6 Easy Lifestyle Changes to Keep You in the Moment

Our guest blogger this month is Nandini Natasha Austin, who is not only a dear friend, but also a former colleague from our time working together at Morgans Hotel Group. Nandini is the co-founder of The Cocktail Architect and is currently working on launching her new lifestyle brand this fall. “Revel in the Moment” is an online platform that showcases Health, Wellness, Food and Drink & Innovation, all with the aim of living a life in balance.

In today’s working environment where we are reachable 24/7, sleeping fewer hours and bombarded by technology, it’s not surprising that most people suffer from a lack of work-to-life balance. We have a hard time prioritizing our health, instead allowing work to take precedence. Putting health first is a strange notion and certainly not how we're accustomed to operating. However, as a business owner and a mother, it’s a concept I’ve had to learn to embrace. Through commitment and a few minor changes, I have felt both my happiness and productivity levels soar. So why not use this month to make some valuable changes that will help make mindfulness part of your lifestyle.
Here are six of my tips to help you achieve just this:

Brooklyn Botanical garden .jpg

1. Embrace the outdoors
Research has shown that immersing yourself in nature has a positive effect all the way down to the cellular level. This will help your immune system work better--so get outdoors ASAP! Spend a day strolling through the woods or spend a long afternoon at the beach. If you can’t venture far, then consider a day trip to one of my favorite local haunts, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens or Prospect Park. There is nothing like being in the fresh air to awaken your senses and enliven your spirit.

2. Carve out some much needed YOU time
If you can't get away on vacation, take advantage of the slower summer months and schedule some downtime to indulge in whatever makes you happy. I mean actually put it down on your calendar and hold yourself to it. It could be that much-needed pamper session (think Aire Bath spa), or trying a new hobby to rejuvenate you. I recently took up Yoga at Integral Yoga in the West Village, which has really helped slow me down. Even spending time reading will help calm your mind. It does not have to be much, but try to consciously put yourself first.


3. Spend time with people who energize you
Not only do friendships enrich your life, they boost your mood, giving you a sense of purpose and thereby lowering your stress levels. Social media, although necessary for business, can be rather anti-social and isolating at times. So instead of “liking” your friends posts on social media, why not call them up the old fashioned way and plan a visit instead? Being part of a community has also shown to increase happiness levels. So get active in your neighborhood by joining or starting a cause you believe in.

4. Shut off from technology
The ubiquity of technology has come to mean that we are accessible all the time. It can be exhausting to check our social feeds, direct messages, emails and whatsApp messages, so it’s beneficial to disconnect once in a while. Imagine for a moment that your mind works like your iPhone. When you have multiple apps running in the background, they are constantly draining your energy and depleting your battery. So shut them down and schedule a day free of technology to fully recharge.

5. Get more sleep!
Ok, we have heard a million times that sleep is essential for cell rejuvenation and repair. But as New York has been dubbed “the city that never sleeps,” New Yorkers seem to think it’s normal to neglect their personal sleep too. Getting much-needed sleep is necessary for the mind and soul to feel nourished and revitalized. You’ll be less prone to mindless eating and have a better attention span and memory too. I use the free sleep mode function on my iPhone to track my sleep and remind me to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night. I also turn off any electronic devices in my house at least an hour before going to bed to disconnect from stimulating blue light. 
 

6. Experiment with meditation & self-reflection
In a bustling city, it's hard to imagine serene places where you can find some peace and quiet. When September hits, it will be a relentless race again, so why not get into the habit of slowing your mind down now with some mindfulness in the form of meditation practice? Inscape is perfect for the beginner, offering private booths with guided meditations. If the thought of meditation turns you off, how about trying dance and meditation along the lines of  Five rhythms -- I took an exhilarating class in London with my sister and they offer the same classes here in New York.
 

Life after all is about those little moments you can never get back. We are all busy making plans for the future, or living in the past that we forget the present. So seize every opportunity to live in the here and now. Revel in your downtime with loved ones and pursue life in terms of health, not wealth. 

