Being a guestready venue requires more preparation than operating a visitor tour program. code, health code, signage, accessibility, insurance, operational hours, amplified music, alcohol service options, food service, and more. Be sure to consult all your relevant local agencies before allowing any event, especially client-hosted and public events! In addition to having venue insurance, you may need or desire to have (for your events) and might require (for client-hosted events) per-event insurance. It’s quite inexpensive and easy to acquire, and provides additional security especially for events involving alcohol.
ATTENDEE BASICS: SAFETY, SECURITY AND COMFORT On a tour, your guide is in control of the visitors’ experience of the space. During an event, especially during a reception, attendees will wander and explore everywhere. As events scale in size (and also scale in alcohol consumption), exploration increases. Take the time to consider what areas are “venue” (attendee permissible) and what areas are off-limits. Ideally, there would be dedicated spaces away from production. Anywhere that production and venue areas overlap requires special attention. Place signs on doors or free-standing posts to indicate off-limit areas and use stanchions with cordons liberally to ensure off-limit areas stay that way. Review all areas for safety and consider hiring a facilities risk management specialist just to give things a once-over. For facilities where the venue is a secondary use, owners often think “Surely no one will … ” or “Surely people are smart enough not to … ” which inevitably becomes “I can’t believe someone … ” Pretending every attendee is a toddler is very helpful when
doing a safety review. Conversely, think about the safety and security of your operations. “Souvenirs” become more common after the second drink. It may be financially worth scheduling a retail employee even if you don’t have any sales just to prevent shrinkage or “self-service.” Remember that any exposed production processes are also exposed to risk. (I was once at a distillery event where a guest emptied their glass of wine into a spirits processing tank. Really. Fortunately it was empty at the time, but imaging having to explain that recipe to the TTB.) Beyond bi-directional safety, guests expect a venue to be comfortable. Indoors should be climate-controlled and both indoor and outdoor venue areas should be low- to no-noise and have minimal non-event activities. For many attendees, being at a distillery may be a new and exciting experience. Nosing fermentation, observing a running still, seeing barrels being filled and rolled, and watching a bottling line can all be very cool. But the socializing and other components of the event are more important! If attendees can’t talk over the noise of the still or the banging of a bung hammer regularly interrupts a speaker, the event experience will be poor. Especially if you have dedicated outdoor venues, or even if not, attendees will spend some time outside. Even if it’s just for the trip from their vehicles to the front door, outdoor areas should have clear signage, good lighting, and easily walkable paths. While you might be able to require closed-toe flat shoes on tours, expect many attendees to be in open-toes and heels. Also, if there’s a lot of in-and-out traffic when the ground is wet, you may need additional mats, mops or towels to keep the floors dry and safe. There will also be smokers to consider. Cigar and spirits events are growing in popularity, but even if there isn’t a dedicated tobacco component, some attendees will inevitably want to pop out at least once during a multi-hour event. Have a smoking area
clearly indicated with an empty butt receptacle ready. Security is always an important consideration for events, most especially when imbibing is expected. Security might be as simple as a manager on duty responsible for monitoring guest behavior or might be contracted out to a professional outfit. For events over a certain size, it’s quite reasonable to require the client to hire or reimburse the venue for a security team. One security staff per 50 to 100 people is a common industry standard.
Pretending every attendee is a toddler is very helpful when doing a safety review. COOL, NEW & SOCIAL-ABLE As I hinted at above, people attending an event at a distillery are often outside of the enthusiast groups that come for tours and tastings. But distilling and spirits are hot right now and being at a distillery presents an opportunity for those guests to show off where they are on social media. It’s worth spending some time to find/create social media opportunities within the approved venue spaces. Consider factors such as lighting, logos and brand identifiers, social media handles, and account tagging prompts. This just scratches the surface of considerations regarding turning your business into an event venue. In the next edition of Artisan Spirit we will cover event management, client/vendor readiness, bar services and more. Tim Knittel is a bourbon educator, writer and event specialist in Lexington, KY. He formerly managed the culinary and VIP hospitality programs for the Woodford Reserve Distillery and is currently the Bourbon Steward-in-Residence for The Kentucky Castle. He runs Distilled Living which provides private bourbon education, brand representation and distillery consulting services. He holds the titles of Executive Bourbon Steward through the Stave & Thief Society and Adjunct Professor of Tourism, Event Management and Bourbon Studies at Midway University.
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