BACK TO SCHOOL

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my college advisor from the University of Arkansas. I am still local, and I regularly reach out to her on behalf of my job for part-time help. But this time was different. She was asking me for something.

A huge part of hospitality, and working towards a degree in it, is actual experience. Accountants can be taught formulas and how to use QuickBooks in class, lawyers have to study the history and teachings of law before they can practice on their own, and doctors and nurses have to study anatomy and physiology before they can actually begin to intern and practice. Hospitality is learned or just naturally there. Experience builds on hospitality. It is hard to teach, and the times it is taught – is not nearly enough.

In a team retreat last year for my company, we watched a video, which is based on the art of hospitality. In this video, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer, speaks to what hospitality is and what hospitality means. He compares hospitality to a dialogue, and that it is different than service. His company believes “the way you make people feel is what they remember, more than anything.” Meyer goes on to talk about what they look for in employees, a “high hospitality quotient,” which he says is 49% technical skills and 51% emotional skills. That 51% adds up to someone who is naturally wired to want to make people feel better.

Meyer continues with a phrase that has really stood out to me since watching that video, “always be collecting dots, so you can always be connecting dots.” He relates this to always knowing who you’re talking to – and what’s important to that person. When you make a client or a guest feel special by connecting the dots, you are creating a customized experience for them – and that brings them back. That might even make you their favorite. Meyer adds that being someone’s favorite, is better than being the “best”, because others can’t tell you what is or is not your favorite. Just like they can’t take a picture of the way a hospitality professional made their heart feel – showing the art of hospitality.

I couldn’t agree more.

The University of Arkansas’ Hospitality Innovation program has grown significantly in the past few years. One of the core requirements that they have added is the pre-internship class. This class focuses on the preparation for getting an internship – resumes, cover letters, elevator speeches, and interview skills. Which brings us to the opportunity that my college advisor presented me – she invited me, along with several other industry professionals and past alumni, to participate in mock-interviews with the pre-internship class students.

Building on that video, and what I’ve learned working my way through the hospitality industry thus far, I was excited for this opportunity to participate in the growth of these students. The guidelines for our mock-interviews were minimal, but they were encouraged to be a mini-version of an interview for the companies we represented. The students were tasked with researching us, in addition to our companies, and to be prepared for questions we might ask based on our jobs.

As most interviews go, I asked each student (candidate) to tell me a little bit about themselves. Most responded to this with their elevator speech, which usually started a great conversation. From there, we touched base on their job experience, and a few situational questions based on our respective careers. Overall, the students did well. Some students were outstanding in comparison to their classmates, and I could tell that some struggled. But the positive outlook in their struggles is that we, as industry professionals, could give feedback to help them improve.

We were asked to evaluate the students based on their communication skills, presence, and their self-confidence. The majority of the students were very successful on their presence, specifically in their attire. I could tell that their communication skills and self confidence had improved since they may have been freshman, and where there was room for improvement, we were able to address that. For example, some students struggled with the word “like” or “uhm” throughout their conversation, or fidgeting with their hands a little too much. These are mistakes that I still catch myself doing – so as I noted an opportunity for improvement on students, I also noted an opportunity for myself.

I don’t know who was more nervous for these interviews – the industry professionals or the students. Either way, it was a great experience for all of us and I am very grateful for the opportunity from the college advisor that still sees something in me.

XO – MC

PHOTOGRAPHY CLASS

Have you ever had inspiration to do something completely out of your normal? I had that today. I’ve been wanting to kick off this blog (and a little bit of photography) for quite some time. But I didn’t know where to start, or where I wanted this to go. I have a pretty good eye for a good photo, but my editing skills were lacking. I barely know how to use my super fancy Nikon.

A few weeks ago, I helped execute a bridal expo at work. One of the vendors, a semi-new vendor friend of mine, was at the show, across from our booth. His booth was so cute, complete with a neon-pink sign and balloon arch. Oh and he had petit fours. Our booth was amazing too, complete with the largest charcuterie board I’ve ever seen (credit to my Director of Sales), but for the sake of inspiration, we’ll focus on his booth for now.

I have met Dale a few times throughout my time working  within the Northwest Arkansas hospitality industry, the first time being when I was still in college and he had a shoot at the hotel where I worked part-time. I’ve always admired his work. He and his fiancé, Tyler, were prepping the booth and we all kind of hit it off – the petit fours absolutely had something to do with it. I mentioned how badly I wanted to learn from Dale and his photography skills, and even sent a few brides his way. By the end of the day, I owed him my sister’s vegan pumpkin muffin recipe.

