Mention corporate hospitality and the discussion will soon turn to alcohol, and when alcohol is at large then danger or the unexpected lurk not too far away. And where there are people and there is booze, there is always the chance that not everything will quite go to plan – and may even take on a life of its own.
Well-oiled corporate hospitality machines may have it that when clients meet hosts there is talking, laughter, contact, even sage exchange and always a justified budget spend.
But, everyone knows that corporate functions large or small are an explosive mix of the garrulous and the timid, the anxious and the effusive, friend and foe, chalk and cheese – stoked by alcohol and sometimes temperance – and waiting to bubble, go flat or explode.
‘You have to remember that clients and hosts at corporate hospitality events are no different to anyone else,’ says one big five event organiser. ‘When everyone is drinking, it’s like looking after lots of children.’
Suits and casual uniforms may be worn, but when the booze hits the cerebral cortex it would seem like everyone has the potential to revert to short trousers or skirts.
So when you’re standing in a hospitality tent and the Chardonnay and guests have begun to warm, the sound of your voice and others seem a little more distant, and bang it dawns on you – you’ve had a bit much.
What do you do? Baker Tilly chairman Clive Parritt has attended more corporate functions than most accountants have eaten hot dinners. His advice is to keep listening, or at least, look as if you are.
‘Listen to what your clients have to say as they drink,’ he says. ‘And, if you can, don’t drink yourself – you will remember more.’
But from one-to-one dinners to round table and gala knees ups, breakfast meetings to top sporting events, peer group pressure often railroads the most abstemious, and has forced drastic measure.
There is the tanked-up after dinner speaker who often won’t shut-up – and has forced organisers on more than one occasion to pull the microphone plug and claim an electrical fault.
Or there’s the staggering one who gets lost, the inebriated client who gets abusive, the one who vomits in the plant pot in the corner or decides to rub himself into female guests.
And it’s not just alcohol that makes people swoon – nervousness drove the wife of one accountancy firm’s partner to feign a black out at a diner and ambulance crew to be called. She gave the game away when she said she was happy to walk back to the hotel.
If clients and partners are seeing double, organisers believe that corporate hospitality is far more focused on aims and results than ever before.
‘Things are much more focused than they were in the 1980s, when no one took too much attention to why money was spent,’ explains Sarah McEvoy, national events manager for Ernst & Young.
‘Now, we need to go through business planning and target what we’re trying to market.’
Since joining the Big Five firm, she has seen five year plans for corporate hospitality set-up, accounts to monitor allocated budgets to individual clients, and meetings to decide why or why not clients have been taken here or there. ‘It’s vital when 10 people going to a World Cup game or similar could cost anything up to and more than £800 a head.’
Costs may climb, but events are also getting bigger, with Ernst & Young organising a banquet in London in October for 1,000 guests for its entrepreneur of the year scheme.
Whatever the changes, Parritt has the best advice.
‘I wouldn’t do anything that you are likely to regret the next morning,’ he says.
Our top junket advice
Hang around the corner – you’ll only find groups of journalists, publicrelations officers and social failures
Return from the WC with your shirt tucked into your underwear
Follow spicy food with fizzy carbonated drinks
Walk off with bottles of complimentary champagne or tubs of caviar for your girlor boyfriend, partner or spouse
Talk loudly above the speech
Focus on you clients at the expense of your mates
Listen to what the clients are saying rather than smiling blankly and knowingly
Keep tabs on the number of glasses you’ve put back
Eat as you drink
Ask people’s name – before getting embroiled in a half hour conversation andit’s too late to ask
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