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Planning for Communitywide Special Events:
Hospitality, Refreshements, and Promoting

by Robert D. Espeseth


Organizers of events have a clear moral imperative to design the project so that it is safe, enjoyable, and accessible. This demands an awareness of hospitality. Part of hospitality calls for providing good signage, distributing accurate and helpful information, and anticipating the needs of attendees in terms of restrooms, refreshments, convenient parking and trash cans. In order to keep your visitors happy, there must be someone available to answer questions and eliminate potential problems.

All event personnel should be clearly informed of the need to exercise courtesy at all times. Organize duties with an eye on the personality of the volunteer. Some positions demand aplomb and diplomacy for dealing with the public. The tone of the event is set by the behavior of the people involved. Even though it seems so simple, a hospitality training program must be developed and carried out to make your event a success.

Don't limit your efforts to develop a courteous atmosphere to your staff and volunteers. Generate a short flier detailing the benefits of your event and the significance of courteous behavior and distribute it to stores, restaurants, and shops in the area. Ask for everyone's cooperation, This is your chance to showcase your community. List a variety of ways in which courtesy may be expressed.

Planning for Refreshments

An important ingredient of most successful community events is food and drink, especially if the refreshments are made with a secret recipe, served in a unique way, given creative names, or served in a decorative setting.

Planners of successful events have devised special ways of making and serving refreshments. In many communities, secret recipes for stews, barbecue sauces, desserts, and other foods have been passed on from one year to the next. Other groups use unique serving styles such as selling beer in buckets engraved with the name of the event or serving beans in small crocks. Still other planners invent unusual names for the refreshments they serve; thus, a special drink at a corn roast is named "popcorn punch," and stewed hot dogs with sauerkraut become "pigs in the cabbage patch."

Many reference works are available to aid groups in planning food for a large crowd. The following books may be found at most libraries:

  • The American Quantity Cookbook: Tracing our Food Traditions, Jane Young Wallace, Cahners Books International, Boston, 1976;

  • Simplified Quantity Ethnic Recipes, Mabel Cavaiani, Muriel Urbashich, and Frances Nielsen, Hayden Books, Rochelle Park, New York, 1980;

  • Simplified Quantity Recipes, Mabel Cavaiani and Muriel Urbashich, National Restaurant Association, Washington, DC, 1974;

  • Quantity Cookery, N. Treat and L. Richards, Brown and Company, Boston, 1951;

  • Quantity Recipes, M. Wood and K. Harris, Extension publication of New York State College of Home Economics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, revised, 1973.

Promoting the Event

Nothing is more important to the entire event-planning process than promotion. Obviously, all other well-laid plans have little effect if people aren't told about the event and encouraged to attend it.

Publicity plans should be make early and carried out by individuals who best know how to reach their intended audience in the most creative ways possible. People who have a flair for writing, making posters, delivering speeches, or other aspects of promotion should be sought out and encouraged to help with the event's publicity.

Keep in mind that the broadcast media, television and radio, usually make appointments for community coverage far in advance of the event. It is especially urgent with television to make contacts as soon as an event is finalized. In the intervening time, the information about your developing event will become available for announcements and on-site coverage.

Promotion involves "selling" the event to the public and is part of the larger ongoing process of public relations - helping to ensure that the event obtains and keeps a favorable image throughout the area. In planning annual events, public relations should be a year-round effort that includes everything from showing slides or films about the event to local clubs, to making a special effort to thank those who helped make the past event successful.

Plans for publicity should include identifying the intended audience, deciding which media to use, and determining when to release specific publicity.

The list of objectives compiled at the start of the planning process should be kept in mind when trying to identify the intended audience for the event. If the planning group especially wishes to attract a certain age group or families or residents of other communities, then specific media must be used to best reach those potential event participants. For example, if the planning committee wants to encourage residents of other communities to attend the event, then the publicity committee should promote the event in neighboring towns with posters, newspaper articles, and other promotional coverage.

In addition to identifying the intended audience, promotion plans must include specific ideas on which media to use and when to release publicity. Timing is extremely important. The ideal promotion campaign will include initial releases meant to create an early awareness of the event, followed by more detailed information that highlights specific activities to be offered. Promotion earned out during and after the event also greatly enhances the success of the event, especially if it is to be held annually.

Promotion ideas are almost limitless. Those suggested below are given to aid planning groups with their own publicity. The ideas are grouped according to when they might best be released to the public. In planning publicity, be creative and remember that a variety of promotion methods is most likely to attract the public's attention.

Before the event

  • News releases and ads
  • Posters, billboard, signs
  • Talks to local groups
  • Mayor's proclamation
  • Parades in neighboring towns
  • Airplane banners
  • Event name or slogan contests
  • Reduced-price ticket sales
  • Invitations
  • Engraved pens, pencils, etc.
  • Street banners and marquees
  • Radio and television coverage
  • Bumper stickers and buttons
  • Fund drives
  • Printing on shopping bags
  • Fliers enclosed with bills
  • Youth rallies or walkathons
  • Beard-growing contests
  • Endorsements by local firms
  • Newspaper supplements
  • Pennants on vehicles
  • Signs in public transportation

During the event

  • Appearances of famous persons
  • Newspaper picture stores
  • Searchlights
  • Car-top announcements
  • Lettered hats, pennants, etc.
  • Sky-diving shows
  • Prize drawing for early arrivals, children, senior citizens, etc.
  • Television and radio coverage
  • Balloon ascensions
  • Fireworks shows
  • Bumper stickers ("I've been to ... .")
  • Parades through business district
  • Staging of some activities in other towns
  • Guessing contest (beans in a jar, etc.)

After the event

  • News releases
  • Speeches to civic groups
  • Parties
  • Newspaper ads or letter of thanks
  • Movies or slide shows
  • Volunteer recognition banquets
  • Announcement of contest winners
  • Radio and television interviews


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About the Author:

This publication is a revision of the 1976 circular by Robert P. Humke and Anne Murray Stenolen. This edition was prepared by Robert D. Espeseth, recreation resource specialist, Office of Recreation and Park Resources, Department of Leisure Studies and the Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. It is designed especially for groups planning their first communitywide events; however, the material will also be of value to those evaluating existing events in the hope of making them more successful.

North Central Region Extension Publications are subject to peer review and prepared as part of the Cooperative Extension activities of the thirteen land-grand universities of the 12 North Central states, in cooperation with the Extension service - U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C. The following states cooperated in making this publication available.

University of Illinois (publishing state)
Kansas State University
University of Wisconsin



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