10 August, 2016

My Year of Living Dangerously: Event Planning in New Orleans

Who rules the world? #Girls
Life lessons are fueled by wine.  If one event was tough, could I do a second simultaneous and competitive event?  My wine fueled answer, as always, was yes.  Degree of difficulty is nothing when you have a cockeyed, optimistic belief in yourself and your colleagues.  Was it easy? No.  Did I learn a lot? Yes.

Here are a few lessons I learned event planning in the Big Easy, New Orleans:

Lean on Your Team
Having seized control, mostly because everyone else was off fighting different fires, I quickly rallied my wonderful folks at TMN Events to see if they thought they could help us with an additional event.  This time we would have  less time, less money and expect the same level of guest experience.  Talk about optimism.  Their answer was yes. Napa was easy for me as I knew my way around and had a vision. New Orleans was a completely different beast. Leaning on the team in this case meant to leverage TMN Events's experience and trust that they would manage.  Quality shines through as they had already done several events there and had minimal set up time to get us up and running.   After a few rounds of back and forth we were in business.  We had to deal with delays, budget and even family emergencies at our vendor partner, so making sure the team was solid meant success.
Trust, but verify.  Yes, this Jordan wine is delicious #harvest

Count on brands you can trust
One of our key factors was relying on brands we could trust.  When picking a venue, we picked the Ritz Carlton.  When ordering wine, I picked Jordan.  Jordan Winery  is a producer in the Alexander Valley whose name is synonymous with quality.  They focus on luscious Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay elaborated with a sense of place.  Their focus on knowing what you can do best and executing perfectly is a philosophy we can all emulate.

When making decisions a bunch at a time, I realized that trusting in a brand makes your decisions easier so you can go off to the next.  And it is so gratifying when the menu you selected (Barbecue Shrimp with Jordan Cab) is mentioned several times as the guests favorite thing

Typical Tuesday Night in the French Quarter

Take people out of their day to day
Now my task was to help shape the event.  Midweek is an appealing time to attend a work incentive trip, because what kind of incentive is it to "work" on the weekend? New Orleans sounded like the perfect destination because of its history, its culinary arts and its entertainment wow factor.  We knew finding entertainment would be easy.  The Ritz Carlton gave us great walkability.  And the city spread out like an amusement park for adults.  Our guests loved it.  We had a wonderful private dining event at Arnaud's Touted as a "French Quarter Classic" Arnaud's confirmed that classic happens for a reason.  This delicious venue with an amazing bar staff was an event in itself.  We enjoyed the period correct dining salon, the Mardi Gras museum, and innumerable perfect Sazeracs. Getting to observe a typical Tuesday from an authentic French Quarter balcony was awesome.  However, I do still want to know what makes Strawberries Arnaud so delicious.

Learning is great especially when it involves snacks, beer and fire
To make the guest experience memorable, I asked for excursions that would have cultural relevance. Partying at a night club is fun, but you can do that at home.  Part of the allure of a destination like New Orleans is capitalizing on the opportunity to learn.  The Cooking Class at  the New Orleans School of Cooking fit the bill.  Not only was it a delicious lunch, but we learned about the history and culture of New Orleans.  Part of the process to become a certified guide in NOLA, involved knowing and communicating the history and culture.  We got more than recipes from this experience.

Appreciate the natural beauty
Reataurant August
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  New Orleans offered us so much more than the usual venue.  We worked to make sure our guests could choose what suited them.  Or choose simply to relax and walk around enjoying the bar scene, the jazz scene and of course the restaurant scene.  My particular guests don't drink alcohol.  However we had the most delicious dinner at John Besh's elegant  Restaurant August You can order a lot of foie gras and cookbooks when you don't have to spring for booze.  We revelled in the ambiance with brick and crystal, the leisurely yet attentive service and mostly the food.  With an eye to what is uniquely his own within the the local tradition, John Besh's menu delighted us at every turn.  This was bucket list for me and I was thrilled to accompany my hard working winners to this luxe dinner.

 Not everyone is fancy.  Another super fun activity was a boat tour through the Bayou where we got up close and personal with some denizens of the water.  Riding through the Spanish Mos laden cypress trees with our Cajun guide amid 18 foot alligators was an amazing and particular experience.  We loved this trip that allowed us to appreciate the natural beauty and charm of the area.

With the meetings all completed and our activities finished, we went home rested and relaxed to start the process again for another year of hard fought wins, collegial conflict and work.

New Orleans came through for me as a destination.  This process helped me learn valuable lessons, the most important of which is of course:

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

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