Extraordinary Events Podcast

Ep 59: Hotel Event Management with Molly Nicola

March 11, 2021 Extraordinary Events
Extraordinary Events Podcast
Ep 59: Hotel Event Management with Molly Nicola
Chapters
Extraordinary Events Podcast
Ep 59: Hotel Event Management with Molly Nicola
Mar 11, 2021
Extraordinary Events

In this podcast episode, I have the amazing opportunity to talk with Molly Nicola, who currently works as an Event Manager at the Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. Molly is a University of Nebraska - Lincoln Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management  Program alumni, and still stays active in the program by speaking at a variety of classes and helping out with University of Nebraska - Lincoln events! In this insightful episode, Molly explains steps students need to take to get started in the Hospitality industry, what her day-to-day looks like at The Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel, and how she is playing an integral role in our event taking place on April 1, Level Up Your Event Game! 

If you want to come to Level Up Your Event Game, send an email to [email protected] and I will send you your own coupon code with money off of the event at registration! 

If you are interested in learning more about Level Up Your Event Game, please visit our website at levelupyoureventgame.com 

Show Notes Transcript

In this podcast episode, I have the amazing opportunity to talk with Molly Nicola, who currently works as an Event Manager at the Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. Molly is a University of Nebraska - Lincoln Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management  Program alumni, and still stays active in the program by speaking at a variety of classes and helping out with University of Nebraska - Lincoln events! In this insightful episode, Molly explains steps students need to take to get started in the Hospitality industry, what her day-to-day looks like at The Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel, and how she is playing an integral role in our event taking place on April 1, Level Up Your Event Game! 

If you want to come to Level Up Your Event Game, send an email to [email protected] and I will send you your own coupon code with money off of the event at registration! 

If you are interested in learning more about Level Up Your Event Game, please visit our website at levelupyoureventgame.com 

Dr. K: Hello, hello my friends! I am so excited, I have a special guest here with me today on Zoom. I have Molly Nicola, she is currently the Event Manager at The Lincoln Cornhusker Marriott Hotel here in Lincoln, Nebraska! Molly is such a pleasure to work with, to hang out with, to talk to, so innovative, and I am so excited that you all have the opportunity to hear from her today! Molly, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today! Would you spend a couple minutes and just tell our amazing listeners who you are and what your background is? 

Molly: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I graduated from high school back in 2007. And went straight to the University of Nebraska here in Lincoln. And I had no idea what I wanted to do. My senior year, though, I had planned this canoe trip for my class of 20 people. And I loved it. I loved the logistics of you know, finding, okay, where on the river, are we going to drop off? Where are we going to get picked up? How are we going to move these canoes? Do we have enough life jackets, all that kind of stuff for 20 people, I loved doing that. And my dad kept bringing that up. He was like, “You loved planning that event, like you should maybe get into some sort of project management or some sort of, you know, event planning!” And at first I remember thinking, “Oh, event planning isn't a real thing.” Like I remember thinking there's no way you can go to college to be an event planner. 

Well, sure enough, there had already been one semester of the Hospitality, Restaurant, and Tourism Management Program. And so that first semester, I went and talked to my advisor, and she had said, “Yes, there's this new program, we should totally look into it. It sounds like it's right up your alley.” And so I did. And so my second semester of freshman year, I was enrolled in the HRTM program with about 29 other people. And it was so fun. I loved every single class I ever went to, every single teacher was super engaging and really cared about the industry. But you have to remember, this was 10 plus years ago, where, you know, it was still a really rapid growing industry. But people didn't really know how to dive right into the teaching parts of it. 

A lot of the industry is, you know, people say it's not what you know, it's who you know, but you have to be able to have that open mindframe too, you know, you're going to always encounter people say, “No, you can't do that.” “No, that's not possible.” “Logistically, that doesn't make sense, or we've never done that before.” You hear that all the time, all these roadblocks, all these obstacles, but in this program, you're able to kind of retrain your brain to think, okay, yes, we can, we can do it because of XYZ or having rhyme to your reason. And so I am forever thankful and grateful for being part of the HRTM program when I was and still being able to be a part of it today. By you know, guest speaking at the classes, helping out with UNL student led events and really just still being a part of the program. 

