My name is Megan Steele and I am an Event Coordinator at the RBC Convention Centre. Prior to my latest adventure at the Convention Centre, I worked for a Food & Beverage company named Centerplate where I had a home base at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, but would often travel to other Convention Centres or large venues throughout North America to assist in the operation of larger events. Essentially, the venue may hold one massive event per year where they don’t have the management staff to execute it and call upon other Centerplate venues to assist. Centerplate has approximately 250 locations across North America (with only 7 venues in Canada) and has branched out to the UK as well.
This blog will be a four part series to share with you some of the large scale events that I have helped execute and some of the trials and tribulations of being on the road. The first part of the series is dedicated to the Honda Indy Car Races in Toronto, Ontario.
The Honda Indy is an annual event that takes place at Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, Ontario, usually in June or July. The race has been in operation since 1986. It actually closes down part of Lakeshore BLVD, which is right off of the major highway: the Gardiner Expressway. The event takes place over 3 days with the Friday being a free day for all guests and the Saturday & Sunday are ticketed.
In 2011 I had just started with Centerplate a few months prior and was schedule to run one of the beer gardens. I was responsible for setting up, executing, and tearing down the event. As well as staffing and inventory.
In 2012 I was assigned to the Hospitality Tents to run some catering events. Essentially this tent that could fit approx. 400 guests was booked by companies throughout the day to have a little party. Mostly for the companies who didn’t book a track side Hospitality Suite.
2013 & 2014
In 2014 & 2014 I was responsible for running the largest beer garden and organizing all of the food trucks & food vendors. Essentially the sales manager would book around 30-40 food vendors and it was my responsibility to plot their location, coordinate load in and load out, ensure they are all charging appropriate pricing, and everything else in between.
Each year that I arrived to work for the Honda Indy Toronto, I was never provided with any packages that would tell me how to do my job or even point me in the right direction. The whole point in me being hired to assist was for me to fill that void. So I would always arrive one week early and start the planning process. Below are some of the questions I would ask myself, which would always tie into the bigger question of what is the track schedule? Everything revolved around the track schedule because the building where all of our resources were was on one side of the track while all other operations were on the other side of the track. We would need to triple check that we had more than enough inventory etc because once the track was hot we wouldn’t be able to get what we needed.
1. What am I responsible for this year and where?
2. What equipment do I need?
3. How much staffing do I have (which was ALL temp staffing by the way)?
4. Where do I refill product/inventory?
5. Do I need power? Do I have access to power?
6. What else is near me? Washrooms, food, etc
7. Does my area have cash involved? If so, how will cash be kept secure?
As indicated earlier, Centerplate calls upon other Centerplate managers to help out when their event is too large for the staffing levels they are able to maintain during the year. So naturally temp staff are also required for line-level staffing. This event hired 300+ Temp Food & Beverage staff each day. The staff were split up between Culinary, Hospitality Suites/Catering, Porters, and Bartenders/Servers.
When working with temp companies it is important that you are clear and concise. Many times you are working with individuals that have never worked in your building or at your event before. To avoid exhaustion/frustration by constantly repeating yourself, keep it clear and keep it simple. Wait until you have the majority of staff in your area before you start assigning tasks. Ask if the employees have any questions, physically show them where to go (a tour), find a few of the temp staff who seem eager and gravitate towards them for more complicated tasks. It can be overwhelming when you are working with 30+ staff that you have never met before, so you have to have a plan but also be adaptable.
Expect to work very long days. In 2013 & 2014 when I was responsible for all of the food vendors, I used to have to sit in a golf cart in a parking lot at 3am with a flashlight waiting for vendors to arrive. Due to the schedule of the track and the testing that was necessary in the morning, we would need everyone to come overnight. When they arrived, I would lead them through the track and to their location. Each night the vendors would have to reload their inventory overnight as well to be ready for the next day. After loading in the vendors, I would then need to start getting the beer gardens ready for operation. So I would essentially work from 3am – 8pm on Friday/Saturday/Sunday and then go into tear down on Monday.
No matter which area you are scheduled for, you need to own it. There are no excuses that you don’t normally work in that location, that you don’t know the staff, or that you’re waiting for direction. However busy you think you are, your boss for the event is even busier. They are dealing will all of the other traveling managers, their internal staffing, the client, the guests, and the list goes on. However, if you are in a position where you do need help or clarification, always ask. You may not be aware of the details of the client relationship and it’s important that you do not overstep your place either.
I think the most difficult position over my 4 years with the Honda Indy was organizing the food vendors. These would be vendors who were made promises that I wasn’t necessary privy to, but would be responsible for following through on.. so a lot of last minute changes. Also, every vendor has an opinion on where they should be located on the grounds and what is going to be the best for their sales. When it comes to plotting them though, it call comes down to size, type of operation (truck, trailer, tent), and when they can load in. The trailers and trucks all need to line up a certain way to load in, as in my experience they can’t parallel park in. So if a vendor can’t make it till the very last time slot to load in, chances are they will get the last spot in the lineup.
To make this process easier on me, I ended up hosting a vendor orientation both years. I would give them a welcome package with all pertinent information to the event, as well as their vendor passes to the grounds. We would also go on a tour of the spaces and I would show each vendor where they were located. It also gave the vendors a chance to ask questions. I also knew that come event day, I would be running a beer garden and be less available to them.
TO SUM IT UP
I have always felt like I received a years worth of training after working at another location as a traveling manager. You really get enveloped into their culture and you are able to bring ideas or processes back to your location to enhance it. I also believe that it helps to develop your in-the-moment decision making skills and your ability to lead a group that you have had no previous influence over.
It’s long hours and hard on your body, but I have found that there is such a greater satisfaction when you successfully execute the event with all of the roadblocks of the unknown in front of you. It’s also such a team oriented environment with all of the other traveling managers, it’s a really unique support system to grow strong bonds after as little as a few days together.
If anyone has the opportunity to travel to other locations, I strongly suggest it. There is so much more to my experience with this event than what is listed above, so if anyone has any questions about my experiences or wants to find out more, please feel free to ask in the comments section below!
Next Topic: North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan.