A Glimpse into Social Tables’ 2015 Family Weekend

At this year’s annual Social Tables Family weekend, we decided to strategically plan all aspects of the event around our core values. Learn about each of our 9 CVs and how we incorporated them to make this weekend special for each attending Tabler and their loved ones below:

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Customer First.

We used as many customers as possible to organize this event (e.g. Windows Catering)

One of the primary goals of Family Weekend is to help our families understand what we do every day here at Social Tables. We figured the best way to do that would be to incorporate our customers into this weekend as often as possible.

Our dinner on Friday night was catered by DC-based Windows Catering. On Saturday, we went on a lunch cruise down the Potomac River and on each of the 32 tables we had a centerpiece with a customer logo and a floor plan for an event they created. Saturday continued with a trip to the East Potomac Mini-Golf Course where each hole was named after a Social Tables customer.

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Teams Are Families.

Family weekend is a natural fit here at Social Tables. One of our core values is that Teams are Families.  What better way to show that than bringing the two families together. We connected the people who care about us at home with those that care about us at work. It is like a big family reunion – you might not know everyone but there is an instant connection and expectation of support. Whitney’s Grandpa Lou was suddenly everyone’s Grandpa Lou. Tablers without families attending were quickly adopted into another family.  Scott’s kids were dancing with Julian’s brother-in-law. We ate, drank, collaborated, solved puzzles, exercised and played sports and games.  It was almost like a whole magical childhood stuffed into one small amount of space and time.

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Decidedly Determined.

Let’s face it, events are hard.

At Social Tables we liken ourselves to an events company that just happens to sell software. It was important to our planning committee that we craft an unforgettable experience from the event’s inception. As a company our goal is to bring planners and properties together online – this event was different, it was about bringing families and Tablers together in real life!

Were there times that we didn’t think we could possibly pull off a happy hour for 150 people in our already cramped office? Bring all of our weird families on a walking tour around DC and make it in time for a chartered boat cruise around the potomac? Or how about handling the queue at a mini-golf facility?

Sure sounds crazy for a young startup – but planning, preparation, and determination made this event flawless and a priceless memory for the planning committee to always have.

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High Quality.

We put a lot of effort into producing this event… from the strategy to the centerpieces. You be the judge.

We move pretty fast here at Social Tables. I love the value “High Quality” because it makes sure that not only are projects delivered on time, but we give it our all. At our core, we’re a hospitality company and we wanted to show this to our families through our event. It would have been really easy to order some takeout and host our Friday dinner at the office. Instead, we were able to work together to find a venue that was very “DC”, hire a client to cater, and then work together on details. An example of “High Quality” were the centerpieces at the Friday Dinner. Rather than going with a single candle or some flowers on the tables, we wanted to use that opportunity to show our families and guests our company values and a little bit of our history. Altogether, they took about 2 hours to make (thanks Amazon Prime) and showed a company picture on one side and one of our values or pillars on the other.
AY9Q1647Every Day is a School Day.

At Social Tables, we believe that everyday is a school day and that learning extends beyond the classroom and sticks with us for life. From our weekly blog to our Lunch & Learns, Tablers are committed to admitting what we don’t know, pursuing what we want to know, and teaching others what we already know. We incorporated this core value into Family Weekend by teaching our families about DC, the place we call home, and our company’s history and culture. On Saturday morning, we led a walking tour of the National Mall, pointing out our nation’s landmarks and our local customers. Standing in front of a customer like the Ronald Reagan building puts into perspective how our software transforms the events and meetings industry. In the afternoon on the cruise ship, we played Social Tables trivia where our families learned about our first paying customer, our international expansion, and the various clubs we’ve organized (softball is coming soon!). At the end of the weekend, our families left with a better understanding of both Social Tables and DC.

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Constant Innovation.

We used our own software to plan this dinner.

Social Tables was crucial to the planning and executing of Friday evening’s dinner. It was only after we laid out our entire floor plan that we realized we needed more four-foot round tables and less high-tops than we originally planned. Social Tables also helped us realize our original layout was not conducive to the presentation we had planned. Social Tables was also crucial to helping us quickly figure out seating for last minute RSVPs and changes.

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Stay Lean.

