The Art of Making it (Look) Easy
|by Fran Joyce, Dec 2013/Jan 2014|
Our second annual Strong for the Holidays event wouldn’t have happened without the combined efforts of many wise women. All through the year, our team of fabulous women helps bring Wise Women to life, and in November these women go above and beyond what’s expected of them to make Strong for the Holidays a success.
When we all got together this month to celebrate another successful year of Wise Women and evaluate Strong for the Holidays, Kim mentioned one person who, though not a member of our Wise Women staff, was instrumental in planning and overseeing the night, Courtney Kane, the Catering Sales Manager for the Crowne Plaza South. At the mention of her name, there was an excited buzz at the table: yes, Courtney Kane rocks!
Courtney plans and oversees around 450 events each year. Under her watchful eye, weddings, christenings, birthday celebrations, bar mitzvahs, memorial services, charitable fund raisers, and countless other events seem to effortlessly occur.
Courtney is from Emporium, PA, a small town known more for its rustic beauty, hunting, fishing, and breath taking mountain views, than for its elegant soirees. At first glance, her decision to major in Hospitality Management at Indiana University of Pennsylvania might seem surprising. Once you hear about her family, you immediately understand.
“I was born into a big Italian family who taught me principles that I knew I needed to carry on in a career if I wanted to be happy. Ever since I was little, my family used any opportunity to gather together for countless hours of eating, playing cards, singing, dancing and, most importantly, just being together to laugh and make memories. We took advantage of any opportunity to host a party. The best lesson I learned from my family is to form lifelong relationships and memories… because at the end of the day everybody is family even if they’re not technically related.
When I thought about a career that would allow me to build off of what I knew best, the hospitality industry stood out. In college, I pursued a job working at the front desk of a hotel, and my experience only grew from there. I tried to make it a point to work in each department of the hotel and learn as much as possible. At the end of each day, I knew I was that much closer to eventually ending up in the Sales and Catering Office where I could do what I enjoyed most: planning events. I’m very fortunate to have picked a place of employment that from the beginning, took my career goals as seriously as I did and worked with me over the years to help me advance my career.”
Along with the satisfaction of doing what she loves, Courtney’s career comes with special challenges. She had to leave her loving and supportive family in Emporium to move to the Pittsburgh area. She has faced challenges finding quality day care for the love of her life, her two year old son.
“My job can have crazy hours and I needed to find a daycare with flexible hours and occasional weekend hours. My day starts at 5:30am. Leaving the house by 7:00am, I drop my son at day care, go to my office, and start work by 7:30. We usually get home at 6:30 pm. I have to keep a routine to keep my life in balance. I take what’s most important and do that first…while dinner is cooking we play games, read books, build forts, or have dance parties. It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we do it together, but there isn’t that much time for play. After dinner, bath, and more stories, it’s bedtime. Once he is asleep I have to do a quick fifteen minute speed clean before I can go to bed. It’s the most boring part of my day, but if I didn’t get everything in order the night before, we would never be able to keep our daily routine.”
Successful event planning is much easier on paper than it is in the real world. We asked Courtney some questions about the realities of her job, and thought she had some pretty interesting insights to share.
What is most fun about your job?
No two events are ever the same which allows for endless opportunities to be creative. I get to work with all types of people celebrating every possible rite of passage from Baptisms and Birthdays to Weddings and Anniversaries.
What is most challenging?
The most challenging part of my job is the constant change happening all of the time; nothing is ever a hundred percent complete until the event is over! Every time there is a small change, whether it is adding on one more dinner or changing the time you’d like to serve dinner by 15 minutes, every single little change of information needs to be communicated to several department managers and then to their staff members to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what is going on.
How do you keep the details of all the events you are planning separate?
I ask a lot of questions. Questions about everything! Yes, the event details are important, but after a while a lot of the events are similar, so I try to get to know as much as I can about my clients. By the end of our appointment, I normally have enough information about my clients, their families, work experiences, hobbies, etc… that I can tie those into the event I’m planning for them. Once I have established that connection with my clients, keeping the details of their events separate is easy.”
Describe a satisfying moment.
Nothing is more satisfying then when your client gets to see the room set-up for the first time and is so, so, happy with everything! Most of the time they are trying to piece together a memory of an empty room they saw one time and many, many, notes that have been communicated back and forth – it never really seems like it can possibly come together, but it always does!
Last minute disasters overcome.
One time, we had a wedding on what seemed like the hottest day of any summer on record and the wedding cake started to soften unknowingly. I strategically placed the extra heavy cake topper how the bride wanted it on the cake only to have it topple over and down the side of the cake, taking a nice sized chunk off of each tier of the cake. (Heart attack!) Luckily I’m fortunate enough to have supplies and professionals at the hotel to fix almost any situation. We were able to fill in the missing chunks with some extra frosting, angle the cake in a certain direction, and apply the PERFECT lighting in the room. When it was time for the bride and groom to cut the cake it looked absolutely beautiful and our attempt at fixing what could have potentially been a disaster worked out perfectly.
Funniest thing you have ever had to deal with.
Last year we had client who called in to plan his own 100th birthday party. Now, whenever his family comes to visit, he calls in to make their sleeping room reservations and we quote him a rate based on his age. His family recently visited over the holiday and we charged them $101.00. He is such an inspiration to all us.
A “life lesson” or piece of wisdom you have learned about planning events?
An event is never going to be flawless, no matter how perfectly you’ve planned it. Always expect the unexpected and know that the things that seem like a big deal to you are hardly ever noticed by the people attending the event. The best thing you can do is stay calm, go with the flow, enjoy yourself, and do not stress out over the small things.
Word of wisdom that applies to life in general ?
A smile goes a long way.
Editor’s Note: Nope, Courtney didn’t pay us to say this – we just think she is awesome. If you or someone you know is planning an event, we recommend you call her at 412-347-0342 for a consultation. The Crowne Plaza South is located on Fort Couch Road across from the South Hills Village Mall.