My group Nashville Hiking Meetup (and I’m sure many others) plans regular social events throughout the year in order to keep the group connected. Although we’re not a social group by definition, getting people together apart from our outdoor events is a key goal.
Social events have many benefits: existing members can re-connect with folks they may not have seen in a while, new members can get a feel for the group and meet existing members without having to take the leap on a long day hike with us, and a leader can use these events for making special announcements or giving awards.
But how do you choose a location? After several years of successful social events, we’ve learned a few things about picking a venue:
- Determine and document your basic requirements of any venue:
- Number of people you generally have RSVP and whether you can fit comfortably in a venue.
- Location or proximity to city center.
- Parking or public transportation convenience.
- Food and alcohol choices.
- The image of a venue and how it matches your group. We’re a hiking and outdoor club so I don’t see us having a social at a swanky hotel.
- Figure out how much variety you want. You may meet at the same place every other month and alternate with a new place on those off months.
- Seek out unconventional locations. Not all socials need to happen at a restaurant or bar. We’ve had events at members’ homes, fitness clubs, car dealerships, and park picnic sites.
- Seek out new places by word-of-mouth. Ask other meetup leaders what venues have worked for them.
- Seek out places that may be willing to make you a deal. A brand new restaurant may be more likely to book your event in order to get the exposure. Also, monitor Groupon and other daily deal offers. This often indicates a willingness to get people in the door.
- For a restaurant or bar, book on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. These are typically the slowest nights and a manager is likely more willing to work with you.
- A large party sometimes scares the manager of a venue. Quite often they’ve been burned in the past (75 people promised and only 10 show up). Offer one of your previous venue contacts as a reference. I know this sounds unconventional—a manager calling a competitor—but quite often just making that offer will convince the manager you’re real.
- Create a short list of the best venues you’ve worked with including contact information and share this with your leadership team (in case you’re not available to run a social in the future).
- Locally owned restaurants and bars almost always have more flexibility in offering specials and discounts. If you can, avoid the chains who often have to “check with corporate” before they can give you a drink special, for instance.
- In very, very few cases, and only when you really want a venue, make a deposit guaranteeing sales. Risky, but will get noticed.
Tips for successful relationships with venues:
- Communicate often with your contact at the venue.
- Encourage your members to tip the wait staff (and tip well if appropriate). This is the best way to get welcomed back and get exceptional service the next time.
- Scout the venue ahead of time if you’ve not been there and arrive early on the day of your event.
- Afterward, follow up with the venue contact to communicate any problems. Don’t trash the venue on the social networks. Work out your issues directly with venue management first.
- Follow up with the venue contact afterward to see if they’re happy. This may seem counterintuitive—you and your members as customers should be happy—but you won’t believe how far this goes to solidify a relationship. This is sort of like a reverse Yelp: “please give me a review of my group.”
- Promote the venue before and after the event. Make clear mention of the establishment in your event posting, on Facebook and Twitter, and in any email you send to members.
What advice to you have on choosing locations for social events?