The last couple of months haven’t been easy for the hospitality industry, with a sudden pandemic causing us furloughs and closures, canceling and rescheduling months of events, and dealing with slow and confusing reopening phases, it feels as if our world has been turned upside down. It has been a lot to go through in a few short months and has us all craving a sense of normalcy as we navigate life post-reopening.

We have had to rethink how we have normally operated in our day to day and have had to explore new ways to generate revenue while still adhering to restrictions. Those of us who have been able to quickly adapt and get creative with some new initiatives paved the way and gave hope to those who have struggled. We’ve seen innovative ideas from virtual experiences, meal boxes, offering new services (like offsite catering, to-go orders, and microparties), gift card matching and promotions, and expanding outdoor dining into parking lots and sidewalks when they could. The hospitality industry has always been home to some of the hardest working and most resilient professionals — and they have had their skills put to the test — but unfortunately, normalcy won’t come back all at once.

As we start to reopen and welcome in-person gatherings and private dining groups back, venues have had to get even more creative. With ever-changing capacity restrictions, hospitality professionals have had to continue to reimagine their spaces, offer different event packages, and work with customers on altering their events. Even with all of those adjustments, venues are still struggling to get groups back as a lot of corporate clients switch over to virtual events for the foreseeable future. But, knowing that clients will need a virtual option for most events, venues have started to take advantage of the trend and have shifted to pushing the idea of hybrid events to clients — a mutually beneficial option to those looking to welcome those back to their events in person, but also offer an option to those who feel more comfortable joining virtually.

What is a hybrid event?

Hybrid events are not a new concept in the world of event planning but are a new revenue avenue to those who work in restaurants and unique venues. So, what is a hybrid event? A hybrid event is a 50 percent in person, 50 percent virtual event — it Involves some people physically gathering in the same space and adds the element of streaming or broadcasting the live event out to a larger audience. It’s a way for your event to reach more people than your venue can typically hold. There are definitely some considerations you need to keep in mind when hosting a hybrid event, like how to curate experiences for those participating in-person as well as your virtual attendees.

How can your venue take advantage of hybrid events?

If production services are something your venue hasn’t offered before, it’s best to establish a partnership with a company that is experienced with it. You can offer the services without having to be the expert. Your venue will attract clients who are looking for a one-stop shop when it comes to them putting on their hybrid event. You’ll be able to promote that while they can’t bring everyone together in person, they can still use your venue to host a small group of people while broadcasting to a wider audience.

How can your venue get involved with hybrid events if you’re not hosting or working with a production company?

What if you are with a venue where it really doesn’t make sense for you to partner with a production company? How can you promote hosting hybrid events then? You’ll have to be a bit more creative and think out of the box a bit.

Find other ways you can partner with people who are hosting a virtual aspect to their live events. For instance, if there is a venue nearby promoting their space for use of virtual events, or their own hybrid events, offer to provide the offsite catering. Or if there is a local performing arts center that is doing limited in-person seating but offering a livestream of their performance or concert, see if you can partner with them to offer food boxes or catering for those who are watching the livestream.

You can also host in-person cooking classes or wine tastings in your venue, offer to livestream them and ship out kits, boxes of wine, or food for people to join virtually and cook and taste at home.

What does your venue need to know about hybrid events?

If you’re inspired to try something or dip your toe in the hybrid event world, make sure that you follow these tips:

Always remember to test your equipment and the broadcast before the event; hold a dry run or rehearsal. This will help you see the experience from the virtual attendees’ eyes and make sure you have no hiccups once you go live.

Keep your virtual audience engaged. Like I’ve mentioned, the virtual audience will have a much different experience than the live audience; you’ll need to make sure you don’t forget them. Include polls, social media engagement, and encourage the use of your virtual platform’s chat features.

Don’t forget to focus on the details of your venue. The broadcast could include close-ups of speakers, and wider shots of the entire audience, so know what will be in the frame to make sure your venue is properly displayed; this is what people will be staring at on their screen for the whole event.

Hybrid events are an incredible business opportunity for your venue

So while we (not so) patiently wait for our in-person business to return, we continue to navigate our way through the virtual and hybrid world. It can be daunting at times, but it’s been incredible to see the innovation that has come out of the pandemic. And I think some of the virtual and hybrid offerings we’ve been seeing will be here to stay and will offer a chance for restaurants and venues to become even more successful post-COVID.

In the most cliche way possible, it has been exciting to see the hospitality industry take its pandemic lemons and make virtual lemonade (even if at times we’ve had to add a little vodka).

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of Seated magazine.

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