Is your city starting to open up? Are some event venue spaces opening up? Are your chamber members getting restless to get face (mask) to face (mask) again?
Even if case numbers are spiking now, at some point things will open up (again). When they do, it won’t be with a flip of a giant on/off switch where one day you are just doing virtual meetings and the next you are hosting large-scale events.
Things will continue to reopen in phases, starting small and then growing larger.
So where will you be able to start hosting those smaller events? Figuring out what event venue might be available in your area now can help you be better prepared in the near future.
Since you won’t be the only one eager to “have a few friends over,” we’ve compiled a list of tried and true event venue ideas as well as unique spots you might consider that will help keep your staff, members, and community safe.
The Basics of Reopening
Before we get to a list of options in your community, let’s review how these openings will occur. Some states have already allowed small groups to get together, and that has led to a concern about a spike in cases in many of those locations.
If your community hasn’t reopened yet, or you have but there’s a concern that things need to tighten up again, let’s take a look at the basics of what will likely be required and some additional highly suggested considerations:
- Social distancing: keeping guests at least six feet apart.
- Masks: for everyone without a medical condition precluding them from wearing them. Have some fun and encourage people to wear their own. Host a mask contest (prettiest, sparkliest, best branding, funniest, etc.) or set up DIY mask decorating stations (while they’re wearing one of course). You will need some on hand for those guests who show up without them.
- Sanitation stations: offer hand sanitizer at stations around your event.
- Wipe downs: staff or vendors should be wiping down surfaces periodically.
- Limited movement: chambers often host events geared to “working a room” and networking. However, as things begin to reopen, this type of “migration” among attendees causes a greater need for wiping things down. If you encourage circulating, you will need staff wiping things down constantly. If possible, keep people from circulating. If that’s impossible, ensure that they are standing and not touching objects (like tables). If they do, you need to be wiping them down in between use. Keep in mind this also affects your presenters and the technology they use. Wipe down laptops, laser pointers, and podiums if they will be operated by different people. Use microphone guards or have speakers use masks, although that makes it very hard to read them and understand what they are saying. You may want to consider mouth guards/shields for presenters.
- Disposable items: nothing should be left on tables that would be used by multiple people, unless it is wiped down between every guests’ use. This includes items like condiment bottles, menus, ashtrays, salt shakers, pens, etc.
- Signage: this is a new world where things seem to change daily. Many people want to assume that everyone knows what they need to do but there have been so many changes that many are still confused. Don’t assume your attendees know to wear masks and not shake hands. Create signage that communicates the ideas quickly and visually so no one has to stand around reading all of the rules. Use humor, if it fits your audience. More people will pay attention to it.
- Thermal scanning or temp-taking stations: Many groups that are hosting events are asking people at check-in how they feel and taking temps. They are denying entry to anyone running high.
- Room and seating configuration: keep people distanced but not shouting across a room at one another. When you use seats, angle them in small clusters facing one another but with ample room in between.
Legal Considerations for Every Event Venue
Let’s talk about what no one wants to think about–risk and lawsuits. When considering hosting an event you need to consider these things now more than ever.
First, no matter what your personal feelings are about the data you’re seeing, if the government mandates shutdowns and limitations, they have to be honored by the chamber. Not that there are likely any rogue chamber professionals out there but it must be mentioned.
Disregard for safety mandates, even if your heart is in the right place by trying to save a business, could open you up to potential fines and lawsuits. As of May 1, over 1,300 COVID lawsuits had been filed. While the reasons for the litigation varies, many of them involve employment and exposure. Some cite negligence behind not making customers aware of the dangers of the illness. Don’t leave yourself, or a member venue, exposed to possible lawsuits.
Speak with legal counsel, if you’re in doubt. But know that this area of law is evolving daily. If you’re following government orders, you have that protection (even if they are later to be found in the wrong).
30 Event Venue Ideas for Small Chamber Events
Remember, even if your host is willing to have your attendees at their place of business and waive some of the precautions, it is essential for you to insist upon implementing them. They could get fined and you could be taken to court or worse…be tried in the court of public opinion.
The following places should be vetted before booking them. Find out what they’re doing to ensure your guests’ safety. If they don’t have set protocols to meet or exceed the current requirements, don’t be afraid to suggest your own. You could both be liable so you should both be invested in success and safety.
Once you’ve got all that in mind, here is our list of event venue ideas:
- Restaurant: ideally one that could give you your own space but large enough to allow guests to keep enough distance.
- Hotel meeting room: These spaces are ideal because they are not high traffic areas. But again, make sure there is enough room to spread out.
- Chamber office: some chambers have a meeting room where small events could find a home. It’s also possible to use the whole chamber space and add breakout areas to encourage people to spread out.
- Member’s office conference room: just like the chamber office, small events could be accommodated.
- Co-working space.
- Museum garden.
- Parking lot: a lot can be transformed with tables, flowering plants, and lighting.
- Ballfield or athletic event stadium: some of these are still vacant as sports may not have reopened in your state. If you go this route, know that you will need to think about the summer heat and sun as athletic fields rarely have shade.
- The beach.
- A waterpark.
- A brewery or winery: they may have outdoor space or event space. See if they would entertain closing for a private event that way you can host more people. If you’re in Boston, check with the Samuel Adams company (see image and link at the end of this list).
- Hotel courtyard.
- Botanical gardens.
- New construction / groundbreaking spot. If you are lucky enough that your town is about to break ground on a new economic development space but has not begun to build it out, you might be able to set up a tent and host your event there. Not only will it be a nice clear space but it gives you ample time to talk about the new undertaking and what it will bring to your area.
- Painting studio.
- Art gallery: these spots often offer a lot of indoor, open space.
- Drone or hobby plane field: if your town has one of these spots, it could provide some fun social distancing opportunities. It also offers an “enjoy at home” component as you could Livestream drone footage to those watching from online.
- Bowling alley: some alleys have event space.
- Mini golfing: you can encourage playing or simply use the different holes to space out your crowd. This is best done if the mini-golf will close just for your event.
- Zoo: many zoos have event space.
- Coffee shops: some of these have smaller rooms that can be used for private groups.
- Ranch, farm, or field. Figure out who owns property in town and ask for permission to use it for your socially-distanced event. They may also have “party barns” or large equipment sheds. What a unique way to get your agribusiness members involved!
- Drivebys: a lot of people have opted for this idea for birthday celebrations this year. You can do the same for a networking event. Everyone stays in their car but they park next to one another and move to the next assigned parking space when the horn blows.
- Drive-in theaters.
- Movie theaters: they may not be able to open in all states yet but if they’re not open, it is possible that they would be willing to accommodate your event. Social distancing is easy to accomplish in this space by blocking off seats.
- Blocking off a road: Check with the city about blocking off a side street or alley for your next event. Some cities have done this to help restaurants obtain more outdoor seating.
If you’re looking for a spot for a small chamber event, it’s time to get creative. You’ll have to worry a lot less if you host the event outdoors but you will need to think about the heat and sun unless you host it in the evening.
Whatever you decide make sure you are specific about the precautions you are taking. Walk potential guests through the venue in a Facebook Livestream or post a video to Instagram and/or Facebook.
Many people are frightened. Enlist the support of your staff and your board members during COVID to support your efforts to show members how much you’re concerned for their health and creating an event that minimizes risk will make them more apt to be a part of your next undertaking.