5 Signs Your Venue Needs An Upgrade

If you own or operate a space that you consider a destination for events, then you should DEFINITELY read this!  It’s important to understand that the habits we find comfort in could be the very things that are not allowing us to bring in revenue.  If you’re going to commit to the events industry by way of venue offering, make sure you address these 5 points.  Remember, a little goes a long way and I’ve presented small inexpensive solutions to help you address these points if you find yourself (or your space) needing a little face-lift.

1. Hello? Anyone there?

One of my biggest petpeaves is finding a space that’s ideal for my client but unfortunately no one at the venue is getting back to me.  If you can’t get back to people about making money, why are you in business?  There are many event companies (Voilà included!) that will take on inquiry management for your space so you can focus on whatever has you pre-occupied.  Upgrade your staffing infrastructure and hire an event management firm that will handle answering inquiries, sending proposals, conducting site visits and contracts.  Most don’t charge anything to operate your space and only require a percentage of every event they close.

2. “Will that be fixed by my event date?”

If a prospective client has asked you this question, then you fall into the more literal category of upgrades.  Understandably the cost of renovation could be well outside of your budget but I hate to sound cliché… you have to spend money to make money.  There are always inexpensive cosmetic changes you can make to a space that will allow you to bring in the revenue to make full changes.  Slap a fresh coat of paint on the walls and get rid of all the old, clunky furniture.  Partner with vendors that can provide more modern amenities for commission i.e. lighting, AV, chairs and require that your clients use their services when booking your space.  This will allow you to bring in the revenue you need to commit to a bigger renovation.

3. C’mon! Take it!

You used to be busy and now you have trouble giving it away for free?  Don’t feel bad because this is one of the more popular reasons spaces need an upgrade.  This upgrade has more to do with the image and reputation of the space.  This could be a result of an absent or inactive sales and marketing team, or maybe your space is in need of a relaunch.  Either way, you need to get your information in front of the right people and make your space relevant again.  Invite the industry’s professionals i.e. planners, vendors, potential clients for a party in your space.  Catering companies looking to grow their client list and showcase their food sometimes look for space donation which means they’ll not only provide the food and drink but they’ll also provide the guests!!!

4. I’m sorry. Does that say Peonies or Pennies?

If you’ve walked down the street recently than you’ve noticed we’re in a technological age of smart phones.  From signing contracts to creating full proposals, people can literally run their business solely on their phones.  So if you’re still handwriting your proposals or making your floorplans in PowerPoint, then please know this is one of the easiest problems to solve!  There are countless software out there, all begging for your business.  You can shop for the applications that best fit your business and the price that best fit your budget.  All Seated allows you to create FREE floorplans.  VenueBook charges a flat, low fee and not only helps you automate your proposals and contracts but clients shop their site for venue ideas so it serves as a marketing tool as well!

5. What’s that?

Have you sent photos of your event space that was taken on someone’s phone?  Do you know what collateral is?  Collateral is your venue’s info packet that you send to your prospective clients.  It has information about the services included with your space, some pricing and updated, professional photos of your space.  Again this is where vendor partnerships come in handy.  Barter services from an event designer to “stage” your space with furniture, floral, lighting and have a photoshoot.  Offer all vendors involved in this shoot a “preferred vendor” listing on your website and finished collateral so your shoot is free.  From there, hire a novice, inexpensive graphic designer to put those images together with content you provide to create modern, brand-specific packets for your space.

Seriously, an upgrade to your space is not nearly as costly and complicated as it sounds.  If you’re curious about whether or not your space falls into any of these categories or would like to discuss inexpensive solutions on how to upgrade your space, give us a call.  We offer complimentary space appraisals for event venues.

et Voilà!

Off-Peak Checklist

10 Things to do While Business is Slow

Is your team slacking off when business is slow?  Well that’s if they’re even in the office.  July and August are traditionally “slower” months in the events industry so people either take the time to go on vacation or just sit at their desk and burn company time.  After all, it’s not their fault the phone is not ringing.  And we obviously can’t blame the boss for the slower pace.  Or can I? 

