Monday, March 26, 2012

If you are creative, I have an affordable event space in Redwood City to consider

The historic El Camino Real Bell outside the
Redwood City Woman's Club
There are plenty of really creative people who could turn a space with good bones into something amazing for an event, but there are few places on the Peninsula where someone can find a space to transform that is also affordable. I have finally found one such place in the Redwood City Women's Club.

The clubhouse is historic, built in 1911, and is a unique space. I am not gonna lie, the decor is dated, but sparse so again the right creative mind could transform this space into something really special. There is an auditorium in the main space that would work so well for business scenarios. I could envision a bootstrapped company using the space for company meetings or larger presentations. You can rent the space by the hour which would work perfectly for local, small companies.

Personal events can be hosted here for only $700 for a full day. There is a large outdoor patio, a full kitchen, large prep space outside of the kitchen, and it can hold up to 100 people. They have some onsite furniture to use, but you will likely need to bring in some rented items to supplement your spread. It is very close to some delicious places to eat in downtown Redwood City, and you can have live music until 10 pm.

If you have been searching for a place to make your mark on an upcoming celebration or a local joint to host a business meeting, I think you should look at the Redwood City Women's Club. Have you attended an event at this space? Please share your thoughts below!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gravity Wine Bar got the food and wine right

I have been to the Gravity Wine Bar in Palo Alto three times now. I really like it. I haven't made it upstairs yet to see the restaurant space (twice it has been booked with private parties), but the bar downstairs has ample tables and bar seating such that I have been accommodated each time without a wait. Gravity Wine Bar is a part of a restaurant group that includes Reposado in Palo Alto, Palo Alto Creamery, and Scratch in Mountain View, all of which I consider yummy in their own rights.

The food is upscale, the drinks are tasty and the prices reflect that. The decor in the bar space is intimate, but the sound level is often loud. The wine list and collective wine knowledge is one of the best elements of this restaurant, and I have always had delicious options offered at Gravity Wine Bar. The waiters have always offered up a wine pairing for whatever has been ordered.

I have tried food from each category on the menu, and I especially loved the cheese plate, the bruschetta and the risotto in the appetizer category. The burger and sausage entrees were both very good. You won't be disappointed with the chocolate pot de creme to finish your meal. This is a great place for a drink with a bestie or an intimate meal with your significant other. Did you like the Gravity Wine Bar? Please leave a comment below so I can hear your thoughts on this restaurant.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Case Study: Can you change up the Dessert Dash and still make money?

Post two of this blog series pointed out what an organization missing by not mixing up annual fundraising events. Bottom line is that you are missing crucial fundraising opportunities by working the same party plan. It is easy to be critical and harder to be creative so today, I offer up one example on how to rethink a successful giving element in an evening of fundraising.

Case Study: The Dessert Dash

By way of example, I offer up one of the current traditions at our event that you will also find at many fundraising events -- the Dessert Dash. Tables bid on desserts (home-made and professionally-made), and compete against each other to raise the most money. Winning that bidding session gives you the right to run to the dessert table and grab your favorite dessert.

Our Dessert Dash raised almost 13% of the total raised at the live event in 2011. The Dessert Dash takes a total of 15 minutes to execute (bid, report, dash for your dessert). This giving opportunity had 75% of the attendees participating. That's pretty spectacular! This one element is so successful -- are you crazy to try to change that?

Seeing the Dessert Dash with a singular view hurts the party planners and ties their hands. Looking at the Dessert Dash from all the different angles to try to understand the basics behind this giving opportunity will allow the party planners to leverage that type of opportunity but turn it into something that works with that year's plan.

Why did so many of the attendees give to the Dessert Dash?
  • Do they love dessert?
  • Do they love to compete?
  • Do they love to gamble?
  • Do they get to match more of the donation with corporate matching because the item is so cheap ($5/person who participated in our case)?
  • Do they feel that they have to participate?
  • Do they have another motive that we aren't considering?
In what amounts did they give?
  • Was there a popular donation amount?
  • How many "big" givers?
  • What were the average amounts given in different categories (e.g. small, medium, big)?
  • How many people fall into the different categories of givers?
What are the key charactartistics of the Dessert Dash?
  • Peer pressure with group bidding.
  • Competitive bidding between tables.
  • Bidding for something desirable.
  • Champions easily come forward (table captain or rabble-rouser).
  • Completed early in the live event (right after dinner) so people haven't bought that big donation item yet.
Going through this exercise should give event organizers a good deal of information about this one giving opportunity. It should also make it easier for planners to incorporate a similar one that works with their plan.

