Elegantly scaling in-real-life events?
January 20, 2011 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Is there an elegant way to scale IRL events? If more people than estimated start signing up for an event of mine, I'd like to a) get a bigger space and b) charge them less because they cost is spread out more. But what if people have already paid? How do I give some money back? What if I had to put down a non-refundable deposit for the original space?

And if less people are signing up, I'd like to scale the other way so I don't lose money.

Is guessing, keeping stats, and using the stats to improve your estimates the only way to do this? Is there some sort of wepay.com, venmo.com, paypal.com, eventbrite.com, meetup.com-like solution to at least part of this that I'm unaware of?
posted by zeek321 to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think it depends on your time frame. Generally speaking, you simply determine a cost that also covers - to an extent - your risk if the turnout is lower than expected. It's guessing. There are professional organizers - I am not one, but I have worked with a number of organizations doing public and private functions (I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night!). If you are planning something fairly sophisticated, you may want to contact one.

If you have a lot of interest and get a lot more signups, especially prepaid registrations, and you know the space is inadequate, you have two options: prepare to limit the number of people you have or get a new space. It seems to me that most functions go with the first option in that case. I have attended a handful of functions that changed venue - in all of these, there was sufficient time to inform all the attendees and make the necessary adjustments, so I wouldn't call them last-minute. I think that's important.

I couldn't tell you what they did about deposits. Some places may refund a deposit if you cancel well enough in advance that they can re-book the space. Read the fine print in the reservation contract. Generally speaking, non refundable means "we spend the money as soon as we get it" because it's a business, and businesses need cash flow. The hospitality business is a beast.

If you do change venue, you really need to consider transportation. If you are having guests who are using their own transportation, it's fairly trivial. If your guests are from out of town and mostly staying in a conference facility or prearranged hotel, then the new venue needs to be at least as accessible as the original venue. That means walking distance or taxi/shuttle service.

As far as returning money, you may want to wait until that becomes an actual problem. If you have money left over that you or your organization don't want to keep, one solution is to save it in an account for the next function, ideally an annual repeat of the one you just held. The thing is, if people are happy paying a certain amount and you wind up with excess funds, well, they are happy. Returning the funds may be more hassle than it's worth, and may not generate as much goodwill as you'd expect. People may start to think that they were overcharged, and you don't want that. Returning money to a small number of people you know personally is relatively easy and would get you some goodwill - however in a larger or more professional setting, not so much.

If you do wind up with maximum attendance, and you know you are going to have more cash than you need, one idea is to reinvest that money in the event right away. You could upgrade the catering or entertainment. Or, if the event is one that lends itself to it, offer door prizes paid for with the extra cash. You might not do that for a memorial service. You could donate the money to a charity.

The problem with scaling a real event is that you don't simply hit a button and increase or decrease the service by X amount. All the work you do setting up has to be done again. It's marginally easier than the first time, since you have contacts established with catering and entertainment, so a phone call - and follow up - may be all you need. Here's a caveat, too: your caterer and entertainment may have issues with a new venue that drives costs up. Note also that smaller venues often rent for higher square foot costs as well, so scaling downward - while less expensive - is not that less expensive.

I am not familiar with any online funds management services like the ones you listed, so I can't tell you about those. I imagine that if you wanted to return money to people, the service would charge a fee for that.

Keep in mind that not everyone who signs up for an event actually shows - even if they pay. Decide in advance about the refundability of prepaid tickets. One rule of thumb I have heard is that 10% of "confirmed" guests won't show. I wouldn't suggest overbooking unless you have a space and catering that is flexible enough to accommodate it - in other words, that's not overbooking if you can accommodate them, is it.

Sorry to be such a blowhard. There are some variables that are specific to the type of event you are having. I assumed this is public or business oriented, and not just a Super Bowl party for friends. Good luck, and hope yall have fun!
posted by Xoebe at 5:30 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

My instinct would be to get a venue that is approximately the right size, price it about right, and then let it fill up. Nothing wrong with a full house.

Other option would be to pre-sell tickets, get a venue x% larger than your pre-sell and charge more at the door. Give your attendees a reason to help you out with the event planning.

If you really want to do the refund thing, do it the way hotels do. Put a hold on funds on their credit card, and then charge less if you can.
posted by gjc at 5:59 PM on January 20, 2011

Hotel venues offer the flexibility of different sized rooms, which can give you some wiggle room if they aren't already booked with other events. If your event is a "Big Hotel", people won't know if you mean "Medium Room" or "Huge Room". Some restaurants may have similar options.

A non-refundable deposit won't be returned in its entirety. Booking contracts generally spell out in detail what kind of notice the venue would require to allow you out of a contract - or give you any of your deposit back.

Pre-selling, and charging more at the door is a good way to manage expenses and encourage people to commit to your event in advance.

I would agree that rebates are definitely more trouble than they're worth. "Event Proceeds to ...." is a way to indicate that you don't intend to make a profit.

Having said all that, I've planned a lot of events for non-profit and government groups and having too many attendees is rarely a problem. Having people sign up in advance is hard enough (most people will sign up AFTER the last possible moment or simply show up at the door).
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:59 PM on January 20, 2011

Sounds like a great business model for a hyperlocal startup site.
posted by softlord at 7:28 AM on January 21, 2011

« Older SanFranciscoFilter: What's a good bar for people...   |   My kingdom for a simple upload-file-to-URL script.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.