Interviews with Planners - Tracy Bardugon

Tracy Bardugon, a graduate from Georgia Southern University, started her catering sales and hotel management career in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina at Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island. After spending time in high-volume food and beverage outlets, it was time to make a move! She is now the Catering Sales Manager at Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta. She loves small, rustic events but typically services larger South Asian weddings and group events that are all about the glitz and glam. Tracy loves to spend time with her friends, family and two dogs while she is off the clock. Between craft beer, hiking and day trips, Tracy is always busy.

What is the best advice you have ever received as an event planner?
Don't let the client stress! If you can hide the fire and craziness happening in the background, they will never know. Also, it is important to be honest with the client and assure them that everything is going to go smoothly.

What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
I am so lucky to have had gorgeous ballrooms, pavilions and venues to work with. The real challenge came last October when there were five weddings happening in one day, using all of our event space at the hotel. Of course, one wedding outgrew their space and we did not have a back-up venue. We ended up moving the wedding party into our full-service restaurant, also utilizing the outdoor patio. The bride and groom were so happy! The most stressful part was orchestrating five ceremonies and making sure the brides weren't photo-bombing each other by accident. The hotel has a gorgeous beach pavilion that overlooks both the ocean and a beautiful lagoon so we had to time photo-ops perfectly.

What advice would you give to someone entering the event planning industry today?
Be patient and be unique. All clients have a different style and they want to be heard, not told. You have to steer them in the right direction. Once you explain why they can't have a chandelier cake with rockets and a fire dancer, they usually understand. Also, be firm with your time and expectations because if you give an inch, sometimes you'll end up giving a mile. 

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being an event planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
The most challenging aspect of being an event planner is time management. Some clients want so much of my time and it is tough to cut them off. Making sure they have all their ducks in a row before 100 emails are sent is something I stress about. We don't want to waste time and cause confusion. I try to be realistic with my clients upfront while still giving them flexibility. 

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How do you think the event industry will evolve in the next five years?
DIY stage now, and I believe that will fade soon. Clients can only do so much before they realize how challenging managing an event can be. While the value of a dollar is still important, I can see clients starting to be okay with paying for decorators and planners.

What makes you successful as an event planner?
Patience and attention to detail. I cannot stress that enough. Every successful event planner I know pays close attention to details and writes everything down. It is extremely important to know every little detail, even the mundane ones. 

In your opinion, what is the best and worst event industry trend of the year?
My favorite trend is providing guests with more things to do. Photo booths, small games and even games hosted by the DJ where he calls out prizes are always loved by the guests. Whatever it is, it keeps guests entertained.

The worst trend, in my opinion, are hanging cakes, mainly because I have seen a cake displayed this way crash. It makes me break out in hives to think of a bride and groom cutting a cake that can swing. Please, for the sanity of everyone, just leave it on a cake stand.

What is the best industry book that has helped you as an event planner?
How to Win Friends & Influence People is an oldie but a goodie. It has helped me improve how I talk to clients and put things in perspective with positive feedback. 

What is the one tool or item you can't live without on a daily basis as you go about your event planning job?
My binder! It has my pens, tape, safety pins, tape measure and scissors. I wouldn't be able to function without it.

Tracy Bardugon
Catering Sales Manager, Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta


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