By way of example and staying with the food theme, here are some new ideas on how this could be done:

  • Have the event catered table by table by different local restaurants and each table bids for different catered meals (e.g. top donating table or group would get the most expensive dinner and least might get deli sandwiches or the like).
  • If the plan is to skip a sit down dinner, hold the Dessert Dash by classroom or pre-arranged or randomly arranged teams.
  • Chinese Auction Dessert Dash - Sell dessert tickets and set up fishbowls next to the desserts. Organizers pull 8 tickets per dessert (or one to do it by the dessert) to decide who gets a slice (the more tickets one person or table purchases and puts into a fishbowl the higher their chances of getting what they want).
  • Have a competition to see which table is first in line at a buffet or to be served.
  • Have a wine competition instead of dessert.

Of course, replacing a Dessert Dash only requires that the key characteristics be similar so forget the food connection and provide anything super desirable and appropriate for the evening. It could be a competition individually or by group for anything. Last licks on the Silent Auction items, preferential parking on campus, skipping a job for the next parent event or VIP seating at the next campus event -- anything wanted by a good portion of the community.

If people knew that elements of a fundraising event were going to be changed up year after year, they would attend to see what was going to happen.  Changing up old elements is also a boon for organizers because there is more flexibility and no creativity constraints. Do you do a Dessert Dash at your fundraiser or have you mixed it up lately? Tell me about it below.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Looking for that perfect spot to celebrate? Choose Station 1 in Woodside!

I checked out Station 1 in Woodside for my birthday dinner. It was absolutely delicious! Kristi Borrone and Zu Tarazi are parents at my kids' school, and super nice people. Guess what? Their restaurant rocks too!

Four of my besties and I hit up the restaurant on a Tuesday night. Despite it being Tuesday, the place was full. Station 1 offers a 3 course, prix fixe menu priced at $54 per person. I eat out every week to sample the local restuarants and to scope out event spaces for EventCounselor, and I found their pricing on the prix fixe menu to be on average with my weekly spending. Falling in the average spending category, this meal was a great bang for your buck! I would characterize Station 1 as upscale dining prepared in a very inviting way.

The meal was gourmet, but cozy. The restuarant is also very warmly decorated, and it featured the collage artworks of local artist Michael Paulker. It was a fantastic backdrop to their food and service!

Our meal started with a round of Proseco (compliments of our hosts -- thank you!!) and an amuse bouche. The prix fixe menu offered five appetizers, four entree, and three dessert choices.

I chose the "Farm Egg" appetizer which consisted brioche piled with beech mushrooms and then topped with one egg over easy and piece of maple bacon on top. I opened the egg over the brioche and the mushroom and everything came together perfectly tied together with the saltiness and sweetness of the bacon.

My second course was the "Lamb Loin and Shoulder" which came with hedgehog mushrooms, onion and cranberry. So. Well. Done.

My team finished off our meal by sharing five desserts. Two cheese plates, two chocolate cremiux, and a vanilla panna cotta with a citrus granite on top. Delish!

The service was amazing, and the wine list complemented our meal very well. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who wants a very special meal with outstanding food and service to match, in a very sweet atmosphere with tons of character and tiny touches.

Have you had dinner at Station 1? Let me know if you liked it as much as I did!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why change a fundraiser that's working?

Yesterday I asked the question why an organization would want to change a successful fundraising event. Today I offer up a couple of reasons why an organization is missing out on potential fundraising revenue by repeating the same party or format year after year.

You will not get as many repeat attenders, thus limiting your fundraising potential.

I have attended my children's school fundraising event for the past 5 years, and frankly I am tired of attending the same party. I am not the only one either. Individual participation levels drop after attending a couple of years because people have gone, seen and done it all. Mixing up the format, the food and the presentation of the party turns the event into a "must-see" affair. The anticipation of what will be delivered makes things more exciting and makes the party attendance exclusive. Want to sell out the seats at your next fundraiser, change it all up!