I work right now as an event manager at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, and I've been here for about two years almost. And before that I had worked at two different hotels. And I had also owned my own event planning company for a couple of years, which I loved doing. It was really cool to be my own boss. And the army had called my husband and said, “Hey, we want you to fly helicopters.” And he said, “Well sign me up.” And so that made us move to Alabama for flight school for a year. And in that year, it was kind of a good reflection time of, okay, do I want to revamp my business? Or do I want to find a more steady job where I can be like a key player into the events rather than the whole player of the whole event? And so this was the first job I applied for after Alabama. And I love it. There's no turning back. 

Dr. K: Oh, my gosh, I love your story so much. Well, and I hope you recognize how rare it is that your dad actually said to you, “This seems like something fun that you would like to do, you should go do that!” Because I'm sure you hear as someone who works with a lot of students that typically it's the opposite of, “Why are you going to school to pay all this money to get a degree because this isn't a real job.” But instead, it was opposite. 

Molly: Yes, my dad is a huge supporter of anything I ever wanted to do. And yeah, he's one of my best friends. So having his support, and you know, as a parent having that support was it. It's amazing to be able to just go in and, you know, dive in headfirst and say, “Okay, I have my dad's port on this, let's do it.” 

Dr. K: So one thing I don't know, if you actually knew this about me, by way back in the day, I had worked at the Ballantine, hotel and lodge in Charlotte, North Carolina. One thing that I recognized after leaving that property, and going to another property was that not all of the hotels like the inside, internal functions and layout and hierarchy of a hotel are the same. It was very, very different between the different properties that I've worked at. So tell us just a little bit about how your job is split up at the Cornhusker. In terms of events versus banquets versus sales. Are they all together? Or are they separate? 

Molly: Yeah, absolutely. This is the first hotel I've worked at where it is split up a little bit. Now, we all of course, make up one team, we are a family here for sure. But I don't do any of the booking. And so that falls onto our sales managers. So they are the ones that do more of the cold calling or reaching out to you know, past clients or potential prospect clients, they will do all the negotiating and booking, you know, finding the correct dates, how many projected people they anticipate for their events, as well as sleeping rooms, and that sort of thing. Then the torch gets passed to me and I do all the planning of the events. And then I pass the torch to our banquet manager who implements and makes sure that the events go according to the way I want them to. 

We definitely are a team, we keep our communication open and fluid and we make sure that everyone is literally on the same page with every single event. And it's fun, I really like it this way. I know in previous places that I have worked, it was definitely a you sell the space, you plan the event in that space, and you do the event in that space. And this has allowed me a little bit more time to get more detail oriented. And I know there are still times where I talk to our banquet manager where I'm like, “I wish I could just hand my brain over to you and you could get out the details that you need, and then just give it back to me.” Because that's my job. My job is putting down everything that I hear from my clients into what we call event orders. And once it's all in there, then that event order gets off to the next person. And like I said that event order puts us on literally the same page. 

Dr. K: I think that that's what's so valuable about having a formal hospitality education background or listening to podcasts like this, is that sometimes when you come fresh out of high school and you get that first job, you assume that every company is structured the same. Or you say, Well, I want to be an event planner, and I want to be in events, and you just assume you can't be in a hotel because you have to sell and you have to do banquets. And just recognizing that all of these different organizations are structured differently and that there is a place for everybody, you just have to figure out what the right company or organization is for that, thank you so much for sharing that. Now, your background, you own an event planning company and you did that for a couple of years. And now you're in lodging. So tell all of the amazing listeners here today, tell them what you found to be the biggest difference between having your event company and being on that 100% planning side and then working on the venue side.

Molly: The biggest takeaway from the difference is that I get to get more detail oriented and focus on exactly what that client wants. I still get to do the, you know, “Hey, this idea is great. Can we make it excellent?” And then working with them to have more of that creative part of it. When I owned my own event planning company, it was, you know, finding more of the vendors and things like that, whereas here, we have the venue. So that's half the battle already. And that's what makes my job a lot of fun. Because I know what's happened in our ballrooms before, and I know what we can do, what we're capable of doing. I also know what we're not capable of doing too. So that's been a huge benefit. 

