Lessons from Reopening: What We Have Learned So Far About Planning Events in 2021


With the dust of 2020 finally settling and people slowly emerging from their COVID bunkers, we are experiencing our new surroundings for the first time. Those of us in the events and hospitality industry are busy picking up the pieces and preparing to rebuild for what we can expect to be a comeback year for in-person events.

While we are still navigating with some uncertainty, we do know one thing for sure: everything about planning events is different now. As event planners and venues explore this new industry terrain together, here’s what we are learning.

Corporate and social planners are relying on their local networks to find venues

We know the pandemic caused significant disruption to the hospitality industry; restaurants and venues we love will have closed, and lots of venue sales and event managers have had to find new jobs at different venues or shift careers altogether.

This disruption has corporate and social planners relying on their networks to find out what venues are open and hosting events and what venues their contacts are now working at, since most want to work with people they know and trust, especially now. In some cases, with their networks turned upside down, these planners utilize DMCs (Destination Management Companies) and CVBs (Convention and Visitors Bureaus) to help them navigate in cities where they don’t have an extensive network.

Corporate and social planners still want creativity and innovation from venues

If we had to pick a silver lining of the pandemic, it was that we got to see some real creativity and innovation from restaurants and venues. Corporate and social planners are still expecting to see this level of innovation and creativity that got us through some tough times carry us into the future as they plan their events in 2021.

Venues that are promoting what makes them stand out are getting attention from event planners, so don’t be afraid to try something new with your food and beverage services, your indoor space, your outdoor space, services, and amenities. Share these ideas and creative opportunities with your clients on social media and your website; you never know what will be a huge hit!

Venues are seen as the experts In local protocols and guidelines

Event planners — both social and corporate — have a whole new priority of health and safety when it comes to planning their events and are relying heavily on venues to be the experts of local regulations and their own venue’s safety plans. As policies and restrictions change frequently, it’s essential for venues to be transparent and share clear, concise, proven strategies they have implemented in their venues openly with planners prior to booking and throughout the planning.

Venues that don’t have fleshed-out plans in place on items like food service or utilizing outdoor space, or are unable to provide updated current capacities, are a deterrent to planners looking to host events in their venues.

Venues and planners are collaborating and having more open conversations

Another refreshing change in the industry is a more open and collaborative approach to booking and hosting events. Both venues and planners are being more upfront, honest and realistic with expectations regarding items like safety, sanitation, and budgets. For corporate planners who have to answer to a C-Suite, they are looking for venues that can be transparent in regards to these items so that they can give a complete picture to their management teams and stakeholders.

Venues and planners are being more flexible with budgets. Planners are willing to pay a more premium cost (think attendant fees, added costs of pre-plating, or cleaning fees) to balance out the safety factor, as long as they are aware of them upfront. These conversations are being had with more candor than before, and there is an understanding between venues and clients alike, and they are willing and eager to engage in a dialogue.

Hybrid meetings and events are here to stay

Event planners are being sensitive to the fact that as we leave our COVID pods and prepare to mingle with strangers again at events, that there will be different comfort levels throughout their audience, with some still only feeling comfortable joining virtually. Enter the hybrid meeting.

As attendees are figuring out their comfort level with events again, we are finding that hybrid events are here to stay. Still, planners are finding ways to keep those virtual attendees engaged and are using restaurants to help. Planners find that adding something tangible for their audience rather than just logging into Zoom enhances the experience. Incorporating something tactical, like snack boxes or deliveries from local restaurants, adds excitement to the typical virtual event.

We are already feeling demand for 2022

If your current catchphrase is “Are you talking about event space for 2021 or 2022?” or “Wait, we’re talking about 2021, right?” then you know what I am talking about. As I mentioned, 2021 is our rebuilding year — planners are re-entering the space slowly and focusing on hosting smaller regional meetings and events in 2021.

But, when it comes to 2022, buckle up. We’re armed with new knowledge and optimism, and we’re not wasting any time. We are already seeing the demand for larger, in-person events and can’t wait to welcome them back with open arms.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Seated magazine.