Organising client entertainment can be daunting. But fear not – we’ve got the tips, insider knowledge and inspiration to help you bag the best packages and productions
Recently I received a panicked WhatsApp message from a friend. She’d been tasked with booking tickets for one of 2017’s most anticipated productions for her boss and his five important clients. ‘How the hell do I get my hands on tickets for Hamilton?’ she pleaded. For most people it’d be a matter of hope and pray, but this was for a corporate group, so the solution was simple: hospitality.
To the uninitiated, the millions of results you get from googling ‘official West End theatre hospitality’ can feel overwhelming. ‘There are so many options of how to book that I think it almost scares people,’ says Stephen Cherry, business development manager at theatre ticketing agency Abbey Leisure. ‘Everyone is advertising that they’re offering the best available seats. Question is, how do you know if they are or not?
It’s not just the multitude of options that’s intimidating: it can also be tricky figuring out where your starting point should be. Do you prioritise the show itself, or go for the best overall package? Do you go to the theatre or the hospitality provider? And what the hell do you do when that hit show – the one your boss really wants to get their clients into – doesn’t offer hospitality at all?
To get you clued up, we’ve asked three industry experts to tell us what they offer groups – and, more importantly, how to make sense of it all.
The ticket vendor
Stephen Cherry, business development manager, Abbey Leisure
‘There are some amazing hospitality packages available – but, sadly, there are also packages out there that are not clear about what they’re offering, which makes it hard for event bookers to know exactly what they're paying for. We always like to keep our options to the point, from entry-level tickets for all West End productions to full hospitality in private boxes. That said, we can handle bespoke requests too. Companies have bought out the whole theatre for The Lion King. Elsewhere, we’ve had a partial buyout for Thriller where the client went as far as changing the colour of the flags in the show and re-carpeting the theatre to tie in with their event!'
+ Always make sure to book with a Star (Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers) registered agent. This will ensure you get the best possible seat locations at the best possible price.
+ Check your tickets when they arrive. Most theatres and agents will help you, should there be any issues.
+ Make the most of your day or evening. Book your group somewhere to eat or drink before or after the show.
Emma Leaver, senior events manager, English National Opera
‘I don’t think there’s such a thing as a standard theatre hospitality package, as every venue’s constrained by basic physical limitations. For example, whether they have a kitchen or not. Hospitality at The London Coliseum [home of the ENO] has always been around in one form or another, but after discovering that some event bookers weren’t aware it existed, we decided to relaunch our packages. We don’t use an agency, so all of our offerings are designed and delivered in-house to allow for more tailored packages and a stronger relationship between us and the client.'
+ Contact the venue in question as quickly as possible. Most theatres’ private rooms are also used by corporate partners, so you want to get booked in as soon as you can.
+ When choosing your catering, take the length of the production and amount of intervals into consideration. You don’t want them going hungry halfway through.
+ Read your audience. Got a group of opera pros? Something like the world premiere of Marnie will get them all to RSVP.
The hospitality supplier
Andy Vinsen, MD, Keith Prowse
‘One of the main challenges that event bookers face is that there’s been an explosion in the secondary ticketing market. The routes of these contain lots of pitfalls, from overinflated prices to dealing with fraudulent companies. With corporate policy compliance near the top of bookers’ agendas, this can create a confusing picture. As a supplier, we work closely with our partner venues to develop bespoke, tiered hospitality options, where each experience allows the customer to recognise the differences between price points, exclusions and inclusions.'
+ Book official. Legitimate providers are contracted to design, market and sell experiences on behalf of governing bodies and venues, meaning the highest possible service levels are guaranteed.
+ Do your research. The supplier should openly list its tiered price points, pre- and post-entertainment, and F&B options.
+ If in doubt, call. Our expert team can happily talk through options to ensure you make the right decision.
Check out some of the latest news and ideas for hospitality here.