A lull in your industry doesn’t have to mean a lull in your business.  If you know slow times are ahead, plan for them!  Below is a checklist with 10 things you should be doing while business is slow.  All of the tasks below will ensure that your entire team has an active strategy on how to move your business forward even if there are no clients.

1.     Website and Social Media

This is a perfect time to audit your "front facing" brand. Your website and social media presence tell a story about your business which should be frequent and consistent. Does your current site express who you are? Are you talking to the right audience? This is also a great opportunity to check out the competition. Are there things about the way they display and communicate their brand that you like? 

2.     Sales & Marketing Collateral

This is another aspect of your "front facing" brand since these materials are used to attract new clients. Your collateral should be easy to understand and visually pleasing. Also, don't forget to keep the look and language consistent with what's on your website and social media. If you offer services that appeal to separate sets of clients, have individual collateral for each. 

3.     Templates

When you're super busy, all the admin stuff that would make your life slightly easier if completed just become a blur. Imagine if you had template emails, proposal boilerplates and other documents you can quickly send your clients when you're busy. This absolutely increases productivity if you don't have to draft a contract from scratch or answer the same questions over and over again. Does your company have a list of FAQs? That's actually a great place to start standardizing your process. 

4.     Workshops and Trainings

No time like the present to sharpen your tools. Analyze the last 6 months of business. What went wrong? What went right? And why? Can some of your successes can be duplicated or mistakes avoided by some professional development? This could take the form of a certificate class in a graduate program or hiring a leadership coach. 

5.     Digital Organization

Another overlooked aspect of your business that will improve productivity is how easily accessible files are. If you have a team that works from different locations, find a cloud-based file sharing app like Dropbox. That's just the first step though. Don't buy and just dump a bunch of files there. Organize all of your files into folders and as many sub-folders as necessary. Same goes for your emails. If you're the type of person that leaves all your opened emails in your inbox, good for you! But you would increase your efficiency if you didn't have to search in a sea of old emails. Start with one folder for emails and add one per day until it's all organized. 

6.     Future Planning

Great time to take a step back and think about how your actions today will impact your work tomorrow. What are your personal development goals? What's the date for each goal? What action steps are you taking to ensure you meet those goals? Outside of personal development, think about the business. Answer 2 questions; how do I keep my existing clients and how do I get new ones?

7.     Sales Goals & Projections

This is a version of future planning but refers specifically to revenue. If you don't have sales or transaction goals, you should. This helps you and your team be proactive about revenue versus just waiting for the phone to ring and it gives you a mile marker to look forward to. Here is a great resource on how to create a sales forecast: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/77674

8.     Accounting

Unless you're an accountant, you cringed a little when you saw this bullet point. I don't mean now is the time you learn how to do a balance sheet or a P&L (Profit and Loss) report. But while things are slow, take the time to review your expenses and plan for the future. Some questions to answer are; Are there any places financially you can scale back? After auditing your website and collateral, would you like to set a budget aside for an upgrade? Do you need to hire more staff? 

9.     Touch base

Written notes are a dying art so imagine my surprise when I received a "just because" card from a venue I worked with months ago. People expect cards on their birthday and for the holidays. Think outside the box and touch base with your old clients by send them a "thought of you, hope all is well" note. The only downside here is less than half of the people you send cards to will actually respond to say "thanks" or "we should catch up". By the law of averages, the more you send the most likely you'll get a worthwhile response.  So get a nice pen ready.

10.  Socialize

I saved the best for last!!! If you're like me, you spend most of the year deleting the wonderful industry parties and miss out on checking out a new venue or tasting a new seasonal menu. Most event professionals know this so they try and keep the fun networking events for the summer. What better way to spend the extra time than on a rooftop with a drink in one hand and a business card in the other. If you're working, you mind as well kill two birds and have some fun too!

et Voilà!

Graphic Design Secrets of Voilà

Ever wondered how the Voilà logo came to be? Or how hospitality brands in general create lasting graphic elements that inspire their clients? We caught up with Art Director/Graphic Design Extraordinaire Jenna DiMari (the creator of Voilà's fab logo!) and got all the deets on being a graphic designer and elevating your branding.

