The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Meeting in Westchester
Tasked with organizing your company’s next off-site corporate meeting — complete with bigwigs flying into Westchester from all over the country? Fear not. This handy guide offers everything you need to know to plan a successful event in the 914.
Industrial-chic is the vibe at Hudson Loft in Irvington.
Photo by Bojan Hohnjec Studio
One of the best things about organizing a meeting in Westchester is the county’s plethora of choice venues, running the gamut from stately mansions and swanky hotels to budget-friendly spots, all in proximity to New York City. “There are more than 35 venues, with a combined 300,000 square feet of meeting space” in the county, according to Natasha Caputo, director of Westchester County Tourism & Film. Caputo touts the county as a “prime location, providing business travelers and meeting attendees with the best of both worlds: the serenity of the Hudson Valley with easy access to the Big Apple.” Caputo also points to the variety of transportation options, which make Westchester “easily accessible.”
Those top-rated venues, restaurants, and activities mean big business for Westchester — part of a $1.9 billion travel and tourism industry in the county (as measured by visitor spending), whose numbers are on an upward trajectory, according to data from Westchester County Tourism & Film. And if your meeting includes out-of-town guests, bear in mind that hotel activity in the county grew with room demand (measured by hotel-room nights filled) up 4%, to 1.6 million room nights in 2017.
With the average hotel room in Manhattan costing at least $216 per night — according to an analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers of numbers from STR, a hotel analytics company — booking a block of rooms in a Westchester hotel offers a significant cost savings for your company.
Artsy spaces like the Hudson River Museum are becoming popular as meeting and gala venues.
Photo courtesy of Hudson River Museum
So, how to pick a venue from all these great options? Besides choosing a place that will appeal to attendees, there are a number of factors to consider in addition to budgetary constraints, say local event-planning experts.
Sometimes, the actual venue can be a draw in and of itself. Of course, there are some companies that still prefer to hold an event or meeting at a tried-and-true hotel or country club, but having an out-of-the box venue, like a trendy restaurant with river views or a museum space, can draw in attendees.
Megan Murray, head of communications at Yonkers-based Ask Applications, an IAC company that creates products for mobile phones, prefers to hold off-site events at local venues that reflect her company’s unique culture. With the company’s riverfront location, they are in walking distance of the Yonkers Brewery, “where you can find our employees meeting for lunch, celebrating wins, or just brainstorming over a meal. Also, within steps is Xaviar’s X2O, which we’ve turned to for more formal celebrations and is always a guaranteed good meal,” Murray explains.
White Plains Hospital has also supported local businesses, with a recent Bowling for Bears event, held at Bowlmor Lanes in White Plains. This Junior Friends of White Plains Hospital event benefits the hospital’s youngest patients, providing teddy bears and comfort kits for the emergency department, Family Health Center, and pediatric unit.
United Way of Westchester and Putnam hosted this recent event at Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook.
Photo by The Event Department
“We were trying to target a younger demographic of attendees. The venue was chosen because it could accommodate 120-plus attendees and was conveniently located in White Plains,” explains Brooke Emmett, a development coordinator at the hospital.
Event-planning experts agree that factoring in the nature of the meeting and what it is trying to accomplish should guide venue selection. A new-product launch might be best-suited to an industrial-loft-like venue, but a conference room at a top hotel could be a better bet for a boardroom meeting with executives. (See “Hot Venues” sidebar for a sampling of some popular Westchester event and meeting locations.)
Keeping Fun at the Forefront
After a venue has been selected and the meeting details begin to come together, it is crucial to keep the overall guest experience at the forefront of planning. “The bottom line is, you want people to have fun and walk away from your meeting or event feeling good about your company or nonprofit,” notes Chereese Jervis-Hill, president of Events To Remember, a Mount Kisco-based full-service events-management and public-relations firm that produces some 70 events a year.
X20 in Yonkers is a favorite spot for many local firms planning corporate events.
Jervis-Hill, who has been working in the events industry for more than 20 years, says the field has changed a lot recently. While seated five-hour gala dinners with paddle raises or speakers lecturing from a podium are still hosted, today’s meeting attendees crave interactivity, the implementation of technology, and engagement with the company or nonprofit that you are representing, she says. Rose Cappa-Rotunno, president of White Plains-based The Event Department, agrees: “A lot of my clients are requesting small plates and extended cocktail hours, which give clients an opportunity to network with all the meeting attendees, not just the guests at a company-sponsored table.”
Another change is the importance of communicating clearly defined goals at an event.
Cappa-Rotunno likes to incorporate ways to educate attendees about her client’s business or nonprofit’s mission into her events. For example, she will include a “fundameter” on projection screens, which basically looks like a thermometer with a fundraising goal. “That moment when we meet or exceed our fundraising goals for the event is always exciting for everyone in attendance,” she explains.
She’s also used a “token board” to help increase donations. At their annual event last year, Open Door Family Medical Center, an affordable-healthcare center with locations throughout the county, used a personalized token board that was displayed throughout the venue on huge screens, with several doors that would “open” when attendees made donations. Each door represented $1,000. “The attendees loved it. Each time a door was opened, it made a chime. We wound up making almost $90,000 that night from the token board, far exceeding our expectations,” Cappa-Rotunno explains.
Other ways that she’s engaged attendees include infographics or online true-and-false games that attendees can play during cocktail hour. This can be more effective for engaging attendees with your nonprofit or company than simply displaying posters with ho-hum statistics or sales figures, she says.
Top Tips for Great Meetings
Crucial, but Oft-Overlooked Considerations
Jervis-Hill always recommends a walk-through of the venue a few weeks prior to the event, as “there is no substitution for actually seeing the space.” This can help you troubleshoot room set-up, A/V needs, lighting requirements, etc., she explains.
Wi-Fi capabilities on-site are also something to keep in mind, notes Cappa-Rotunno. Younger attendees at a nonprofit event, for example, might want to utilize “text to give” options or participate in a silent auction through their mobile devices, she explains. Cappa-Rotunno also notes an increase in clients requesting online check-ins at events, and some want to videotape/stream the event live for attendees who can’t make it. Having Wi-Fi capabilities is key and offers data analytics for her clients, as well as a physical record of a pledge, in the case of a fundraising event. “A lot of times, people get caught up in the moment and make pledges at an event but don’t follow through. Having a physical record helps with follow-up,” she says.
Accessibility can be a key issue for older attendees or those with limited mobility, adds Jervis-Hill. For an upcoming event that Jervis-Hill is coordinating for Westchester Disabled on the Move, she needed a venue that had comfortable accessibilty for all attendees, with valet parking and bathrooms and entrances that are easy to navigate.
Both Jervis-Hill and Cappa-Rotunno agree that venues today must also take into account guests’ dietary needs, as requests for vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, among others, increase.
So whether you are planning an intimate team-building meeting for your staff or coordinating an annual gala for a big corporation (or anything in between), rest assured that the varied venue options in Westchester’s 450 square miles offer something to please everyone.
Stacey Pfeffer is a writer and editor based in Chappaqua who used to plan offsite meetings when she worked in public relations.