November 28, 2007
Jana Scopis, director of catering and convention services, W Seattle
The job: Jana Scopis fell in love with event planning while she was in college. As a hotel management major at Central Washington University, she scooped up an internship in the catering department of a historic hotel in Texas, where she helped plan swanky weddings and plush parties. She spent the next decade working her way up the hotel-catering food chain, and in March of 2007, she became the director of catering and convention services at the W Seattle, a position that involves selling, schmoozing, keeping dozens of balls in the air and planning some of Seattle's most lavish parties.
Q. How did you get your start in hotel catering?
A. I got my bachelor of science in hotel management. Back then, the major was called Leisure Services, which everybody hated because it sounded like we didn't do anything. During college, I interned for a quarter at the St. Anthony hotel in San Antonio, Texas. I interned in all the different departments at the hotel, but I fell in love with catering.
From there I graduated and went to work for Embassy Suites in Denver as a catering manager for about two years. And then I came back to Washington and was a district catering director for Compass Group, a food service group, where I catered and planned corporate parties and events for Boeing for three years. Then I became a senior catering manager at the Sheraton Seattle, where I also worked for three years. From the Sheraton, I came to the W.
Q. What's a typical day like for you?
A. The best word to describe my job is "multitasking." I spend a lot of time networking and doing tours of the hotel with future clients. I get to do lunch and drinks with them, and that part is kind of glamorous. Selling is probably the largest part of my job, probably about 60 percent of it, whereas planning comes in second.
I plan multiple events for our clients at once, going over all the event details with them. First I check on room availability. Then I tell the client the prices and we sign a contract. Then we create the menu, go over decoration ideas, room layout, what do you want at your bar, how many bars do you want, what time's dinner, what time's guest arrival – all that fun stuff. I also do tastings of menus for future events, so lots of good food. Once I've planned the entire event from start to finish, I make sure the other departments in the hotel have the information they need to produce it. So I'm working with the banquets department, our kitchen, security, the front desk and the purchasing department, making sure all the events are ready to go.
I also do forecasting of sales for the future -- that's the numbers part. And working with my staff to make sure they have everything they need to be successful. I have a catering manager, a convention service manager and a catering coordinator that work for me. I hire my staff, so part of my job is finding the key people.
(Reality) check, please!
"Everybody comes in thinking my job is like 'The Wedding Planner,' that movie with Jennifer Lopez -- so glamorous. But my job is nothing like that movie. It's long hours. And it's being highly organized and able to juggle a lot of things at once."
- Jobs at W Hotels
- Seattle chapter of the National Association of Catering Executives
- Travel and hospitality jobs on NWjobs
- Hospitality 1st -- news and job listings for the hotel industry
- Highline Community College Hotel and Hospitality Management program
- South Seattle Community College Hospitality Management program
Q. Who are your clients?
A. The majority of my business is corporate. So all the big names: Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon. We also have a lot of nonprofits that we work with on fundraising events. And we do weddings, holiday parties and a lot of social parties, like birthdays. We also have a large celebrity clientele where we handle their private events. That part's really fun. I admit that I do get starstruck.
Q. How many events do you usually work on at once?
A. I try to keep it to about 10 events at once that I'm detailing and planning for. However, if you're at your desk and the person who has an event six months from now calls and wants to go over their event, you have to. We usually book about six months in advance for larger events, about three months in advance for smaller events, and sometimes a year in advance for weddings.
Q. How big are the events you plan?
A. We can do upwards of 350 people for our largest events here, but our smallest event can be for two people. They may be having a private meeting and need a meeting room. Two people may need lunch. How large your venue is determines how large your party can be. When I was doing parties for Boeing, I did several events for 35,000 people.
Q. What hours do you keep?
A. My job is mostly 8 to 5 Monday through Friday. However, when I do have large events on evenings and weekends, I'm here. So that's where the nonglamorous part comes in. The hours are long, especially in December. We have a lot of corporate clients doing events and holiday parties this month. So every December weekend is spent at the hotel.
Q. Do you have a favorite event that you've planned?
A. In my career, my favorite event was a dinner that I did for the President of the United States, George Bush, when I was working at the Sheraton. My team and I did a private dinner for him at a residence in Medina – not Bill Gates'. It was a once-in-a-lifetime offer. And at the W, I got to organize a private concert in our great room for Babyface to promote his new album.
Q. What advice can you give aspiring hotel catering and event directors?
A. Most hotel people have a college degree, so that helps, but it doesn't have to be in hotel management. If you've done any kind of event planning, that helps too. It doesn't even have to be at hotels; a lot of people have done events in college. If you've done any kind of selling, that's also great.
It's all about putting in your time [at a hotel] to work your way up. You really do have to experience the job to learn the ropes. The more events you get under your belt, the better understanding you'll have of how event planning works. Entry-level jobs are available throughout the W hotel. In catering specifically, the catering coordinator would assist me and the other managers in planning events. From there, there's a catering manager position. And then it would obviously be the director of catering. That's the way most hotels work.
Q. What character traits are critical in this line of work?
A. You have to love working with people. That's what I do in 95 percent of my job. You have to be organized. You have to be able to handle high-stress situations because you're working with so many different clients. Weddings are the biggest events of people's lives, so they're pretty stressed out. You need to be creative. You need to be able to work with a team. If you already know how to sell, that's key because you're the one booking the business. And you have to be flexible. Our motto at the hotel is "Whatever/Whenever," so we have to be ready to provide that for our guests, whatever, whenever they want.
Q. Any resources you'd recommend to aspiring hotel catering directors?
A. There's NACE, which stands for National Association of Catering Executives, which is a great organization for getting your feet wet in this industry, and for networking. Networking is big. It's a lot of who you know. Everybody knows everybody in this business.
Q. Does your department offer internships?
A. We do. People can contact our HR department to find out about doing an internship here.
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