Jenna DiMari is a New York-native Art Director/Graphic Designer known for creating exciting and memorable marketing collateral for leading fashion, entertainment and lifestyle brands.

Jenna DiMari is a New York-native Art Director/Graphic Designer known for creating exciting and memorable marketing collateral for leading fashion, entertainment and lifestyle brands.

Q: Could you tell us a little about the process of working with a client in the hospitality industry?
A: At the beginning of a project, a client and I will discuss what they’re trying to say with their branding, and the direction the company is going in. It’s exciting to think about the visual possibilities. Ideas start forming about colors, typefaces, and stylistic choices that convey the message they want customers to take away from their brand.

Q: What are some examples of projects someone in the hospitality industry could work with a designer on?
A: I can't say this enough, branding is the most important thing you can consider when promoting a business. It creates consistency, makes your company easily recognizable and sets you apart from competitors. Popular projects include a logo or mark, letterhead, website, branded social network pages, and business cards. Depending on the industry we would select additional projects that fit your brand. So a restaurant could need a menu design, while a promotional event may need a custom-wrapped ice cream truck.

Q: Are there specific colors you think catch people’s eyes more than others? Any colors specific to hospitality?
A: The color palette of a project depends on the context of the brand or event, but is an essential part of defining your look and feel. For a spa you might want to use softer muted colors that give the impression of serenity, while branding an entertainment event would call for brighter more energetic and saturated pops of color. Designers work with color theory and color palettes to reflect the mood of the project. Below is an example of a color palette I made for a past client.

jd_colorpalette_2.jpg

Q: How did you come up with the Voilà logo?
A: The Voila logo was such a fun project to work on! When Christina and I spoke, she expressed wanting to evoke a feeling of magic. We started by exploring a few options of what that meant visually, and after narrowing down the specific type of magic we landed on a custom hand letting piece with a balance of enchantment and "consider it done". 

Q: How do you think fonts affect a brands image? Any do's and don't's?
A: Typefaces and fonts each have a history that you have to consider when choosing one that represents your brand. Do: Work with a professional Graphic Designer. They'll understand the type classifications, context, and legibility concerns of your project. Don't: Download and use something just because it's readily available.

Q: What are some changes you're seeing as hospitality brands expand their digital presence?
A: Brands have so many opportunities to create memorable experiences online. Restaurants, hotels, and events are using editorial photography, curated social media posts and digital services, such as reservations and booking, to make their websites more engaging. I love working with brands to create a digital strategy that tells their story in exciting new ways.


et Voilà!

5 Ways to Make Lasting Connections at Large Events

Whether you're the planner, keynote speaker, the emcee or an attendee, everyone has a common concern when it comes to large events and conferences; how will anyone remember me?


1. Interactive Presentations – If you’re a presenter, interactive experiences force you to focus on your audience and not your slides.  This is great if you’re presenting or trying to engage your audience later in the day when energy tends to get low.  Quizzes and contests are a great way for a speaker/host to get the crowd motivated and keep them interested.  You can also get your audience moving simply by asking “show of hands” questions or asking them to get up and stretch.  Group discussions are a fun way for your attendees to get to know one another while shaking up the monotony.

2. Social Media - Most large events and conferences should have an event app.  Many of the already existing registration apps such as Eventbrite are now incorporating a “Who’s Going” feature on their platform. With this feature, you can virtually weed through the hundreds or thousands in the crowd and prepare your 15- second introduction.  Instead of business cards, people are now exchanging social media handles which is an immediate way to start communicating after the event and put a face to your name.

3. Be hospitable – When we say hospitality, we tend to think hotels, but there are so many ways to incorporate hotel-like services at a conference in order to elevate the guest experience.  The best hotels in the world create their guests’ experience by putting themselves in the guests’ shoes.  In that sense, if you’re planning a conference, walk through that experience from registration all the way to post-event.  Ask yourself: If I was an attendee, what would make this a 5-star experience?  I know personally there are events I will never forget all because of their charging pods, “quiet” lounges and $5 massages.

