In the thick of it

by Pari

This holiday season, the only sugar plums dancing in my dreams have price tags on them.

I’m thinking about travel arrangements for our Left Coast Crime 2011 guests of honor; making sure those *hotel rooms at La Fonda are really for our convention guests; programming; my budget; designing and ordering tote bags; the cost of entertainment; whether or not to have convention pins made; how much audio visual equipment we’ll need since we have to pay for it all; my budget; the auction(s?); advertisements in our program books; trying to get sponsors to help defray costs; identifying tasks for volunteers; getting volunteers; public relations and media attention; whether to cap attendance at the convention; name badge pouches; budget, budget, budget; getting discounts for attendees on the local shuttle service; our financial ability to provide extras; budget; how to make people feel welcome; answering all my wonderful committee’s questions and making decisions when there aren’t obvious answers .  . .

And, Lord, help me, the food.

Let me tell you about the food. I thought I was doing a fabulous thing by including two continental breakfasts, hors d’oeuvres for the welcoming ceremony on Friday night, and a banquet buffet (which is more expensive than a sit-down dinner, btw) on Saturday – all in the convention registration price.

That’s a lot of grub.

And when you stop to consider that EVERYTHING food-related in Santa Fe has an approx. thirty-three percent (yes, you read that right) additional fee slapped on for service charges and city taxes, well, that’s a lot of food to provide.

However, now my committee tells me that people will judge us harshly if we don’t have snacks in the f**king hospitality room. Snacks. La Fonda is a dream to work with, a delight. I negotiated a wonderful room/night fee for our LCC members to stay in an historic hotel, with enough personality to knock every attendee’s socks right off, and it’s mere feet from the heart of the city. The cost for that great rate? I agreed that we wouldn’t bring in food ourselves.  

And now the lack of a bowl of pretzels or popcorn might totally undo all the incredible effort we’re expending to make this convention a success?

Grrrr. All I can say at the moment is that it’s good this blog isn’t in video format. You. Do. Not. Want. To. See. Me. Right. Now.

Okay. It’s time for several cleansing breaths . . . in  . . . out . . .  in . . . out . .  .
Focus, Pari. Think about what you
can do . . .

All right. Here’s something; I can remind people about a few dates they might have forgotten and spotlight a few new ones.

Jan. 1 – registration fee goes up
Jan. 1 – award nominations begin
Jan. 15 – main deadline to be considered for a panel (we’ll give the nominees until Jan. 31)
Jan. 21 – nomination period ends
Jan. 24 – nominees announced
Jan. 31 – hotel rates for people not already registered for LCC go to the normal, higher La Fonda rate

Whew! That feels better. More in control. But then there’s this:

* Hotel rates
[Begin rant]  In our contract with La Fonda, we agree to have a certain number of hotel rooms filled each night. People who have reserved rooms but haven’t committed to coming to LCC could really torpedo our budget.  Plus, there are many other attendees who’d love to stay at La Fonda — who have registered — and would be delighted to have the opportunity!

So  . . . my message is this: Stop hedging your bets.
We’d love to have you at LCC. But if you’re not planning to come, please give up those rooms now while we can fill them.
[End of rant]

Okay. I’m done pouting now.
I’ve combed my hair,
gotten dressed,
and had my second cup of coffee . . . 

QUESTIONS For today
1.  What is the most important thing – content, food, entertainment, location – to you at a convention?

2.  Are snacks in the hospitality room a deal-breaker for you?

 

27 thoughts on “In the thick of it

  1. Chris Hamilton

    Content. Hands down. The food and other stuff is important,but content is king.

    Snacks in the hospitality room? We don't have that at the FWA conference…we don't even have a hospitality room, and I've never heard anyone complain. But, no matter what you do, someone will be horked off.

    Putting all the work into a conference is quite a task. Having done part of that (and a very small part), my hat's off to you.

  2. Cornelia Read

    Three things: the bar, the bar, and the bar. Not even necessarily for drinking, just as a focal point for running into people. Although drinking is pretty awesome.

    Pari, you are a SAINT! And I'm thinking Simon Templar here.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Cornelia is right on, about the bar and Pari's saintliness. And I have to say that the historic Biltmore in Phoenix made the first Thrillerfest – location DOES count.

    I'm not the one to ask about food, given my history – it's always the last thing on my mind. But I will say that for that very reason the hospitality suites have saved my life not just a few times at conferences, and I know I'm not the only one who forgets to eat at conferences and ends up lightheaded or worse.

    So if SinC or whoever is sponsoring the hospitality suite can be armed with easy directions to the closest local food, especially tamales, that would be just as good.

  4. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Pari – I'd agree about the bar, and not because of the drink (because I can't) but because of the focal/meeting point. I remember one of the B'con organisers telling me that in their initial meetings with the convention hotel, they told them that however many barstaff they'd allowed for over the convention weekend, they should double it. Crime writers like to drink, and having to wait forever to get served would not be a Good Thing. The hotel listened, and I think they quadrupled their usual bar take over the weekend.

