News & Politics

Inauguration Nation: The Ten Commandments of Inaugural Events

We had our friends at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel compile a list of the top ten things not to do when planning and putting on an inaugural ball. Here’s what they had to say.

Below is what's really written on Charlton Heston's tablets. (We think.)

1. Thou shalt not understaff the coat check. If you do, you’ll have some angry guests and furs will be flying.

“We have a coatroom,” says the Wardman Park’s general manager, Ed Rudzinski. “It ain’t going to be good enough.” He anticipates handling as many as 6,000 coats for each big event at the hotel during the inauguration.

The solution? In addition to recruiting extra workers, the Wardman Park will put up a mobile cloakroom outside the hotel in a tent, and it’ll funnel guests through it as they come up the hill from the Metro or from the parking areas. The key is to create flow, Rudzinski says, and to keep guests moving through the hotel to prevent a logjam and flaring tempers.

2. Thou shalt understand that when the president arrives, the Secret Service runs the show.

“The Secret Service controls the room that the president’s in,” Rudzinski says. It was a lesson he learned the hard way during one of President Bush’s Black Tie and Boots balls.

The event brought 15,000 people to the hotel, and they all wanted to see the president. Only 5,000 people could fit in the ballroom where the her would be. Once the room was at capacity, it was sealed off. No one, not even hotel staff, could come or go.

“The people standing in line were furious,” Rudzinski recalls. “But there was nothing we could do about it. It was first come, first served.”3. Thou shalt not underestimate the amount of liquor and ice you’ll use.

In addition to its own oversize ice machines, the hotel will bring in freezer trucks to make and store extra ice for the inauguration events. Rudzinski plans to stock the hotel with as much alcohol as possible: At full capacity, the Wardman Park has enough liquor on hand to last ten days.

If he runs out of booze, Rudzinski has a backup plan—a last resort he’s had to implement only once before. While Rudzinski was planning a conference several years ago, a client told him that at his group’s last gathering in Las Vegas, the hotel ran out of liquor. He warned that his group, a movers’ association, drank very heavily. Rudzinski assured him the Wardman Park could handle it.

“Well,” he says, “turns out we couldn’t. They outdrank us at the opening reception.”

Rudzinski sprang into action, making calls to sister Marriott hotels in the area and asking them for their extra alcohol. He tried to play it cool in front of the guests, but his client figured out the ruse. He approached Rudzinski later and asked, smiling, “You ran out of alcohol, didn’t you?”

“It was like a badge of honor for him,” says Rudzinski.

4. Thou shalt not worry about freezing the first guests who arrive. Keep the thermostat low. Five thousand bodies equal one hot ballroom.

Before any large event, the Wardman Park turns the temperature so low in its ballrooms that the first guests who walk in always complain about being cold. But as more people arrive, booze flows, the band plays, and people dance, the temperature rises. “Once it gets hot from 5,000 people, you’re never going to cool off,” says Rudzinski.

5. Thou shalt not assume everybody will come by Metro. Make arrangements for lots of parking.

The Wardman Park has more parking spaces than any other hotel in Washington, but it won’t be enough to accommodate scores of inaugural ball-goers. To ensure that the hotel has enough space, it’ll lease parking lots from the National Zoo and the University of the District of Columbia—both nearby—and arrange for shuttle buses to tote people from parking lots to the hotel. The Wardman Park will also work with event organizers to ensure that guests understand ahead of time how parking will work and encourage them to take public transportation.

6. Thou shalt always remember: Balloon drops and confetti are a nightmare.

“Confetti,” Rudzinski says, shaking his head. “You can’t pick that stuff up.”

But if a client insists on having it, Rudzinski has discovered a resourceful way to work around it: Clean it up with leaf blowers. The only thing to keep in mind is that the gas-powered blowers give off carbon dioxide—if you have CO2 sensors as part of the fire-and-safety system, remember to disable it during cleanup.

“We learned that the hard way,” he says. “The alarms go off, and it sounds like the Bismarck being attacked by the British.”

7. Thou shalt not forget to change your e-mail and home- and cell-phone messages to: “I don’t have access to hotel rooms, inaugural tickets, or limos.”

Rudzinski has gotten calls from lots of family members, asking him to score them ball tickets or a room at the Wardman Park. The worst is when Marriott’s corporate executives try to call in favors. “It’s a nightmare,” he says. “I called corporate and told them to put a note out: ‘Don’t even call, we’re completely booked.’ But that probably won’t stop them.”

8. Thou shalt not forget to budget extra time for safety-and-security sweeps.

During inaugural events, particularly ones the president attends, there’ll be all kinds of safety-and-security personnel on hand: White House security, fire marshals, building inspectors, Secret Service. They’ll all take time before and during events to inspect and sweep the hotel.
Rudzinski’s best piece of advice: Don’t try to pet a bomb dog.

9. Thou shalt make employees very recognizable to the guests.

Months ahead of the inauguration, employees at the Wardman Park have already started wearing picture IDs around their necks. During the inauguration, those are their passes allowing them to maneuver quickly through the hotel. Without the right credentials, employees will be stopped by Secret Service and the hotel’s private security and will be unable to do their jobs.

10. Thou shalt remember to have extra batteries for your BlackBerry and Nextel. And plan to bring an extra phone just in case.

Hotel employees will live by their cell phones during the inauguration. At one planning meeting, Wardman Park managers estimated they’ll need to order at least an additional 100 walkie-talkies to hand out to temporary hires. Rudzinski says planning ahead and carrying around a pocketful of spare batteries is a must. If you really need to stay connected, bring an extra phone for backup.

Inauguration Nation: Cleaning House
Inauguration Nation: The Miracle Worker

>> All Inauguration 2009 coverage

More>> Capital Comment Blog | News & Politics | Society Photos