Tip Sheet #3: How to Plan a Successful Section Special Event


When evaluating a possible venue, consider the following:

  1. Is it large enough to accommodate estimated attendance?
  2. Is the seating flexible enough to handle additional attendees?
  3. Is it accessible to conference hotels?
  4. Determine the public transportation and parking options
  5. Are the entrance and seating areas ADA accessible?
  6. Are the restrooms are ADA accessible and clean?
  7. Is it available for the scheduled date and time?
    • Are other events scheduled that day as well?
  8. Confirm the total time the venue will be available (include set-up time)
  9. Can the facility provide a table for registration?
  10. Can the venue provide audiovisual equipment, if needed?
    • Is there a charge?
  11. If there are outdoor areas, is there a backup space in case of inclement weather?
  12. Are non-smoking areas available?
  13. How many wait staff will be assigned to the event?
  14. Name of the onsite supervisor during the event


Contract language will vary depending on the type of event you are planning. The ACRL office will work with you to ensure that the proper specifications are included.

Section members are not authorized to sign contracts or letters of agreement for use of facilities, meals or entertainment. Members can, however, work with the venue to create a contract, and ACRL will finalize the contract in consultation with the venue.

All contracts and letters of agreement must be sent to the attention of ACRL Program Officer for review and approval by the ACRL Executive Director and the ALA Senior Associate Executive Director.

The contract must specify the following:

  1. Date and time of event
  2. Sponsor of the event (ACRL)
  3. Detailed food & beverage menu
  4. Cash bar hours (if applicable)
  5. Bartender fees (if applicable)
  6. Total cost per person (including tax and gratuity)
  7. Minimum number of guaranteed attendees (penalty will be incurred if the guarantee is not met)
  8. Maximum number of guaranteed attendees
  9. Deposits
    • When deposit is due
    • Amount of deposit
    • When balance is due and in what form
    • Payee


Menus will vary widely according to type of event, budget and location however; here are some things you may want to consider to help make the event enjoyable and cost-efficient.

Cost: Prices for group menus at restaurants and banquet facilities are often negotiable. You may want to ask the representative if it is possible to reduce the per person price or adjust the menu to meet your budget needs. You can also ask if the venue will substitute the entrée for something cheaper or skip a course to save money. Try to settle the contract terms at least 6 months prior to the event for proper budgeting.

Region: Are there dishes, beverages, or a type of food that is local to the area (or a specialty of the restaurant) that you may want to include for a fun themed event?

Season: Consider what types of foods are in season and if you want to try to work them into the menu. Often these foods are cheaper or a special dish may be prepared with them that will impress your attendees.

Time of day: Consider what time of day and what people are doing before and after the event. Do you think most will have had a heavy lunch or be planning to go to dinner after the event? If the event is from 5:00 – 7:00 pm, some people will consider it a dinner function and eat accordingly (regardless of whether or not the function is intended as a full dinner). Considering such expectations will help you gauge how much food to order.

Quantity: For a 2-hour reception (with dinner following) a conservative rule of thumb is to make sure to order at least 3 - 4 pieces per person. For a 2-hour reception (with no dinner following), the recommended order is 6 – 8 pieces per person. For vegetable or cheese trays ask how many servings are on the tray and include that as 1 piece in your count. Often vegetable and cheese trays are ordered for about half the attendance as they tend to be large and last longer than most items. Also keep in mind that the more types of foods you have at the reception, the more people tend to eat (as a lot of people like to try each item available). If you are not sure how much of something to order, you may want to ask the contact at the venue for advice.

Room Set-up: How does the room set-up affect the type and amount of food served? For example, if there is not much seating, you will want to serve easy to eat finger foods with few (or no) sauces involved. If it is a buffet, consider whether people will be able to access it from both sides or more than one side. Double-sided buffets will get people through lines faster; however, people tend to eat less at single sided buffets. Keeping seating to a minimum at receptions (for 30-50% of attendance) will encourage people to mingle rather than sit down and eat. Also, distractions such as live music, entertainment, and dancing reduce food consumption.

Service: Consider how the food will be served at the event. Are appetizers going to be passed by wait staff (good for portion control) or will they be out on a buffet (usually requires more quantity)? Is the venue using small plates or napkins for hors de oeuvres? Will the dinner be plated or buffet style? Consider how the food will be served at the event and make sure you understand any fees involved with that type of service.

Timing: Make sure you have gone over the schedule for the event with the venue and agreed on times to set up the event, open the bars, begin serving the appetizers, first course, etc. Make sure you understand the venue estimate regarding time needed to serve everyone at a seated dinner. Be sure to agree on a closing time for the bars, if applicable, and give a last call 15 minutes in advance.

Bar: It is a good idea to have at least 1 bar tender for every 50 – 75 guests. Make sure to ask about any bartender fees that may be applicable at the event. If the event is open bar, you may want to consider asking the venue to pre-pour some of the wine/beer for faster service when people first arrive at the event.

Variety: Ideally try to have at least one chicken, one red meat and one vegetarian option available for everyone at the event. If your budget allows, a seafood option is usually widely popular as well. Remember that very spicy or salty foods may increase the beverage consumption at your event.

Appearance: Consider how the food will look once it is prepared. Are all the appetizers you ordered the same size, shape, color? It is always pleasant to order a variety of items that will be appealing to the eye.

Vegetarians: Make sure to always have several options available for the vegetarians in the group. Your catering/venue contact can help you come up with options and make sure they are labeled (or described) as vegetarian at the event.

On-consumption items: Often times, non-perishable foods such as soda, water, beer, wine and pre-packaged chips, cereals or granola bars can be purchased "on consumption" which means you do not pay for them unless they are opened. This is a good way to save money if it applies to your event.

Guarantees: It is common practice for a venue to require a guaranteed number of attendees approximately 72-hours in advance of the function. Be prepared to give this number as close as possible. If less people show up than your guaranteed number, you will still be charged for the full guaranteed number of people; however, if more people show up, you will be charged for the final number, not just the guarantee. Ask the venue how many people above the guaranteed number they are prepared to serve (typically it is about 5%).


At least one hour prior to the event, the local arrangements chair should check in with venue staff to ensure the room and food have been set to the specifications outlined in the contract. If audiovisual equipment is ordered, check that it is working properly.

If necessary, set up a table near the entrance to process on-site registrations, hand out name tags (optional), and answer questions. Recruit a few volunteers assist. Have blank nametags, registration forms, and receipts ready for on-site attendees.