    At the Harrogate festival, the hotel has a table set up in the lobby where people can buy tea/coffee/cold drinks/snacks. Nobody objects to paying for these things, and they're readily available if anybody's feeling the desperate need for sugar, without having to leave the hotel and go foraging. Might be worth suggesting to La Fonda.

    Really looking forward to seeing you in NM next March – not long now.

    And to quote the old wartime slogan: 'Keep Calm and Carry On'

  5. Debbie

    Never been to a con but I would be most interested in the content, and in the ease of running into people I'd like to meet or, the chance to inadvertantly meet people so, I'll go with the above. I like organization too, so I don't miss anything because a. I didn't know about it, b. didn't realize that that was what I was missing (not described(, c. couldn't find it. Oh, and for my A-type personality, I'd like to preplan if the info. was posted in advance, but maybe most people prefer to find out who's going to what once they get there and then decide.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    Chris,
    Thanks. I've been operating under the assumption that content is king/queen.

    Cornelia,
    The bar at La Fonda isn't gigantic, but it's open and naturally flows into two other spaces — including the lobby. I've asked for additional staff AND for no live music. For the non-drinkers, there will be the hospitality room — which is absolutely gorgeous. Also, the restaurant is just beautiful. The mezzanine overlooks it — lots of open space, natural light, and wonderful hand-painted decorations everywhere.

    And I'm not a saint; I'm bonkers.

    Alex,
    You've brought up a good point. I don't know if we'll be able to afford to meet the need of folks who forget to eat. If we can, we will. At least something . . .

  7. pari noskin taichert

    ZoΓ«,
    I'm looking forward to seeing you too! I hope the bar is big enough and efficient enough. I'll continue talking with them about it. Also, the idea of having a snack cart or something like that is good. I think we'd have to pay for that, or have some kind of minimum sales . . . but I'll check into it.

    Debbie,
    I think LCC would fit your requirements. The organization is definitely a consideration. I hope to have the panels online at least a few weeks — if not a month — ahead of time so that attendees can start making plans. We'll see . . .

  8. Barb Goffman

    Pari, as program chair of Malice Domestic, I certainly hope folks think content is most important. I know I do!

    I can't say I recall hearing any complaints at Malice about snacks, or lack thereof, in the hospitality room. We do often hear about the coffee if we've run out. I'd stock up on that!

    Wish I could come to LCC this year. I'm rooting for you. (And I know it will all come together in the end. It'll be great!)

  9. Alafair Burke

    We went to the La Fonda for a wedding and loved it.

    For me the most important part of a conference is the vibe, which does seem to come, as Cornelia notes, from the bar scene. Having a comfy hang out bar right on the premises will be good. I don't care about anything other than water in the green room but I do have some writer friends who expect much more.

    And you are a saint!

  10. pari noskin taichert

    Barb,
    I know we're on the same wavelength with content. And I figured if Malice could get away w/o snacks, we certainly could . . .
    Thanks for the good vibes. I hope this post didn't sound like an epic whine.

    Alafair,
    Isn't it a wonderful hotel? So full of character. The vibe is tremendously important. I think it comes from the bar, but also from the way the committee treats people from the second they come into the system — from emails to the on-site experience — and I hope we pull of the level of warmth and welcome I want to convey.

  11. Allison Davis

    Pari, don't sweat the small stuff. You'll find someone always complains about something. It's who comes and a place to hang out and what Cornelia said. Having Coscto red vines is not going to make or break it.

    You need coffee and water — water everywhere — and proximity to the bar after 5…

    After working on Bouchercon with genius Rae this year, it's an enormous task…bringing people together is the focus, always. The rest is gravy.

  12. Allison Davis

    PS, I can't make it this year because I'll be teaching at our law firm retreat in Scottsdale…but will in Santa Fe in July for another (law) conference. Love La Fonda — hope everyone goes. Santa Fe in March is lovely.

  13. Rachel Brady

    Pari,

    Snacks are not a deal breaker.

    That said, after reading your post and feeling your pain for a moment, may I suggest that at some point you share these decision points with the attendees? Perhaps at the welcome ceremony, or on the website? I think that if people understand the trade-offs you made and why, they will be *so* understanding.

    I'm in the overflow hotel nearby, and if La Fonda rooms become available, I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I'd gladly move over. The key will be letting people like me know this is an option. Since the rooms were "full" last summer when I tried to book, it would never occur to me to check back now that I have a reservation elsewhere. But if I get an LCC e-mail saying there are available rooms at La Fonda, that changes everything.

    Good job on your deep breathing. THANK YOU for everything you and the committee do to make this conference happen. I will see you in Santa Fe.