You cripple the real strengths and talents of the current community.

Every year an organization exists, it changes. Familial circumstances change, individual job responsibilities change, and the mere influx of new people arriving and former people leaving creates a new group of skill sets becoming available for a fundraising effort. Why would you work someone else's party plan that leverages their likes, dislikes and skill sets? Current organizational leaders for each area of the fundraiser should have the leeway to make changes that incorporate new ideas and approaches.

Vendors change over time.

Using the same vendors year after year limits your ability to deliver value and quality to your guests. Businesses change constantly, and when it comes to party planning, the Food and Beverage industry changes at light speed. People might argue that a specific vendor provided an amazing discount for the services provided and that they continue to honor that discount today. I would say that any one vendor isn't the only vendor that will provide discounts for fundraisers. It's not easy to go out and find new vendors every year for a party, but it might be worth the effort if you are able to capture more of your target community at the event. Oh, and by the way, any vendor would be lucky to have exposure at your event!

People will pay to be entertained, and once they are having a great time, the fundraising follows...

Yes, build it and they will come. People love a good party, and if you put on a good party, your fundraising goals will be met. You will still need to structure the party to provide many giving opportunities throughout the evening, but as the party moves on, people become more and more generous. Party-goer engagement, connection to the cause and a great night goes a long way.

It is easy to write that a volunteer corps should shake up a party and formats for their fundraiser, and quite another thing to do it. In the final installment of this post, I offer a case study on one aspect of our real-life fundraiser that shows how to translate a very successful giving opportunity into something brand new. Do you have examples to share of how something used repeatedly was "freshened up" with a new approach? Please post it below.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Should you shake up your annual fundraising event?

As I started working on this blog post, I realized that it was getting tl;dr to deliver in one shot, so I decided to try to be more considerate to the reader and write multiple posts.

I am working on my kids' school auction again, and I have come across an organizational attitude about annual fundraising events that I thought deserved a bit more exploration. The organizers of the event have chosen for many years (estimating 10 years at least) to throw the same party for the auction. They change the theme, the graphics and the decorations, but it is the same party, the same format, the same, same, same.

Some organizations have been crazy successful with revisiting the same format year over year for fundraising. A wonderful example is the (formerly Jerry Lewis) MDA Labor Day Telethon. They do the same deal year upon year and have a tremendous following. Success!

What is great about their format? It goes on for hours casting a wide net of prospective givers, varied entertainment and celebrities again pulling in a variety of people, and watchers can pop in and out of the broadcast as needed. The format has changed a bit in the past couple of years, but largely they are still working the same operational plan.

It is considerably more difficult to come up with a new idea, format, food plan and beverage plan yearly for this type of event. I leave you with an important question today  why wouldn't an organization want to stick with a tried and true format for a fundraising event that has been very successful? I have a couple of ideas why to share with you tomorrow, but would love to hear your thoughts on the subject matter! Please share them below.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

SliderBarCafe in Palo Alto is perfect for a family meal

My family hopped into the SliderBarCafe on University Avenue yesterday for a late lunch. We are a six person family so it can be a small challenge to get tables at times, but not yesterday -- we were seated immediately. The smaller portion format was perfection for our young family. We sampled sliders, mini Belgian waffles, a basket of fries and side salads. All was delicious!

The mini Belgian waffles were the preferred meal for our vegetarian children (we have two) and the two non-vegetarians ate sliders. The mini waffles tasted more like a "pretzel" than a Belgian waffle per my kid, but they ate them happily (each child even meat eaters ate at least one). We also ordered the Classic American, the Solona Chili Southwestern Chicken, the Bacon and Cheddar and the Mediterranean Lamb sliders. They were yummy.

We rounded out our order with a basket of their "Belgian" fries - no complaints. You can choose three different dipping sauces from the 11 they offer, and between regular or garlic fries. The side salad was awesome  fresh, green and purple lettuces with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

Their hours of operation include a 10 am opening (they have breakfast sliders too!) and 10 or 11 pm closing, so it is nice for a late bite. We loved it and will be back!

Have you eaten at the SliderBarCafe? Please let me know your thoughts on this joint!

Need help planning an event or meeting in Palo Alto? Contact me at EventCounselor.