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Long gone are the days of PDF diagrams and floor plans laid out on Word documents. Now, in the age of 3-D printing and virtual reality goggles, event planning is more visual and tangible than ever—the way it was always meant to be. 

Helping that evolution along is the rise of Social Tables, event-planning software that literally changes the way planners design events. This customizable tool allows you to piece together a fully dimensional event space in real time by preloading in floor plans and adding in specific décor—tables, furniture, arrangements, you name it. Clients, too, can play with the rendering once it’s complete. 

To show us how the technology works, we asked three Chicago hotels that actively use Social Tables to dream up renderings for three different events—a charity gala, high school reunion and holiday soirée. The results, and the technology, were nothing short of incredible.

HYATT CENTRIC THE LOOP CHICAGO: “A CHICAGO AFFAIR”
The challenge: A spring charity event to raise money for a new hospital wing; the invitees include 200 corporate executives, age 45-plus. 

“IF [YOU’RE PLANNING] a local charity event, there’s no better inspiration than the city that you’re in,” says Daniel Lewellin, director of sales at Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago. “Chicago has so much to offer.” 

In this case, that means people milling in and out of rooms decorated to reflect area attractions and local fare, such as a craft beer bar stocked full of Chicago-brewed ales, signature martinis that mirror city neighborhoods and snacks and treats from popular sweet shops around town.

As all of the hotels did for this story, Lewellin used Social Tables to design this proposed 200-guest charity gala, the max head count allowed in the property’s combined 2,500 square feet of event spaces. Hyatt Centric, which opened in April 2015, is unique in that its event floor isn’t just one big room—in fact, there are a total of six separate areas (along with a rooftop) that can be rented together or on an individual basis. 

While the lack of one large space might seem like a hindrance, Lewellin thinks of it as a way for the hotel to stand out from others in the city. 

“For a lot of events, you walk into a ballroom, and [everything] is contained in one [area],” he says. “With our [layout], however, we have the ability to draw outside the lines and be more creative.”

Lewellin notes that, because of the unique setup, Social Tables is a huge boon for the hotel. With it, clients can physically see how the arrangement can work, instead of trying to imagine—and maybe not understand—exactly how the unique layout can be the perfect accompaniment to their event. 

“Once people see the [room setup] in Social Tables, they actually get excited,” he says. “They change their minds and think, ‘This could really work out.’” 

The software is especially beneficial for clients that live outside of the area. Before, planners from New York, Florida and other distant locations would normally have to visit to see everything in person and therefore incur unnecessary travel costs. Now, Lewellin can create a highly detailed plan that allows prospective clients to understand how their event can play out, no matter where or how they are viewing the proposals.

“Social Tables gives you the ability to show your clients the space without actually going to the hotel,” he says. “It’s a huge benefit.” 

For our mock proposal, Lewellin incorporated all six event spaces, transforming one into a craft beer bar, one for whiskey tastings, one as a dessert station and two rooms where guests can munch, drink and relax (one with a communal-type table and another with more lounge furniture). The last space, of course, is reserved for dancing.

Depending on food and beverage options from Cochon Volant (the required F&B provider) and the furniture selected (the Hyatt Centric doesn’t keep much on-site—instead, they have a number of partners clients can use, including AFR Furniture and Tamar Productions), the total cost for the evening would range between $14,000 and $22,000.

For Lewellin, the most valuable part of the evening would be guests’ reactions. 

“My favorite part would be being there when people start walking in,” he says. “With anything in life, when you put a lot of work into something and are watching it take place, that’s truly satisfying.” 

INTERCONTINENTAL CHICAGO MAGNIFICENT MILE: “A REUNION TO REMEMBER”
The challenge: A 20-year high school reunion for graduates of a public school in the suburbs of Chicago; attendees to the summer event include 200 guests, ages 38 to 40. 

The challenge: A 20-year high school reunion for graduates of a public school in the suburbs of Chicago; attendees to the summer event include 200 guests, ages 38 to 40. 

“The hotel works really well because, with reunions, a lot of guests might not be in the [immediate] area,” says Schmidt of the building’s central location in downtown Chicago, with access to a plethora of transportation options and attractions. “It’s a nice vacation option for some, but also a great staycation for others.”