Family weekend was a 24 hour event with eight different activities including 3 meals, an open bar, and snacks. We had 199 total attendees and spent around $40k which equals $201 per person. In every step of the planning process, we asked ourselves how we could maximize value, get the lowest price possible, and still provide our attendees with an excellent experience. Here were some of our “Stay Lean” tactics:

  • Multiple quotes from cruise vendors. It’s hard to negotiate when you have no other option.
  • Negotiated an additional 10% discount on bikes (20% total) when we had to go to a farther location to rent.
  • Brought water/snacks from Costco to mini-golf.
  • School bus for the five minute drive between the cruise and golf instead of a coach bus.
  • Tablers served as tour guides for the walk and bike tour of the National Mall
  • Bagel breakfast (instead of plated) in a park (instead of a venue).
  • Walk and share Ubers to Friday dinner (much cheaper than a bus).
  • Make your own name tags. This saved money on printed name tags as well as staff time printing them out.
  • Cheap t-shirts: yes, they may not have been the fanciest shirt or fit everyone perfectly, but it allowed us to do a unique giveaway to everyone at a lower cost.

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Always Honest.

Being “always honest” means that you have to be open and honest about what went well and what went… not so well. I’ll go into some areas where we know we could do better later, I first wanted to share the constructive feedback we received from the family weekend attendees.

A few days after Family Weekend came to a close, we sent out a short anonymous survey to our attendees using TypeForm (highly recommend). The topline results were fairly good (4.79/5 overall satisfaction) but here was some of the constructive feedback we received and what we will do about it next time:

  • “the food wasn’t very accommodating for dietary preferences”
    We will take all the dietary restrictions that were submitted with registration into account when planning with the caterers.
  • “I’m never going to wear an unflattering white tshirt in public. It’s also not soft so I won’t wear it to bed.”
    We’ll look into better swag that everyone will find comfortable.
  • “More breaks” and “Fewer events might be better.”
    The vast majority of people when asked how they felt about the number of activities said that it was “just right” or preferred even more activities. Next time, we will make sure it’s clear that all the activities are all optional. That way the families that want lots of activities can sign up for everything and the families that need breaks can take them.
  • “Better food availability.”
    We’ll work with the caterer to make sure there are multiple buffet tables setup as well as enough dessert for everyone. If we do an activity with dessert, we’ll make sure everyone gets dessert by having it at the tables.
  • “having to register/rsvp several times was not great”
    The registration was confusing and had people having to register for the same activity in multiple places. Next time, we will find a solution that allows people to self-update their registration so event organizers are not having to reconcile the info.
  • “I wish we would have been able to sit with our team”
    We will take department into account when creating groups/seating arrangements.

There were also a few behind-the-scenes issues that we will address next time such as:

  1. Make sure we have the proper permitting for public gatherings. We used the City Center Park but did not realize it would require a permit since it is private property.
  2. Ensure the floor plan is accurate when planning out space. We ended up needing to put tables outside the room Friday night because the floor plan we received was not to scale so the tables didn’t fit as planned.
  3. Assume attrition for early morning events. 38 people RSVP’d for the bike tour at 9am but only 13 people showed up. Luckily, we had only put down a 50% deposit so we only overspent by $67.

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Be Outrageous.

Social Tables prides itself on being a Deliberately Developmental Organization, or as we call it, a “DDO.”

In a nutshell, a DDO creates a culture that immersively involves people in the process, where they grow on a day to day basis and feel empowered to be “a full human.” Working at a DDO is never comfortable. Rather, it is exhilarating, as we quickly learn to embrace 100% of our strengths, our weaknesses, our personalities, and…our quirks.

This leads me to one of our most revered core values: Be Outrageous. We believe that being outrageous allows us to be not only our best selves, but our full selves.

How were we outrageous at Family Weekend? Well, I’m glad you asked.

  1. The Jelly Fish Photo Booth. The Jelly Fish Photo Booth was an homage to our world famous (and blogging) pet jelly fish. Our rationale: if we’re going to have a step and repeat, we might as well have props. Why? Because it’s outrageous.
  1. The After Party. Festivities on Friday didn’t end at the Decatur House because people were just having too much fun. A few notable parents event made it out on the dance floor. Why? Because T Swift came on and there’s just no resisting. Also, because it’s outrageous.
  1. Superlatives. To quote our CEO, Dan Berger, “Family Weekend came and went, but the memories will live on forever.”

That’s why we created Family Weekend Superlatives to celebrate and honor some serious overachievers in attendance. In addition to the “Biggest Partier,” and “Most Likely to Get a Job at Social Tables” awards, a notable highlight was the “Best Prop” category, where a certain Tabler’s brother-in-law leveraged a selfie stick for the ultimate photobomb experience. Why? Because it’s outrageous.

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