Growing Pains for the Networking Dinner

A few years ago Andy Warren had this idea for a networking dinner. We had been chatting about all the parties and events at PASS, with many of them limited to select individuals. We talked about trying to get more people involved in the community and giving them something to do, so they wouldn’t get stuck in a hotel, as Tim Mitchell did years ago.

This has been a success, but we have growing pains, and we’re looking for some ideas from people in the community, especially those of you going to the PASS Summit for the first or second time.

Skip the history part and drop down if you want to know the issues.

History

We decided we’d host this as a meet-up, just publishing a location and seeing who showed up. We choose a small restaurant in the Pike Place Market that wasn’t busy on Monday night and put the word out. Evidently we know a lot of people because the place was packed. The staff struggled, service was slow, it was hard to move around, but it was fun.

We moved the location to the small mall and the Gordon Biersch in downtown Seattle the next year and sent a notice out earlier. Once again, Andy and I met people at the door, tried to pair them up in groups of four, and let them eat. Once again, it was a bit of a madhouse.

Last year we had a reservation at Buffalo Wild Wings, but apparently some wires got crossed and they lost our reservation. Andy couldn’t make the Summit, but fortunately some friends helped me out, finding a good spot at The Yard House. A couple of us greeted people at BWW and sent them down to the Yard House. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.

Issues

This year we’re having some trouble nailing down a location. The invitation is up, as is the EventBrite, but we don’t have a location. Here are a few of the issues.

Busy Places – A few places we’ve checked are busy on Monday nights with Monday Night Football promotions. Many don’t take reservations. We could just go, and we’ve asked them if they might bring in extra staff, but we worry that the waits will be ridiculous there.

Reserving a Bar – We did find a couple places that take reservations, but they’ve asked for $600+ for the space, before food and drinks. Andy and I don’t mind spending some money on this, but we weren’t really looking to rent space at $300 apiece.

Possible Solutions

This is where you come in. We’ve talked about a few different ideas, but we don’t like any of them. Let us know what you think.

Using the Convention Center

We could probably get space from PASS. However, food and drink is expensive in the convention center, it’s not great, and it’s a pain. Plus we’re spending all week there, so we wanted to get out.

Finding a Sponsor

I work for Redgate Software, and both Andy and I have good relationships with lots of vendors. We could try to get a sponsor for the event and cover the cost.

However.

If Redgate sponsors, someone will be upset. If someone else sponsors, my boss might be upset. However I’m OK with most of that. What neither Andy or I want is someone using a casual networking event to promote something. We don’t really want to be in the stadium name game and sell the name of the event. We don’t want to push emails out to attendees from a vendor.

In short, we don’t love this plan.

Charging Attendees

We’ve gotten around 200 people each year, and I bet we’ll get the same. Certainly we could charge $3-5 for tickets, and I think people would pay. We’d rather not, but it’s an idea.

Raffles

We could raffle off something. Prizes cost money, however, and they could easily turn us more upside down than we are already for the space. We did think about raffling off easy things, like:

  • a private dinner with Andy or I (or some well known volunteers) – We’d fund part of the dinner, or ask our hosts to donate this. However then we’re asking others to spend their own money.
  • some old swag, like some of my Friday shirts. Not sure how much money this raises
  • Some mentoring time – Perhaps some dedicated,private time for mentoring from Andy, myself, or others. Personally I don’t like this as I think mentoring is a gift, and gifts should be given, nor purchased.
  • ??

Staggering Times

We’re already getting tickets reserved (no charge), so we hesitate to change things, but one idea is to limit the number of tickets to a set number every half hour. Say 30-40 people, with multiple sets of tickets. We’d probably do

  • 5:30 – 30 tickets
  • 6:00 – 30 tickets
  • 6:30 – 30 tickets
  • 7:00 – 30 tickets
  • 7:30 – 30 tickets
  • 8:00 – 100 tickets

This might make it easier to just pick a restaurant, but it doesn’t mean that there won’t be waits or that any additional staff will be on hand.

Multiple Locations

We’ve thought about picking 3-4 places in a small area, having attendees meet us somewhere, and we’d pair them up and send them out to restaurants, round robin style. This could work, but I dislike splitting up the crowd.

Thoughts?

A Good Solution

We haven’t come up with  a good solution, but we’re still looking. If you’ve got ideas, especially if you’ve been to one of the other dinners, let us know.

Ultimately this is about getting people to meet each other and interact, so we’d like to keep it low key, low cost, and casual.

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7 Responses to Growing Pains for the Networking Dinner

  1. SQLAndy says:

    I like the idea of having a night that is “sponsor free”. Nothing wrong with sponsors, they are part of the ecology and the community, but they deserve a night off as much as everyone else. Nice to just be family for a night.

  2. How about a variation on the multiple locations idea. Instead of having everyone stay at one location the whole time have them move around. Rather than a long meal have it be more of a drinks & snacks type thing and everyone moves from location to location throughout the evening.

    • way0utwest says:

      I couldn’t see 20 people moving from place to place, much less 200. Right now it’s been a mix of people sitting at tables eating and others in the bar drinking.

  3. SQLAndy says:

    Kenneth, two things to add to your comment. One is that I’d really like to see more after hours events and the other is that could turn into a crawl in a good way, different parties/locations/themes – some noisy, some fast, some slow, etc. I think that might be good overall, but doesn’t help us do what we want to do for our event. We like the critical mass.

  4. Pingback: News About PASS For Week Ending September 5, 2015 |

  5. Randy Randerson says:

    I wonder if there’s a way to incorporate food trucks into this. The usual trucks weren’t there off Pike street (before The Market) this summer but there was construction or something going on in the lot. The biggest challenges with my idea I think would be location and sanitation. For example, the pier down by the Great Wheel. Quite a bit of space, if a few food trucks could hole up there for a bit, people could eat and socialize as they wish. Of course if it rains or is cool, I know, both unlikely in Seattle, then we have a terrible turn out. And even then, as they eat they’ll hear nature’s call. Actually this is a terrible idea. Who came up with this?

    • way0utwest says:

      It’s not a bad idea. I do like the idea of food trucks, but alcohol becomes an issue. I know not everyone drinks, but many would like to have an adult beverage and not being allowed because of legal issues derails this slightly.

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