Each morning at 6:15 a.m., Spiaggia Director of Sales Erica Yack wakes up, drinks her coffee, walks a mile to her office at 980 N. Michigan, and works on returning hundreds of emails and voicemails (including at least 12-15 RFPs a day). But if that was the most rigorous part of her routine, it would be a quiet day for Yack, who is constantly caught in a balancing act that includes managing client demands, following up on leads, executing events and leading a small sales team at the fine-dining restaurant.
On the March day I shadow Yack, she’s literally rolling out the red carpet (a 70-foot one, at that)—helping to set up for the “Top Chef” finale party, at which guests will get to see if Spiaggia executive chef Joe Flamm becomes champion (he did). We walk through the main dining room to check out the frosted wrap on the floor-to-ceiling windows. The restaurant will show the finale that evening by projecting it onto these translucent screens, a seemingly low-tech solution with a high-tech price—and Yack is terrified they’re not going to work correctly, due to the traffic lights on the street. She also has concerns over the Wi-Fi, all too familiar—as many planners are—with the dreaded buffering issues that could ruin the event.
She shrugs it off with a “we’ll see what happens,” and we move on to the next issue at hand: a first birthday party for 100 guests being held Saturday morning in Spiaggia’s third-floor private dining room. Spiaggia’s F&B minimums are not cheap, yet that’s only the beginning for this party, which is also planned to have a 700-balloon installation, two long tables set for 50 people each and live caricature artists. Planning for this event, which Yack has been handling, was relatively smooth until she realized the party planner had scheduled all deliveries to arrive an hour before the event was set to begin.
Oh, and the same day, she’s also working with a small trade show event for meeting planners, organizing setup and F&B (including a gelato bar) for about 150 guests to begin in a few hours.
The sheer amount of decisions Yack has to make in a day may be mind-boggling to some, but for those in the events industry, it’s par for the course. Over her 12-plus years in the industry, she says working with reliable, talented vendors makes her job a lot easier, and she’s learned to keep very calm under pressure.
“I feel like you have to lie a lot,” says Yack, referring to her responsibility to act like things aren’t as big of a deal as they might actually be to clients and guests.
For example, at a wedding at Spiaggia, the bride forgot to indicate on place cards if guests had ordered fish or steak. Waitstaff had to take orders instead, and the counts she’d originally given the kitchen were reversed, so they ran out of fish. Luckily, the chefs were able to run down the street to buy some, a common practice in the Chicago’s hospitable restaurant scene.
“The chefs were literally cleaning the fish while guests were on the salad course,” says Yack, noting the bride was none the wiser.
Of course, carving out time for generating new business can be difficult when you’re caught up in managing the day-to-day of events. Yack and her team do two or three corporate drops a week, aka “lunch and learns,” where they bring lunch to prospects in exchange for a few minutes to do their Spiaggia sales pitch.
Less than half of those visits turn into business, Yack admits. About 38 percent of Spiaggia’s events business is repeat business, a number she’s satisfied with but always working to improve.
The main thing she’d focus on if she had additional hours in a day? Follow-ups. “I wish I had more time to do them,” she says, “but you have to move on.”