Dr. K: Well and I love that, my students so often they'll come in and say I am, I want to be the event planner, I want to own my own business. And I say the best experience that I ever got in my entire life was working for a venue for multiple years. Because you see, hundreds of events happen in those rooms, you figure out what's possible, what's not possible, how to write up the banquet event orders and the event orders and how to actually make this happen, and your setups and your tear downs and your contracts. And I always tell people, if you have a chance to work as a banquet server and banquets or even just in the venue or management trainee, like take it because you want to see all of those events because no event is ever really reinventing the wheel, you're just taking bits and pieces from all the different events and putting them together. So okay, what we all love to hear, we all love to hear the horror stories, the crazy stories tell us why your craziest story is that you've experienced in your career, as well. 

Molly: At a different place that I worked at fresh out of college. I was an event manager and oh my gosh, it was the most wild thing. I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing but everybody from the guest list had shown up. They were in the ballroom, they had a cocktail hour. And then the DJ announced that the wedding party had arrived. Everybody found their seats, the wedding party was introduced, everything was going perfect. Then, you know, it didn't take long to realize, okay, this wedding party was probably on the party bus a little too long. And maybe have drank a little too much. And but you know, it was like, okay, the night is still young. You know, they've all got plenty of water on the head table like this, this will be okay. Well, I was just kind of observing the room just looking around and I could see something was wrong with the bride, you could just tell on her face. It was a color that's not even a color. And I walked over there just to see if she was okay. And as I'm getting closer, I see her reach behind her maid of honor and just throw up everywhere. And at first I'm like, okay, we need to get this taken care of before anybody notices. And so I grabbed her maid of honor, I grabbed the bride and we start heading towards the bathroom like okay, we'll get this all cleaned up. It's not a big deal. So as we're in the bathroom, I hear over the DJ sound system that the best man has grabbed the microphone. And he starts telling the story and goes on and on. And I'm like, okay, there's a lot of rambling going on. Like what am I hearing like we're in the middle of dinner service salads have already been served. They're getting ready to bring out the entree like what is going on? So I go back into the ballroom and see the best me on handing the microphone over to the groom. 

And then the groom makes an announcement saying, “Hey, everybody, thanks so much for coming. This is the best day of our lives. However, my bride seems to not be feeling well. So you can go ahead and leave!” And it was this awkward silence. And I'm just thinking, “What do you mean, they can leave, they haven't even served the entree, there hasn't been a dance, there hasn't been a toast.” There hasn't been, you know, like, me being that event person just kind of going through like we didn't hit any of the events. We do not go through the whole timeline, you know? But sure enough, the guests we're kind of looking around, like, is he being serious? And sure enough, he really was being serious. He said, “You know what, you guys are free to, you know, leave if you want, but stay if you have to.” And maybe half the people left, and then the bride and groom just never showed back up to the reception. So weird, very horrific, and awful. 

Dr. K: I just can't even Oh, my goodness. You know, I'm sitting there thinking about that story. And I'm like, Well, clearly, you came in and saved the day, and you were like, he's just, haha. If they never show back up, you can't even fix it. 

Molly: No. So we did end up serving the rest of the meal. To the people that did stay. The parents of the bride apologized 1,000 times over. And we were like, “No, we're here for you. We are here to accommodate you and what you want.” And they're like, “Well, the groom already made his decision, so” And they in turn, they were also kind of like thankful that knowing that the bride wasn't feeling well that the groom was like, immediately by her side. And so there were a couple jokes playing like, “Oh, well, in sickness and in health!” And so it ended up being okay. 

Dr. K: I have been so fortunate to have worked with you on a variety of things, and to send a lot of people your way. So tell me now, tell me your favorite events. And of course, I already know which one it's going to be but what’s your favorite event? 

Molly: Well, it was last March, I believe. So it was right before COVID had really kind of taken over the world. And so we didn't know it then. But I think we were kind of getting, you know, a little bit of words of like, yeah, there's this illness. And I remember masks were provided and but definitely not required yet. And it was through event link Event LNK. And this school, the students mostly put it on. And it was really, really cool. The meal, there were four different cuisines. And every single table had a different cuisine in it. So there were 12 tables, I want to say. And then, like every third table was a different cuisine. So it was really, really cool. A lot of people walked away from that event and talking about how great the food was and how it was something they've never seen before. But honestly, one of my favorite things about that was the after party across the street, they had a reception where they transformed basically an abandoned parking lot office space. And it was really cool. I've never seen a space come to life like that before. 