    Rachel

  14. PK the Bookeemonster

    I've only been to two cons, LCC-Denver and Bcon SF. I do know I heard grumblings about the lack of hospitality in the hospitality suite in SF. Not having really been to others, I don't know to what they were comparing. And there was a concensus the the bar in SF wasn't conducive to mingling — but there's nothing you can do about that.
    I'd really really like to go to LCC there now that I'm well and truly hooked but I'm still paying off Bcon. Premeditated-March will be there though. πŸ™‚ In spirit, etc., etc.

  15. JD Rhoades

    Snacks or the lack of same are definitely not a deal breaker for me. I mean, it's nice to be able to grab an apple or a bottled water, but I'm with several of the folks above: a comfy central location for folks to meet and run into one another (i.e. a good, roomy, well-attended bar) is absolutely vital.

    I'm wondering if the people who might get grumpy if there aren't any snacks are folks on a tight budget who look to that to stretch their food dollar? If so…look, I get it, but that' s not the con host's job. Bring a cooler.

  16. Rochelle Staab

    People! The attendees make or break a conference for me, next most important is content. After that, I don't really care. If there is a decent snack stand or Starbucks on site open all day, I'm happy.
    Snacks in hospitality? Not for me.

    I'm so excited to attend. Something to look forward to!!!

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Screw the snacks. Too much great chile to eat at the hotel or at any restaurant outside the hotel doors. La Fonda is gorgeous and we're all going to love staying there. It's smack in the center of things. You're doing a great job, Pari. This will be an LCC to remember.

  18. pari noskin taichert

    Allison,
    Thank you so much. I think the coffee/tea in the hospitality room is a biggie.

    And I'm so sad you won't be here for LCC. Please be in touch when you come to NM this summer.

    Rachel, I've thought about trying to tell people, but am afraid it's going to sound like I'm making excuses. I don't want to convey that either. I still have time to think about it. And, hey, maybe another couple of sponsors will pop up — or a whole bunch of people and businesses will buy ads in the program book — and I'll have money to spare.

    And, believe me, when we know of any cancellations at La Fonda, we'll post them on the blog. I expect some shifting once people get panel assignments etc. It always happens.

  19. pari noskin taichert

    PK,
    Who knows? Maybe you'll hit the lottery?

    JD,
    I'm sure those are exactly the people. And there have been some spectacular hospitality suites at LCCs. The one in Monterrey was extraordinary. But that's not where I'm spending my attention and time. Not when I'm working almost full time, writing, taking care of family and doing this convention. Nope.

    Rochelle,
    There isn't a Starbucks in the hotel, but there is the most incredible French Pastry shop — fresh REAL croissants, great coffee, etc . . . just magnificent. And the restaurant on site is quite good. And there are cafes all over the place — and marvelous restaurants and and and . . .

  20. Stephen D. Rogers

    Hey Pari,

    Snacks and water I can buy and leave in the room or my car. Are there places to buy those things in the hotel and/or nearby?

    Coffee is a little harder to handle on my own because of the time involved in brewing pots in the room and thus always appreciated.

    But I'm there for the people/content.

    Stephen

  21. Sylvia

    Pari, I have run a number of conferences and workshops. No one will gripe about not having snacks …hell, I've even had people thank me for NOT having them.

    Attendees want great speakers and content. They want to float away feeling like they have learned the secrets of success and that is that.

    Food, no one gives a crap unless the food is crap and they get food poisoning which makes them crap.

    The bar…yes. After the great speakers people will remember the conversations and friends made in the bar.

    Location…I always thought location/hotel was ultra important. Then I realized all of the meetings took place in conference Rome that looked alike. So…as long as the rooms are nice, the bar is great and it's close to a major airport and there is free wifi…well, that is all you need.

    And yes, you are nuts to run a conference…but I am sure everyone will love it!

  22. JJ

    Pari – Once upon a time when I was on a Bouchercon planning committee, we went through this same insane loop. Having come out the other side, I can tell you: a good location is nice. Water and coffee are necessary. And apples if you can bring them in. Past that, it's the sessions, the bar, and the meet-ups. The hospitality room is a great place to plan to meet but I never encountered anyone who went there expected to A) stay or B) eat. Don't make yourself insane. Do your best, the party will be great, and you should begin to enjoy it NOW!

  23. pari noskin taichert

    JT,
    You're right about the water. The hotel provides free water in bottles in every room. We'll havem more on hand.

    Stephen,
    Thanks. We'll have coffee in the morns and I might go with more during the day. This input is really helping.

    Sylvia,
    Santa Fe is about 50 minutes from a large airport. It's a gorgeous drive, but that's the reality. I want to see if we can get a discount on the main shuttle for our attendees. I do think location will be important this time because the hotel is such a wonderful one; it's so New Mexican — so much history — and it just has a wonderful feel. Yes! the wifi is free.

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