Country Club Event Coordinator: Elana Hurtel, Meadowbrook Country Club, Ballwin, Missouri

Below is the results of an interview between Emma Rosenow, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Elana Hurtel, Event Coordinator at Meadowbrook Country Club in Ballwin, MO. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2011.

So Elana, you’re an event coordinator, where do you work? Meadowbrook Country Club in Ballwin.

Can you give me a general description of your job? I coordinate all of the weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, meetings, golf outings, and club events for our country club.

And what are some of the responsibilities you deal with on a day-to-day basis? Responding to clients about planning events, calling vendors, coordinating with our facility and vendors for delivery times and delivery needs, working with clients to choose their menu and time-out their event, and coordinate all of their other facades.

So, most of your day-to-day activities are dealing with other people? Always dealing with other people. What we do at the club to make everyone else aware of what we are planning is write what we call a “catering order.” It’s a banquet event sheet that lists all of the menu, set-up, and timing that we planned out as well as listing the information for the vendors participating in the event.

And what are your hours like? How often do you work nights and weekends? I usually work four to five nights a week and almost every weekend depending on what we have going on. Hours are really long. Event days, like on Saturdays, are usually twelve hours. I usually work six days a week. Country clubs are busier in the summer, so usually April through about October we’re working six days a week so then after that we go down to five.

I was just about to ask you what your busiest time of year was! So what are some of the employment opportunities for event personnel at your country club or other places like that? Well at my country club it’s only me so there are no opportunities. But all private clubs have at least one planner, sometimes two; a lot of them have event assistants. From what I’ve learned, being in the industry, this was my first and only job so far in the industry,  but everybody else wants jobs at clubs because they’re better hours (which is kind of a hard to believe), but they’re a lot less corporate and you get to know people. So, it’s a really enjoyable environment most of the time.

If you don’t mind me asking, after doing some research, I found that the starting salary at your position (an event coordinator) is around $26,000. Is this about right and can you expect to have your salary increased over time at a position like yours? Yes, you can. You usually start pretty low. I started a little bit higher than that, but you start low because the industry has a lot of turnover. So, they want to see if you’re going to be good and keep you and then they’ll increase you and give you benefits and all of that. But any position anywhere it’s really normal to start slow and you can build up quickly or depending on your drive or their need for you can stay about the same.

If you desired, how would you go about advancing your career? And what do you think advancing would be based on in your position? That’s a really funny question because I’m not sure, I think about that all the time.  But you can get yourself involved in other things. I’m involved in ISES which is the International Special Event Society. There’s a program called the CSEP, which is Certified Special Events Planner, so you study for that and you take an exam like an ACT type exam. You can get certified and that’s one way to better yourself and learn more things because a lot of other planners that do bigger scale things like in different venues and build sets and all that stuff have to think about a lot of other things that I don’t always have to think about. Like when the loading dock is going to be free and coordinating with the caterer so that the rentals get there first so they can put stuff in their chaffers. So that’s stuff that I don’t have to think about. I would like to do some big scale events like that sometime but I don’t know that that would be a desirable job for a long time because it’s so much work.

What attracted you to this position in the first place? I actually sat down my freshman year of college, I thought I was going to be a teacher because that’s what my parents did, and I sat down with one of my friend’s parents that I was really close to because I said, “I don’t know what I’m going to be,” and we were just hanging out. His mom, who I’m forever grateful to, made a list of everything I was good at, literally just wrote it all out. She said, “You know what you should do? You should be an event planner,” and I said, “I should be an event planner!”  It just worked out. A lot of my skill sets are involved in that like being organized and being in-charge of things and thinking about things logically and in a timely order and being creative are a really big part of it. So it’s just a good fit.

What keeps you at your position? What keeps you coming back for more? We have a really good work environment for the most part. I really like where I am because we all support each other; it’s not like being an independent planner where you’re asking other people to do things and you’re hoping they will do it because you don’t know them and you don’t know how they are going to do it. In our environment, I always know what the chef is going to do. I always know what the dining room manager is going to do. I know that I have a support system which is what I really like about my job and I like being at a club because you know people and it’s more of like a family environment rather than seeing people one time. Which could be good if you don’t get along with them but if you do get along with them it’s nice to see them and do all of their events and you know you just become a big family so it’s nice.

For a person trying to get into this field what kind of education or training would you recommend? The best training is really experience. When I was in college at SMS I volunteered at the radio station, KPAT I think, it’s the public station, and I worked in their event office. I did mailings and awful stuff but I also got to plan their big special events. They have a wine and cheese tasting and they had some fundraisers. The girl who did it was really young too, she was probably the age I am now. We liked each other and we could be creative together and talk to each other because she didn’t really have an assistant. That was the best experience I had because I actually got to do what I do now. I also did an internship at United Way which was awesome because I had so much freedom to do whatever I wanted which is not normal at all. I really just got to start planning events in my internships. It’s the experience. Volunteer somewhere which is what I did and you have to do it and do as much as you can and say “I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” Stuff envelopes, whatever, because you’re in the environment and you hear people talk about things. They’re talking about things that now I think about all the time but then it was so foreign to me.

What about for the future with technology changes and that kind of stuff? It’s really good to know how to build websites, how to use everything on social media. The big thing in events is sharing pictures in real time so you could say “this is the event I’m doing right now; here are pictures of it.” Then tag the photographer and the florist and all that because that gets their names out there. The best thing you can do when you get into the job is have really good vendor relationships because then you guys will help each other. But for technology just know how to do all that stuff on your own so if you are out on your own, you’re a planner by yourself, you know how to market yourself and you’re just as competitive as someone who has a corporate backing.