About a week later, his Instagram story had an announcement about a photography class. I instantly signed up and invited one of my friends to come with me. I couldn’t wait. The class was at 21C Hotel Museum in Bentonville, about 30 minutes North of Fayetteville. I had been to this hotel and museum before for a luncheon, and I was excited to see the Green Penguins.

My friend and I planned the entire day – starting with a trip to Target for a cute notebook and pens, which conveniently had a Starbucks inside. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Starbucks is the way to my heart, but when you combine Starbucks and Target, it’s even better. When we were leaving Target, a kiddo around the age of 3  was screaming that he didn’t want to leave. We felt that on so many levels. After getting our caffeine, we drove to lunch at Big Orange in Rogers. Their menu has gluten-free buns, which makes a gluten-intolerant person like myself very happy.

After lunch, we drove to 21c, arriving early to get the best seats. Dale gave two presentations: Portraiture & Composition and Camera Settings. He touched on aperture, f-stop, shutter speed, iso, and exposure. We learned what effects adding flash creates. Dale talked about the best angles to take photos, leading lines, framing, repeating backgrounds, foreground vs. background, sizing, and more. As he went through the presentations, I realized that some of the elements he mentioned, I naturally incorporate into pictures.

Overall, I learned a lot from the entire day. I downloaded and discovered more with Adobe Creative Cloud applications, such as Lightroom and Photoshop, on my computer and phone. But something that happened after this photography class – almost completely unrelated to photography – is that I gained confidence to actually start blogging regularly.

A long time ago, I thought about what motivates me. What impact do I want to leave? I still don’t know exactly. What I do know is that I want to live a life of altruistic hospitality. I want to always serve others, and welcome them into my life in the kindest way that I am able. What I do know is that when I spend time with my grandparents, I love hearing about when they were children, young adults, newlyweds, or before they had grandchildren. I love reminiscing with them, and one day I want to do that with my own family. I take pictures all the time, and I enjoy documenting my life on social media. I love to document memories. But I love to write. And I want to write more – about my life, my job, my family, my travel, my dog, and everything in between. So what motivates me? I said something one day to a friend of mine, and it’s always stuck with me…

Document everything. Someday you will be embarrassed, laughing, crying, or smiling, and remembering how you didn’t take that moment for granted.

XO – MC

FAYETTEVILLE TOWN CENTER

I received a promotion today! This is my second promotion at Fayetteville Town Center, a convention center in Downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fayetteville Town Center is an organization within the umbrella of the Fayetteville Advertising & Promotion Commission, as is the Visitor’s Bureau, Experience Fayetteville.

In March of 2017, I started at Fayetteville Town Center with the title of “Event Coordinator”. Within my first month, our Facility Director (essentially a General Manager) and Senior Event Manager submitted their resignations, in addition to the other two Event Coordinators. That left our staff with an Event Manager, a Director of Sales, and myself. We had an external set-up crew that also handled some maintenance of the facility, but other than that, it was just the three of us. To say it was rough, would be an understatement. But we made it work – because that’s the event world and we couldn’t sacrifice our client experiences.

In June, I was promoted to the role of Event Manager, taking on clients of my own. I couldn’t have asked for a better first 100 days at Fayetteville Town Center. I didn’t learn through a Training Manual, I just did what I could. I made mistakes, as I still continue to do, but I learned from them. And usually, whatever I did, worked. By August, the Executive Director of our parent organization had hired a General Manager to fulfill the role that the “Facility Director” left. A lot began to change after Jordan started. He quickly promoted the other Event Manager, Monica, to the role of Director of Event Services, and changed my title to Event Services Manager. Our Director of Sales left the organization in October, and we had to figure out how to sell our venue to new clients, on top of retaining our current clients. Our Director of Sales also had most of the knowledge of our internal booking system, so we had to learn that too. I took that as an opportunity to teach myself everything I could about it, through studying, trial, and error.