4. Listen – Part of successful networking and creating lasting connections is by sharing resources with the person you’ve just met.  Ask a lot of questions and let the other person talk.  By actively listening you will find an opportunity to be helpful.  Perhaps the person is running a small business and doesn’t have the budget to hire a social media manager.  Ask them if they’ve heard about Hootsuite and show them how to use it.  Or maybe they own a staffing agency and would love introductions to caterers.  You could give them your card and schedule a coffee date to get to know them better.  After all, you’ll need information about their business so you can make a strong connection to the caterers you know. Sometimes listening is all it takes to take that networking to the next level.

5. Get personal - This doesn't mean be vulnerable in a room full of strangers. This means be authentic, be you. And more importantly, encourage the people you connect with to do the same.  If someone seems passionate about their work, don’t be shy about sharing your passions as well.  When your conversation finds the delicate balance between business and pleasure, people you’ve met will walk away with a sense of warmth towards you which certainly will make you more memorable.

 

These tips have helped me actually enjoy large conferences, and I find that once you’re comfortable, that warmth spreads and others get comfortable too. Think about every business connection or colleague you currently have… they too were strangers at some point.

et Voilà!

5 Ways to Make Indoor Space Summer-Sexy

Image- Courtesy of Gramercy Park Hotel.jpg

New Yorker’s only get 5 solid months of warm weather so it’s no surprise that when the weather gets nice, we all go running to the closest outdoor space we can find.  And I’m not different.  I will literally sit on a garbage littered sidewalk if that means I get to dine “al fresco”.  But while everyone gravitates to a garden, rooftop or a sidewalk, amazing indoor spaces are left almost abandoned during the summer. 
This blog is geared toward helping indoor spaces attract customers when the weather calls for a warm breeze and a sunset view.  I can’t magically remove walls or give you a skylight, however I can tell you how to trick the 5 senses into thinking you have.

 

1.     Smell – We start with the trickiest of the 5 senses.  Not enough of this and you’ve wasted your time, while too much of it will turn people off.  Keep it natural by incorporating fragrant fruits on your tables and in your overall décor.  Mint, lemons and limes are guaranteed home runs for this purpose.  Their smell evokes a feeling of freshness and cleanliness.  Most importantly, don’t forget the fans (not the avid follower, but the blower of air).  Give them a cool breeze with a ceiling fan and drive those summer scents into your guests’ subconscious.

2.     Taste – This time of year is exciting for most caterers because they get to change it up with seasonal ingredients.  Cucumber is largely in season which makes for a delicious… Cucumber Collins!  (OMG, I can have one right now!)  Of course, don’t forget the frozen drinks.  For food, arugula, carrots and radishes are also at their best during warm weather which means your menu should be filled with yummy fresh salads with a twist – add strawberries, mandarins and pineapples to keep your greens from getting boring.  

3.     Touch – There’s nothing like a faux grass carpet to encourage guests to take off their shoes (same idea with a sandbox).  Tree bark, Birchwood and Green-walls are a great way to add a decorative element you encourage your guests to feel.  If you have sunlight peeking through a window, take advantage of it!  The more unobstructed sunlight, the better!  People love to feel the warm sun on their skin.

4.     Hearing – Get your St Tropez or Ibiza soundtrack ready!  What qualifies a song as a perfect summer hit?  It engages the rest of your senses for you.  Ever heard Will Smith’s “Summertime” and can smell the BBQ?  Music even has time travel power because something about “I Need Your Love” by Calvin Harris ft. Ellie Goulding that brings me back to summer 2013.  Summer playlists are always fun and must have “danceability”. 

5.     Sight – I saved the best for last.  Your vision is the most powerful of all the senses.  What you see can completely override the other senses. The solution is simple… Cute shirtless cabana guys & a fake pool brings all the girls (and guys) to the yard. Place a water feature in front of windows or right underneath a skylight so the sunlight reflected off the water can create twinkles of turquoise light throughout the room.  And whatever you can’t actually have (i.e. the cabana boys and the pool), paintings or projections are a huge help.

 

Are you warm yet?  Ready for that summer cocktail?  Don’t forget to give the well prepared indoor spaces a try!

et Voilà!

