Interviews with Planners – Selena Browning

Working in her parent's restaurant, waiting tables while she earned her degree from Ohio State University, groomed Selena for success in the hospitality industry. She enjoys planning events and the opportunity to share in the special moments of others. With many catering gigs under her belt, Selena ran the catering departments at Wright State University and Hoggy's Restaurant and Catering before finding her way to the Made From Scratch family. Enjoying an eclectic choice of food from all over the world has allowed Selena to bring more international ideas to Made From Scratch. When she is not working, Selena enjoys spending time with her many friends and family, trying new restaurants and riding her bike. She just completed her 2nd Pelotonia bike ride this fall.

What is the best advice you have ever received as an event planner?
I have received so many important pieces of advice over the years, but the one I find most important is to stay calm and to lead by example. As event planners, we tend to have every detail ironed out and it can become overwhelming when things don't go exactly as planned. Remaining calm and levelheaded not only allows for your brain to take a moment and think of alternatives to better the current situation, but it also provides a feeling of peace for the client, vendors and event staff who might be affected. I always tell my team “If I am running, you better be running, but otherwise be cool as a cucumber.”

What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
I have had the opportunity to plan tons of events in beautiful spaces, but those are the easy ones. I prefer a challenge. Turning an airplane hangar into a beautiful and dynamic event space was just that. The client gave me a lot of control, but had a limited budget to make it happen, and there was a lot of space to fill. We actually designed the event around an aviation theme. Instead of removing the planes, as originally requested, we highlighted them and made them an interactive part of the event. What started out as being a location out of necessity turned in to a selling point for the event, and a theme they carried on for years.

What advice would you give to someone entering the event planning business today?
Work all of the positions in the industry. It is important to work from the ground up, so you can understand what it takes to be successful in that role, and also understand what your event team is going through. When a stressful situation arises, it can be difficult to provide help if you have never worked that position, and don't know what standard operating procedures are.

Also, figure out if planning events is something you are really passionate about. Events are something that everyone thinks they want to do, but very few have any clue of what it takes to actually plan events. It can be long hours and grueling work, but it can also be so incredibly rewarding. Playing a part in some of the most important days of someone’s life will never stop being an honor to me.

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What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being an event planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
One of the most challenging aspects of being an event planner is when your client is unable to articulate his or her vision, and may also have unrealistic expectations. It can be easy to forget that not everyone understands what it takes to produce an event. While our minds as planners go straight to each detail, figuring numbers and coming up with realistic event ideas. A client often just sees the overall picture of how they want their event to feel and look like. It is our job as their event planner to educate on the details of their menu, how equipment can affect cost, and to help bring all of their thoughts into one cohesive and successful event.

How do you think the event planning industry will evolve in the next five years?
People steering farther away from the traditional, formal events such as sit-down dinners and going with more interactive options. Clients want to impress their guests and keep them engaged and entertained during events. Whether it is a new and exciting event space, or a menu featuring interactive stations, events are becoming more unique and attendee focused.

What makes you successful as an event planner?
What makes me a successful planner, is my patience and ability to stay calm in high stress situations. I can stay levelheaded and have an ability to take a step back and look at the situation from 10,000 feet. This has become one of my most powerful tools from the initial planning stage through event execution. Even in the most hectic of situations, I am able to breathe and take a moment to analyze the pros and cons of potential solutions and prioritize what’s most important.

In your opinion, what is the best and worst event industry trend of the year?
For me, the best trend of the year is all of the amazing and new venues we are working out of. The usual ballroom or conference room setting is being tossed to the side and venues that host weddings and other social events, are now being used for corporate events as well. We are seeing Christmas parties being thrown in rustic barns with fresh pine and pops of red and green, it is simply beautiful.

I wouldn’t say worst, but the most challenging trend would be all of the dietary restrictions we are seeing during planning stages. It used to be mostly vegetarian, with a few gluten-free needs here and there, but now it seems like each event needs 5 to 6 dietary options. Clients aren't as willing to provide one option for all of those restricted, they want to provide them with their own personal meal that caters to their diet needs, which is counterintuitive to the bulk production that traditionally makes catering profitable.

What is the best event industry book that has helped you as an event planner?
I honestly haven’t read too many industry specific books, but keep up on event trends from local and international magazine publications. Most of my reading focuses on leadership and different management styles.

What is the one tool or item you can't live without on a daily basis as you go about your event planning job? 
Without a doubt, it would be my laptop. My laptop has all of my orders, client contact information, and email correspondences. It also keeps a detailed calendar and allows me to work remotely, making changes and answering clients order specific questions while sitting in the client's office. It allows for a lot of freedom and has all of the event details in one spot.

Selena Browning
Director of Catering, Made From Scratch Catering

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