They Do the Worrying So Event Hosts Do Not

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The big day is here. It could be a wedding reception to which the bride’s family devoted more than a year of planning. Or it could be a family reunion that draws distant aunts, uncles and cousins last seen in person more than a decade ago. Or it could be a quarterly board meeting or a conference for a company’s offices in the Midwest.

Whatever the reason for needing a meeting place, the area’s upscale banquet centers take great pains to ensure that these gatherings go off without a hitch. Whether it’s putting together a menu, deciding the table settings and assigned seats, or dealing with the audio-visual equipment needed, the banquet halls pride themselves on taking pressure off the hosts.

“It’s stressful to plan a wedding. For some people, it’s stressful to plan a business meeting for 20 people,” says Brenna Teaberry, director of corporate sales at The Avalon Inn, Warren. “They can get so worried about that one event, that everything else falls to the side. I tell people that I’ve done a million of these and they can stop worrying because we will take care of it.”

Preparations start well before the day of the event. One of the first conversations is the menu. All the banquet centers have an in-house kitchen with fairly standard menus for banquets. What separates the higher-end centers is their ability to go off menu.

“As long as we have the time to get it, the possibilities are endless because of our team,” says Christopher Sammartino, vice president of The Lake Club, Poland. “They all have different culinary backgrounds and there hasn’t been anything we haven’t been able to create.”

That kind of creation isn’t necessarily limited to special events, either. At Leo’s Ristorante in Howland, the chefs come up with seasonal menus, based on what’s available fresh, which change throughout the year.

“In the summer, for example, he’ll use the best available produce and fish. That menu is extended to brides as well,” says Leo’s event planner Lisa DelGrabino. “Fall and summer are great times [to host events] because of that seasonal menu and what’s available. … What sets us apart is the food. Our chefs garnish everything beautifully and the portions are plentiful. It puts us above and beyond.”

When it comes to putting together a high-end reception or meeting, explains George David, it often comes down to the food. David is the manager and executive chef of the banquet center at the Links at Firestone Farms

“Menu selection is the key. We can do top-of-the-line carved filets, seafood dishes and pasta dishes that will get the price up there. And there are cocktail hours and appetizers,” he says. “You can get up to $50 and $60, even $70 easily, per person.”

In addition to the food, these upscale banquet centers also put an emphasis on the amenities they provide. The Lake Club expanded its banquet hall a few years ago to include the Sky Room and installed a wall of windows that lead to a terrace overlooking Evans Lake.

Leo’s offers three halls, each of a different size to accommodate different types of parties, as well as a patio that can be rented.

At The Links at Firestone Farms, the original Firestone family barn still stands and is the setting of many weddings. Receptions are held in the banquet hall on the opposite side of the parking lot.

“Everything is tied in together and nine times out of 10, we do both the reception and the ceremony in the barn,” says David, noting that many guests also use the surrounding golf course and the pond and fountain across the street as backdrops for pictures.

Across the three sites that Avalon operates – Avalon Inn, Squaw Creek and Avalon at Buhl, all associated with golf courses – 25 banquet rooms are available. They range in capacity from a few hundred to a couple of dozens. At the Avalon Inn in Howland Township, the rooms include the ballroom, the grand pavilion and a wing dedicated to corporate meetings.

“Everything is to the nines. Every single chair, every table, every aspect of every room has been thought through for the purpose it’s there for,” says Lauren Lindvig, Avalon director of marketing. “It’s not just the meeting space. It’s everything that encompasses it.”

While all report that weddings and receptions are the biggest events that take place in their rooms, preparing for business meetings requires just as much attention to detail. Avalon’s Teaberry notes that it requires much more logistical planning because visitors move from room to room for breakout meetings.

“Their details are important, too,” says DelGrabino at Leo’s. “Some need a U-shape table. Others want rows. Some need squares. And some have registration tables. Some have specific audio-visual setups. You don’t want them walking into an event without having exactly what they need.”

Even with scenic vistas, top-of-the-line menu listings and detailed pre- and post-banquet plans (cocktail hours and late-night snacks are becoming more common, most agree) business meetings and banquets don’t necessarily carry a steep price.

Should a client like the idea of an expensive entrée on the menu but his budget doesn’t allow it, there’s always a workaround.

Regarding décor, the higher-end rooms are designed to require few (if any) additions. The tile, carpet, art and other accessories were selected to work with most themes and color schemes.

“Because we’re not an average four walls, clients don’t have to spend extra on décor or lighting or making the room what they want it to be,” Sammartino says. “They can put that money into food and beverage and other things.”

And treating a $30,000 conference or wedding reception the same as a $5,000 meeting or reunion makes for good business, all say.

“It doesn’t matter to us. That $5,000 event could bring us six more customers or even bring people back,” Teaberry says. “Word of mouth is the greatest advertisement.”

Pictured: Rooms for banquets at The Avalon Inn have capacities that range from 10 or so up to 400. On the second level of the building, the conference wing features six rooms designed specifically for corporate events, say Brenna Teaberry and Lauren Lindvig.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.