I know you touched on it earlier, but what kinds of skills are needed to be successful for a person in your position or what type of personality is needed? If you have to be really calm in pressure situations is really the most important thing. You have to have a lot of patience which I struggle with but it’s something that you learn. It’s good to be organized. It’s good to have your own system for doing things. It doesn’t have to be anyone else’s system or how anyone else does anything but if you have your own system and do it the same way every time then you know you’re not forgetting anything and you can see where there are gaps you have to fill in that other people have left and things like that. Being really personable, linking people and being able to make conversation even when you don’t really want to   is really important. Being okay with there being conflict and craziness going on around you because you just have to kind of see through it and see what’s going. Because you’re going to have to work with a lot of different people like servers to vendors, to the client to the venue; and everybody thinks something is an emergency so you just have to be calm and know everything is going to be okay.

What was your hiring process? And if you were to say, hire an assistant, what would you look for in that person? I’d love to hire an assistant. I would look for just a willingness to work hard; I should have said that in the qualities, that’s the most important thing-a willingness to work hard-because you’re going to work really hard. The harder you work on the front end, the less work it is on the back end. So that’s kind of the most important thing to know. Organization, like I said before, is really important. This is kind of a personality thing that you can’t teach anybody in any situation really but especially with events you just have to get along really well and understand each other. A lot of things get really emotional a lot of times   and it’s never personal, I mean it’s all work, but if someone understands, “Oh well she’s just being crazy because it’s a really stressful situation,” it’s helpful. A laid-back personality is important, along with organization and people skills. It’s just really important to know how to deal with different kinds of people and their personalities and not get worked up about it.

Was it hard for you to find a job in St. Louis or did you think you would have to move to find a better opportunity? It was hard for me. I looked for a job for six months and it was hard because nobody wants anybody with no experience. I think coming out of college it’s always going to be hard to find a job but I think any of the jobs that I interviewed for then that I didn’t get I could get now because I have experience. I mean, I had no idea. Nothing prepares you but experience. I was really lucky to get the job I got. My interview process was they had interviewed like three people. All the people that they had had in my position before were fired   and none of them had an education or really a desire to be an event planner. They had all been servers or something else and they just put them in that position because they needed them. So they hadn’t had someone who has had an education because going to school teaches you how to be organized. Like learning how to study and learning how to set out your homework and go to class and just that whole interaction prepares you for a job, whether you know it’s doing it or not. A college education is super important but it’s always just personality. I mean event planners and event people have certain personalities that like, accountants don’t.

Since you graduated from, at the time, SMS, your degree in Entertainment Management helped you with your day-to-day job interactions? I think the name of my degree helped me in getting my job. Nothing can prepare you for what’s going to happen except your workplace because everywhere is different: all the events are different and everyone does things differently. It exposed us to a lot of different things, especially because you get the exposure to things like artist management and venue management. So some of those things that I would have had no idea about I had some exposure to but because none of them go that in-depth it wasn’t like I came in there being like, “Oh I know how to do this.” It gives you perspective because somebody who has either been in events for a long time or somebody who’s been doing something else and just gets thrown into an event position doesn’t have the perspective of like how the venue works and what happens when you hire talent and all that stuff.

Can you explain your career path, like where you started and where you would like to be ten years from now? Well I started at Meadowbrook Country Club. When I started our clubhouse manager didn’t let me do anything on my own. Were you there when Jason was there? He didn’t let me do anything on my own; I mean he wouldn’t let me answer the phone for the first week. Which actually was really good, I would probably do the same thing if I hired someone now. He wanted to see everything I was doing and how I did it and he would correct things immediately if I wasn’t doing them the way he wanted me to do them or that was the right way to do them because he didn’t want me to embarrass myself mostly, or the rest us  . I was on a really short leash, which at the time, I felt like I knew everything so it was ridiculous then I realized I didn’t know anything so it was great. So I would do the same thing. My career has grown there a lot because it went from not being able to do anything to now I do a lot of things and a lot of other people’s jobs because that’s how it works out there  . Once you start doing that it’s hard to take it away because them the gap doesn’t get filled usually. So this is the beginning of my career path. I’m not really sure what I want to do in ten years. I know that planning is what I want to do because I kind of can’t help myself, I can’t stop doing it! I’m not sure how it’s going to be. I don’t want to work for a hotel. I don’t think that I want to be a private event planner; I might do it in company format where there is five or six people doing the same thing. I always want to have a support system because I think that’s so valuable and it makes things go smoothly and if you already have one in place you’re not scrambling for every event trying to make sure that things are going well because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I know that’s not a good answer but I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up.

It works. To end off, what are some of the pros and cons of your position at the country club? Some of the pros, there are a lot more pros than cons for sure, but the pros are getting to work with people and seeing the event. I would hate to be somebody who is part of the process and doesn’t get to go to the event and see it because it’s awesome to see everything and see how happy the people are and how excited they are. I really like getting to work with staff. I like working in the restaurant environment because it’s interesting and you learn a lot of things and get to try a lot of things. I get a lot of opportunities to do professional education, like I said ISES, we do a lot of restaurant testing, if you will, we go to restaurants and see what we like. So I like the food and beverage part of it a lot. The cons are the really long hours. Especially from April to October, it’s hard to see everybody else playing when you have to go to work every day and every weekend, you don’t get to go to the lake and things like that. Some of the other cons are that if you don’t have a great relationship with somebody and you see them all the time anyway if they’re a member so it just makes things more difficult. But country clubs are a really great place to be and like I said before, I learned now that a lot of people really want to be there if they work other places which I find interesting.