By the beginning of December, we brought on a new Director of Sales, Tina, and a Facility Manager, Josh. The Facility Manager’s role would be different than the previous Facility Director position that was replaced by our General Manager. Josh would be responsible for the upkeep of the facility, from the paint colors to the A/C units to the on-site resources. He would also inherit the upkeep of Experience Fayetteville, and the two other properties within the umbrella of the A&P Commission, the Walker-Stone House and the Clinton House Museum.

Right after Josh was hired, we all went on a team retreat in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was great for building our new team, and beginning to discuss our plans for the future of Fayetteville Town Center. Monica and I proposed the creation of a Training Manual for operations, Jordan helped us brainstorm new core values and a new mission statement. Tina discussed her plans to bring in more business. And Josh sought improvements that he could facilitate. We had some fun too, and even made a friend on one of the evenings we spent in Hot Springs.

Since that retreat, our team has grown immensely and a lot has changed. We hired new Event Services Coordinators, and continued to update the Training Manual. We renovated our offices into additional breakout space, and rented a new office space. We repainted our lobby, and then our entire venue, and replaced the carpet in some areas. We transformed our linen room into a hospitality suite, and transformed our maintenance junk room into an A/V and linen room. We created a liquor room from a file room, while also increasing our liquor profit margin by over 50%. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always easy to execute the change, but every change has been worth it.

Today, I received a promotion for Event Services Manager to Sales Manager. This position was created and posted at the beginning of this year, because sales are growing significantly. I will be responsible for gaining and retaining business within the “SMERF” market (social, military, education, religious, and fraternal). This will take some of the pressure off Tina, our Director of Sales, from all of the leads that come to FTC. In addition to this market, I will retain some of the responsibilities that I inherited throughout my time as Event Services Manager, i.e. accepting payments, maintaining the knowledge of outstanding balances, etc. I will be responsible for the social media and marketing for the organization, including (but not limited to) Facebook, Instagram, and Wedding Wire. I am so excited for this opportunity, to learn directly from Tina, and to see where I can grow from here.

XO – MC

FAYETTEVILLE FRIENDS IN THE FALL

Fayetteville, Arkansas is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Ozark mountains. It is a tourist destination, home to the Arkansas Razorbacks, and is consistently named as one of the “Best Places to Live” (No. 3 in 2016, No. 5 in 2017, No. 5 in 2018, and No. 4 in 2019). It’s also a place where I have met some of my best friends.

This fall, I didn’t just meet new friends, I gained a Fayetteville family, and I am so grateful. I experienced some of the most memorable fall experiences that happen in Northwest Arkansas, with friends I will treasure for the rest of my life. We ate funnel cake at the annual Washington County Fair, saw Luke Bryan at the Walmart Ampitheater, and spent time at Beaver Lake floating the day away. We ate ice cream smushed inside donuts at a place called Smudgies, went to a family-owned pumpkin patch and jumped on trampolines in onesies. We became superheroes on Halloween, hosted our own “friendsgiving”, and saw the Christmas lights turn on in the Fayetteville tradition of Lights of the Ozarks.

I’m not from Fayetteville originally, and it’s never really felt like my home because my family isn’t here. I think that home will always be St. Louis. But it feels a little less “not home” when I can create memories, celebrate holidays, listen to music, and see Christmas lights, with friends in a town that celebrate its own traditions. Fayetteville is also a town that celebrates its locals. It’s made such an impact on my past eight years, and I would love to share the traditions, local hot-spots, and my own favorites with you in the post dedicated to Fayetteville, Arkansas.

XO – MC

FAYETTEVILLE ROOTS FESTIVAL

For about 4 days in August every year, Fayetteville Town Center serves as MainStage for an intimate, urban music and food festival. Fayetteville Roots Festival features over 10 music stages, several culinary stages, and events throughout the week of the event, pairing national and local, undiscovered talent. From Folk, to Blues, to Bluegrass, to Jazz, to Country, and more, Fayetteville Roots Festival showcases diverse musical styles. Supporting local farmers, chefs, and restaurants is another focus of the festival. Its name intentionally is used to pay tribute to what makes where Northwest Arkansas lies in the Ozarks region unique.

Fayetteville Roots Festival is a staple within the Northwest Arkansas community, and even more specifically, Fayetteville. The community that collectively gathers in support of this festival is incredible. And the enjoyment that attendees have in hearing the music and tasting the food, is just as great. The environment is never overwhelming, and the event teams from Fayetteville Town Center and Fayetteville Roots Festival work together to ensure a smooth event.