Dr. K: I remember so distinctly and this just is such a testament to you. And the Cornhusker. I remember very distinctly last year, I was there with some of the students and it was a lightbulb moment. And we were talking about cuisine, you're like, “Well, what do you guys want and the chef from what not?” And I'm like, “Why do we have to choose? Like, why can't we just do a whole bunch of different things. And then we can just let people decide when they get here, “Oh I’m feeling Asian today. So I'll sit at an Asian table”, or “I'm feeling Italian today so I’ll sit at an Italian table!” And of course, it was like family style, which would never work in COVID. No.

Molly: Definitely a last hurrah kind of thing without knowing it was a last hurrah. But I think, you know, I can say on behalf of all of the every hotel, every venue that has gone through what we all just went through. I mean, we're all going to be stronger in the end. And so I've learned so much. And I always think, you know, I hold this survivor's guilt near and dear in my heart, because it's like, gosh, I have such great employees and co workers here. And now that I'm the only one here it's like, “Oh, I'm so grateful for my job, but I feel equal parts guilty.” But you know what, though? We're hitting the ground running.

Dr. K: And one of the things that I think makes you stand out like so incredibly, which is probably one of the reasons why you kept on and like stayed on and everything was just that I've worked with so many sales and event managers, and banquet managers, and banquet captains and I love, you said earlier, the focus on making all the tiny details. Instead of me just communicating to you, this is what I want. I say this is kind of the grand vision of what we're going for. And like, and because you do know the chef and you do know the venue and you do know the things you could say like, “Well, how about this?” ‘Or how about that?” And then we just build off each other, then this year, so many exciting things happening again as a Cornhusker. We're gonna have the most colorful beautiful, bright food I can't give away too much. But it's, it's gonna be incredible. And we are hybrid. We're a hybrid event teaching event planners how to do hybrid effectively, which is extra fun. And we have such great support. And I don't know if you've seen our schedule of our speaker lineup, oh my goodness, we have people from I think like six or seven different countries speaking, it's going to be incredible!

Molly: I'm going to be in there, I'm gonna be watching it as much as possible.

Dr. K: We have got so much going on, I think we have just the support of students is always just so incredible. And that interaction with the industry is just phenomenal. I'm so excited.So as we're wrapping up the podcast today, all of our amazing listeners all over the world, different areas, different positions, different stages in life, if you had one kind of piece of advice or closing thoughts, something you want to impact on the world? No pressure, what would that be?

Molly: I kind of a couple things. So if you are in the position where you were thinking, “Gosh, I really want to be more involved in the hospitality industry. But how do I get there? How do I get started?” My number one piece of advice is get your foot in the door. Because I am so incredibly thankful that I did that when I was in college. And I started working for a hotel here in Lincoln. And I wanted to get into the events that I wanted to see the operational side of events. And so I started working as a banquet server. And it was so beneficial for me. And I know you can relate to that too, when you had worked at a hotel. But it was cool, because I just got to see this event order get brought to our banquet department, and I could read through it, and then make it happen in front of my eyes. And so if you at all want to be in the hospitality industry, just get your foot in the door. 

And thankfully, with our industry, you know, really turning that turn that corner, and getting to where, you know, events are happening again. Now, I'm seeing more than ever, people are hiring. So get that foot in the door, get some experience, if you want to get involved, just Just do it. Like, don't look back, just do it. Another thing that I do, I feel like I say this almost every day is that this is the hospitality industry. It is not the same as it was ten years ago, it won't be the same tomorrow. It's not the same as it was yesterday, like this is an ever changing industry, it will never be the same. So don't ever get too comfortable. Because you have to be flexible. And you have to be looking for the next best thing. And always anticipate that. You can't just sit back and watch. This is not the industry to do that And I think that's about the biggest things to take away. But life's too short to not enjoy. So find a job that you love. 

Thank you so much and seriously for all of our amazing podcast listeners are listening today. If you haven't mental linkit if you have the chance to come to Lincoln, Susan, a terrible manager at the Cornhusker right now and Dan Jones in sales and Molly here, just wonderful, amazing people and you have to reach out and you have to look them up because they are just so incredible and such great supporters of the HRTM program and our industry in general. So thank you so much again, Molly, for coming on the podcast today. 

Molly: Thank you for having me. This has been a blast. 

Dr. K: Yes, absolutely. And thank you all to our amazing listeners for taking the time. Make the time I'll talk with you soon.