As many of you know, photography is my second career. For a long time, my first home was Seaport Hotel where I worked as a wedding planner. It was actually the perfect place to start learning about wedding photography. I learned how to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to capture the perfect moment. I learned how to stay cool under pressure. And most importantly, I learned that it’s not just about my job. A successful wedding requires many people working together to make the day feel elegant and seamless.
Many of my most important lessons were taught by my banquet managers. “Who is the banquet manager?” you ask! They’re the exhausted looking person roaming the ballroom giving baseball coach-like hand signals to the waitstaff all night. And they have more control over your event than you think. The planners can plan and the sales managers can direct, but the banquet manager executes. They manage the waitstaff throughout the evening and control the timeline by choosing when to serve and clear. And they act as liaison between the chef and the client. This is a tougher assignment than you think as chefs are famous for their ill tempers, lack of patience and easy access to sharp knives.
As a wedding planner, the banquet manager and I would sit together prior to the event and go over the client’s special requests, guest’s special needs, design of the room and the time line. My favorite times were geeking out with the manager over the timeline. The conversation would go like this…
Manager, “I think we’ll serve salad at 7:41.”
Me, “No the dad likes to talk a lot. His toast will be more than a minute and a half. Let’s go with 7:44”
Manager, “You sure about that? I don’t want a three minute lull in may ballroom.”
Me, “No really, the dad had me on the phone for an hour telling me about golf stories with his son-in-law. He’s going to go and go.”
Manager, “Oh my, got it.”
Then, we’d watch the clock obsessively all night. When the timeline was executed to the minute all evening, high fives would go through the room. Yes, we were big, fat geeks.
I also learned some of my best lessons from the banquet managers. I’ll never forget my second wedding ever. The client had insisted on leaving a long gap between the ceremony and reception saying her guests were traditionally very late. When the guests arrived a full hour and a half before the wedding start time, I ran to the banquet manager with tears in my eyes. We weren’t ready for them! I looked at him and said, “THE GUESTS ARE HERE! What do we do!” He looked at me with a bored look and said, “Well Nicole, there aint nothing to do, but to do it.” He moved through the room giving servers directions and had the room set up in five minutes. That was one of the best lessons I ever learned. Don’t panic. Don’t procrastinate. Just do it.
During another wedding set up, when one of the servers shattered the client’s Waterford toasting glass, the banquet manager drove to the department store to replace it before the wedding started. When I was struggling to remove the price tags off another client’s favors (all 250 of them) a banquet manager taught me that a little vegetable oil would remove it quickly and easily. And when I had a crush on that adorable band leader, the banquet manager would always alert me to his presence in the building. I ended up marrying that adorable band leader!
The banquet manager is often the least paid and the least appreciated person in the room. They make movies about the wedding planner. You’ll hear the entertainment shout tip your bartenders and waiters! At the end of the evening, without as much as a thank you from the client, the banquet manager will be the last one to leave the ballroom and will proceed to the dive bar next door to buy the waitstaff drinks. They are truly the event world’s unsung heroes!
This week, the most loved and most famous (perhaps infamous?) banquet manager is retiring from Seaport Hotel. And I had the honor and privilege to photograph his retirement party. Patrick (or Lord Larkin as he is affectionately called) was celebrated by co-workers, managers, clients and friends. They even honored him by naming a banquet room after him. He will be forever missed. I got to hear stories of his many years at Seaport and remembered many of my own. So I felt the need to honor him and all the banquet managers who have taught me invaluable lessons with this little ode. Perhaps at your next event you will thank your banquet manager. Perhaps you will go as far as giving them a tip and a smile. Maybe even a hug. And don’t worry if they look confused and recoil. They’re not used to affection.