How do you set up a family banquet for 25 guests in London from your desk and computer in New York? The occasion was a birthday celebration for my wife, Lillian, who hails from London and has extensive family there. The answer, I learned from the experience, is to contact an excellent hotel, in this case the well-located May Fair in Stratton Street, and a savvy person on the hotel’s events team, to provide dedicated assistance with every detail.
The person who responded to my request for information is Essie Ryan, Meeting and Events Sales Executive, part of a team catering to such occasions, who undertook the challenge. Her suggestion was the Salon, a private room adjacent to the hotel’s restaurant. Our daughter, Julie, happened to be in London for a few days, and met with Ms. Ryan, who showed her the facilities, and Julie emailed me her opinion that the Salon would work out well. As for the hotel, Lillian and I have stayed there repeatedly and always get the accommodation we request, thanks to the assistance of Botho Stein, Deputy General Manager. So we know the overall ambiance.
There were, of course, agreements to be made, a required deposit, with a minimum expenditure for food and drink, but no charge for the Salon itself. Ms. Ryan promptly replied to every request with emails going back and forth about specific details, from how to set up the room to choosing the menus. Ms. Ryan sent photos of the Salon from different angles and tempting menu choices with every aspect covered, from hors d’oeuvres and drinks for an hour-long reception, to starters, main dishes, desserts and wines, all with a range of prices. The time window for the event was unhurried, from 7 p.m. to midnight.
There turned out to be several dietary requirements cited by the invitees, and Ms. Ryan sent menus with options for each—two vegans, one vegetarian, one lactose-free and even special menus for the two children in the group. All of the choices were honored meticulously and creatively. We discussed how many tables to set up, and there were confidential communications that Julie and I had with Ms. Ryan about equipment needed for projection on a screen via a computer, photos of Lillian that Julie had collected secretly. This was to be a surprise to Lillian and it all worked wonderfully.
I finally met Essie Ryan when Lillian and I arrived at the hotel two days before the event, and was further impressed when she showed me the room and we went over how it would be arranged, with the dining area curtained off from the reception area, the curtains to be opened when dinner was to start. A microphone was to be available for anyone wishing to make comments. Ms. Ryan also introduced me to enthusiastically cooperative Daniele Seggio, Meeting and Events Manager, who would be overseeing the event, including the service by the wait staff. Daniele and the servers did a terrific job and the guests were lavish with their praise, not only for the food chosen, but for the efficiency and friendliness of the service.
In short, on the big night, everything went off without a hitch. It was a joyous occasion with Lillian’s nieces and grandnieces and their families, Lillian’s cousins, our daughters Julie and Karen and their families, who flew in from other cities, and the gathering was highlighted by the appearance of Lillian’s 100-year-old cousin Ethel Fedor, who, assisted by her daughter Rosalind, strode in with a cane. Ethel was among those who spoke in honor of Lillian.
The final bill was totally accurate in accordance with what had been arranged with no discrepancies, and it was properly charged to the credit card on file.
This happy experience showed that in the right place and with the right staff one can arrange a dinner long-distance between New York and London in full confidence. Posted February 12, 2017.