Here Come the Brides

He's making a list—wait, make that seven lists. He's checking them twice—nope, better make that umpteen times. Ben Moss may not be Santa Claus, but he sure found out who was naughty or nice the July evening his convention center hosted seven wedding receptions.

The date in question was July 7, 2007. "A lot of brides wanted to have their wedding on the luckiest day of the year," explains Jamie Lane, sales manager at Gateway Center in Collinsville, IL, where Moss was one of just two event coordinators working that night. The facility recently added 10,000 square feet of ballroom space, but "even six months out we were still filling up," says Lane. "Our staff red-flagged that day, once we knew we'd have seven events going on simultaneously."

An Evening of Staggering Proportions
Event planners were careful to arrange events with time lags in between, even if only 10 minutes, so that all seven dinners, for example, weren't served at the same time. That way "if we had a problem in one room, we had staff available to float from room to room to help out," explains Lane. They also built up to the weekend, Moss says. "Two weekends before we had five simultaneous weddings, then six the weekend before," he notes. "We really learned as we went along."

At weekly meetings with the events, dining, and facilities staff, planners talked about everything that could possibly go wrong—including a several-days-long power failure like the one that befell Gateway Center last year as the result of a thunderstorm. They decided that if this happened before the big day, dining services would obtain backup generators; if it happened during, they'd borrow a kitchen or two from one of the many hotels in the neighborhood. As for lighting, "We could have gone to candlelight, since most of the weddings had candles anyway," Moss adds. "It wouldn't have been optimal, but we could have worked with it."

Scenes from a Marriage
Moss says the center's biggest challenge was a combination of logistics and inventory: "The building only has so many tables and chairs, or certain decor items," he explains. "We had to work really hard as a team so that we didn't promise a client something someone else was using."

Using a spreadsheet program that kept track of inventory as it was assigned, staffers made sure they had enough table skirting, ivory drape, even dance floor pieces. In a testament to their planning and teamwork, they didn't have to go outside the building for any supplies, and "no bride got something she didn't want," says Moss.

And if he knows who was naughty or nice that night, he's not saying. "All brides have their moments," Moss admits, "but they have the right to. It's their big day and we're here to help them. We work really hard to give them what they want. I haven't had to tell anyone 'no,' and when you don't tell people 'no,' there aren't a lot of problems."

Gateway Center's 7 Weddings
Number of guests: 1,200
Man-hours to prep building: Over 1,000
Chicken breasts served: 1,750
Coffee and tea brewed: 300 gallons