but it is a vital industry in the  country. I recently saw a septic pumper truck with the saying ” We’re Number #1 in the #2 business.” Guess it helps to have a sense of humor as well.

George and Don, Septic Men of Excellence

Which brings me to the subject of this post. I have had the septic system in my home pumped by two older gentlemen since I bought the house 15 years ago. I thought they were elderly when they first came to help me in 1995- and here they are in 2010 still keeping all the homes in the Bristol Hills humming along. Don Sherman, the owner, is 83. His partner in crime, George, is 82. They stay busy working almost every day. I always take the time to make them a cup of coffee and sit and chat with them. I am interested in people that really love their job and what makes them feel that way. These two love what they do and have known each other since they were young boys. They are like the original Odd Couple- they tease each other and finish each others sentences, and its obvious they are good friends.

Don told me ” I don’t vacation much or do anything fancy so I enjoy getting out to nice places and getting to visit with friendly people”.  George likes to chat and he is always full of good stories and opinions. My interactions with them always leave me feeling good and happy – and isn’t that the sign of outstanding customer service? So I think these two gentlemen have set the bar very high. They love their jobs and do all that they can to keep their customers happy. If they can find purpose and happiness in serving others, shouldn’t the rest of us be able to try to do the same?