What's On Your Summer Menu?

This week we caught up with Andrew Cavitolo from Riviera Caterers to get the top 5 need-to-know tips for summer catering! Not only was the insider info he offered super interesting, but the food porn he sent along with it...well, I'll let you all scroll down and see. 
 

1. Ingredients have seasons for a reason. 
The hardest thing we often face is when a client tastes a dish in the winter that they are going to recreate in the summer. Ingredients have seasons for a reason, and the seasonality of the ingredients will make or break a dish. We always like to use the freshest ingredients and sometimes the difference is only a few weeks but incorporating it into a menu at the right time is extremely important. 

 

2. It's all Peaches. 


I'm asked often what my favorite summer ingredient is, and truly there's nothing better than a fresh peach in the summertime. I love to lightly grill them, add some sea salt and a balsamic reduction, some strips of prosciutto di parma and top with arugula. The perfect summer salad.  

 

3. Summer Drink MVP


One of the most requested drinks at summer events is a Margarita, and we've mastered every twist on it. We have done it 600 ways and its always a summer classic. Nothing more refreshing than tequila with a bit of salt on the rim. 

 

4. Dessert VS Appetizer


It depends on the type of party, as well as the type of host. Personally, I'm more of a savory lover so I like a lot of food in the cocktail hour upfront to get the party going. However, a lot of people are happy to splurge for extravagant dessert displays. It creates an amazing show, however keep in mind that guests usually are full by the end of the dinner. I say why choose and spend on both! #treatyourself

 

5. And finally, the Million Dollar Question.


The biggest challenge of summer catering is the heat. So how do you fight it? Ice boxes. Lots and lots of ice boxes. We're known to create refrigerators and freezers out of proofers using dry ice. And if that doesn't work, we use special insulated boxes to keep everything to exact temperature, even on the hottest of days. 

Interview with a Wedding Professional: 5 Tips You Need To Know

SPRINGTIME.jpg

We sat down for a chat with our favorite wedding professional, Fallon Carter of Fallon Carter Weddings and Events, and we've brought you all the insider details you can't afford to miss out on, from how to stretch the bride's dollar, to preparation techniques that'll make sure nothing catches you off guard day-of. 
 

Q:  Whats the biggest hurdle you find in planning the rehearsal dinner, and how do you overcome it?
A:  The biggest hurdle to me would be making sure the Rehearsal Dinner doesn't become another wedding, so curating the guest list appropriately and focusing on the essential VIP's only. There's also always the issue of finding a fun venue that has the right amount of privacy, though I've got a few favorites I've worked with in the past. 

Q:  Any tips for brides on how to make their dollar stretch?
A:  Pick your splurge items early. Identify what is the most important to you and make your focus on those vendors priority. Also, identifying who in your circle may be able to contribute to your wedding is a great way to make use of resources. Maybe a graphic designer friend can help with invites, or a make up artist friend can do the make up on the day.

Q:  What is the most important place to spend the money in an event? 
A:  It's different for every person, but I strongly recommend splurging on the guest experience. Things like your food & beverage, music, and atmosphere will all make a wedding to remember for years to come. When guests are happy and satisfied, you will be too. 

Q:  What are 3 action items that are ALWAYS on your final checklist to ensure an event will go smoothly? 
A:  Pack your Day-Of & Wedding Weekend needs 1 - 2 weeks prior to the day. This virtually makes sure that no items you need get left behind or forgotten. I also organize all final payments and tips into sealed envelopes that are ready to roll on the day of. One of my secrets is I send out a "Wedding Weekend" sheet to the Bridal Party that includes all details regarding attire, what to pack, how to arrive for hair and make up, what color to polish their nails, and any other important info. This helps inform family & friends to ensure you don't receive questions about "What time should we be there again?".

Q:  When you're looking at furniture vendors, what are some qualities you look for? 
A:  I make sure to look for a vendor that carries a variety of furniture styles & pricing to make sure that they will have something the client will like and can fit in their budget. Of course, experience with effective load in and load out are always a big plus, too.  

 

et Voilà!