It’s hard to say which part of Roots is my favorite. I have my own traditions, as this wasn’t my first annual festival. First, I raid the t-shirts because they are some of the softest that I’ve ever owned, and they have creative designs. The food is another outstanding part. With locally grown, organic food, everything on the menu is worth trying. The end of the night usually ends with a sweet treat, usually sorbet.

In 2018, Fayetteville Roots Festival hosted Parks and Recreation celebrity, Nick Offerman, who performed a comedy bit during his time on stage. (Don’t worry, I had a serious talk with him about his Cubs hat, which he was not permitted to wear in our photo.) This year, Turnpike Troubadours was supposed to come, but due to illness, they were not able to perform. However, as the community of Northwest Arkansas does, national and local musicians came together on stage to create a magnificent performance to replace the headliner. That’s the event world too. It’s ever-changing, and it requires being consistently adaptable to adjustments in timeline, production, catering, etc. I am always inspired by events that result in community collaborating to effective execute a seamless event, as if it should have happened that way in the first place. That feeling, of watching people come together to create, being a part of a team that supports that creation, it’s indescribable.

XO – MC

UPSIDE DOWN ROSES

I love what I do. As the Event Services Manager at Fayetteville Town Center, I get to work with varying clients in the event world – from corporate to non-profits, University of Arkansas events to weddings. With respect to each individual client, my involvement varies. With corporate clients, I usually handle everything from audio/visual to catering. Weddings and non-profit galas on the other hand, can involve vendors in production, photobooths and photography, catering (cake included), serveware and décor rentals, etc. and they all must adhere to a strict timeline. A timeline that was created by the external event planner that specializes in weddings, one who also organized all of the other vendors.

One of these external event planners is Buzz Events, local to Northwest Arkansas, specializing in extravagant events. Buzz Events owner, Bartus Taylor, and his Executive Assistant, Brandi Moore, are the dynamic duo that create stunning visuals for brides. This wedding, created and executed by Buzz Events, was no different. It was amazing.

I don’t think that any words could do it justice. So let me show you…

See what I mean? (Did you see the upside down roses?!) How cool is it – that I get to work with vendors like these to collaboratively create something as spectacular as this? They can take an empty, blank space into something that continues surprising you. Because of events like this wedding, I am inspired to work harder and be more creative, to continuously build on client’s experience with our venue.

As I should, here is credit to the vendors that worked countless hours to create such a magical evening:
Venue: Fayetteville Town Center
Event Design: Buzz Events
Florals: Buzz Events
Rentals: Buzz Events & Eventures Party Rentals
Lighting: Lightworks Events
Linens: LaTavola Linen
Catering: Elite Catering
Cake: Shelby Lynn’s Cake Shoppe

XO – MC

DALLAS WEDDING

Five years ago, a good friend of mine asked to borrow my guitar. I said that he could borrow it on one condition – he had to play a few songs for my roommates. So he came over to the townhouse that I shared with two of my college best friends, and played a few songs for us. Not to my surprise, he hit it off with one of my roommates.

My friends continued their relationship as I took time off from school, and moved back home. But I could tell their relationship was something special and that their love was growing. By the time that I moved back to finish my last year of school, my friends had all graduated and moved. We all reunited at my other roommate’s destination wedding (floral button-ups and captains hats were involved), and I knew that they were going to be together for ever.

So after a lot of college fun, graduation, a move to Dallas, multiple promotions, and two pups later, these two celebrated being together for five years by getting married. It was such an honor to witness their love for one another, and hear their self-written vows. My favorite part was when the bride repeated after the celebrant all the way to repeating “Let us pray”. Her laughter afterwords showed how much she was enjoying her wedding day.

Their venue was beautiful. It was nestled in the suburbs of Highland Village, TX and featured a chapel and reception space. From the clear chiavari chairs, to the beautiful in-house chandeliers, to the delicately arranged floral arrangements, I can tell why these two fell in love with the venue. And as someone who works in events daily, I noticed so many features to the venue that were not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional for the operations side.

Beyond watching this couple take the next step into their lives together as one, I got to see several of our other friends, whom I hadn’t seen since that first wedding. It had been more than TWO YEARS. That was definitely two years too long. We went out to some random bars, reminisced about our college adventures, and ultimately went to bed early because that’s what happens when you’ve passed the age of a quarter of a century.

XO – MC