For this proposed Friday night event, Schmidt envisions a night of hors d’oeuvres, a three-course seated dinner and, finally, dancing and catching up—all taking place over a five-hour span.

Though the hotel in total has 45,000 square feet of dedicated event space across 28 rooms, this soirée would take place in InterContinental’s fifth-floor Renaissance Ballroom—one of four at the hotel—that can host up to 250 guests. Social events are prime for this room thanks to the scenery, including windows overlooking Lake Michigan that provide an added bonus of not being concerned with weather or insects. 

“Indoors we don’t have to worry about outdoor elements like rain and bugs,” he says. “We have the great views with the comfort of being indoors.”

The décor and theme would play off the school’s colors and likely tie into the mascot in some way. With regards to furniture, Schmidt leaned on regular and square table options instead of rounds. “We want to make sure to fill the space,” he says. “With the table layout, we can do something more fun and different besides the standard round tables.”

For an event that relies so heavily on nostalgia, a photo booth would also be available— because there’s nothing like finally getting in a shot with the high school quarterback who you couldn’t even think to talk to in your teens. A local band (or perhaps even cover band from the bygone era) would play during the cocktail hour.

“I think live music really elevates the evening and experience,” says Schmidt, particularly for this setting where nostalgia could again come into play.

Overall, the estimated cost for this event would be about $43,000, depending on the finalized menu (some options include compressed watermelon salad, filet mignon topped with black truffle butter and key lime tart for dessert).

As for designing the event using Social Tables, Schmidt echoes Lewellin’s praise for the easy-to-use technology, noting that people can use it at home or remotely, even just using an iPad. 

And for him, the inspiration came easy— making it a bit more personal. 

“I was thinking what I would want for my own 20-year high school reunion,” Schmidt says. “I just came up with something that would be fun, different and engaging for all guests.”

THOMPSON CHICAGO: “A HOLIDAY SOIRÉE”
The challenge: A corporate holiday event hosted by a well-known technology company; guests include 150 employees, ages 30 to 50, each with one guest.

WE ALL HAVE HAD TYPICAL holiday party food: shrimp cocktails, shaved ham and spiked eggnog. But typical holiday party food at the Thompson Chicago hotel includes tacos from Big Star, pasta handmade by the on-site restaurant Nico Osteria and cocktails from the Violet Hour—all venues represented by One Off Hospitality Group.

Needless to say, the Thompson doesn’t throw any standard soirée, and our holiday tech event is no exception. 

Regional Director of Sales and Marketing Tiffany Braun envisions the party as a reception-style fete, fully utilizing the 3,000-squarefoot room called the Chicago Seven Ballroom.

“In my opinion, this is the best [part] of our hotel,” says Braun, noting the three-yearold Thompson Chicago has a total of 12,000 square feet of meeting and event space. “It’s very light, and the décor is very neutral. The wallpaper has a shimmer and the uplighting really does transform the space.”

There’s also floor-to-ceiling windows on the north and west side of the building, which overlook the Gold Coast neighborhood. During the winter months especially, guests can see holiday lights and displays from neighboring shops, restaurants and luxurious homes. 

Because the Chicago Seven Ballroom features a soft “L” shape, Braun would incorporate cabarets and spaced-out stations to ensure the room flows and that guests don’t feel separated. Credenzas, which are also featured inside, can be used for more food stations or a holiday gift holding area.

“I really love doing [events like this] reception-style,” says Braun. “Instead of a formal dinner, this provides an environment where people can grab a cocktail and have the ability to walk around the space.”

Though this particular event space needs minimal décor, according to Braun, there are certain special touches that work well for a holiday party, such as white birch-like trees outfitted with LED lights that are dispersed throughout the room. Also recommended: navy blue lounge furniture and votive candles placed on the windows to enhance the warm holiday feel and provide a romantic evening vibe. 

While tables and lounge furniture cover nearly the entire space in the proposed design, Braun notes that a dance floor can be added on the west side of the diagram; here it’s still connected to the entire event, but doesn’t force guests to walk across the floor to get to it. 

Braun also finds that designing through Social Tables is best because of its usability factor. Because clients have the ability to change things around, no detail is overlooked. 

“One of the elements that’s different than other diagraming software is that clients can edit it,” says Braun . “In case I forget something, they can add it in themselves.” 

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