The Walt Disney Company knows that its mission must be actively practiced by every cast member (employee) at every level. To do this, every person on their team needs to know the priority of service standards so that they are equipped to make good decisions on their own every time. The 5 Disney Key Service Standards are: Safety, Courtesy, Show, Efficiency, and as of 2021: Inclusion. It may surprise you to know that these are in a certain order intentionally, and like Disney, our number one goal was not courtesy when producing the wedding of the daughter of a Disney CEO (say what?).
“But Disney is all about courtesy!” you say. And you are correct. But imagine allowing guests not to be safety-belted in on rides (think Guardians of the Galaxy, formerly Tower of Terror ride) all because courtesy was your number one priority and you didn’t want to upset anyone. No one would be having a good time or appreciating courtesy if their lives were in jeopardy. You couldn’t even reach the rest of the keys of Courtesy, Show, Efficiency and Inclusion if Safety didn’t provide the fundamental foundation for them all to thrive and allow Disney to do what it does best: world class service, hospitality, and epic entertainment.
So when it came to the wedding of the daughter for a Disney CEO, our approach was no different.
Here are a few casual planner’s notes of how we touched on the 5 Disney Keys for this event, starting with the largest piece as the foundation for all the others: safety.
In Santa Barbara, the private estates at which events are held are usually vintage, with many being built in the 1920s. This gives them timeless elegance and for private events: a highly unique guest experience. It also can provide some challenges for the event partner team who is tasked to provide an elegant “show” for the client and their guests. Often these older estates have one way in, one way out, and one singular path for one vehicle at a time. There is also the electrical demand for lighting, caterer’s satellite kitchens, entertainment, mobile VIP restrooms on trailer, and more that far exceeds what the venue can provide due to its age. Also, because many of these estates are further away from city lights, they can look magical by day or twilight, but come nighttime, they can be black holes – both “on stage”(the part of the event guests experience and see) and “back stage” (the part guests should never see- the “underpants” of the event, if you will – where staff is, breaks are taken, trash is compiled, cooking takes place, etc).
Our commitment to safety is for our clients and their guests, but also for our event partner team.
By not just visiting the site once, but going back repeatedly with the event and design team- even having a mock run-through for installation and strike (without all the gear, but inventorying what would be unloaded how, when and where), we were able to proactively create an arrival schedule for all installation vehicles so traffic would not back up and create a potential hazard for emergency access (or departure), determine which equipment would go in first, so fewer teams were working simultaneously, lessening the potential for accidental conflict with different service & company installations & their equipment. Visiting the property at the actual invitation & event time for guests- from twilight through late night also allowed us to proactively spot and prevent potential safety hazards. Here are just a couple of examples:
“On-stage”: from the valet station which had plenty of light and a nice waiting “lounge” tent for guests while their car was being retrieved at evening’s end to the actual walkways from the main event back to the valet which were completely black at night (had we not walked it ourselves at night at the time guests would be departing, we may have initially thought that just lighting the valet station was enough). Upon further inspection during the actual hours the event was to take place, we noticed that the walking path leading from the main event back to the valet was a bit uneven, even with the soft path lighting we added, so we staged staff along the path with flashlights to help direct – and also say good night and thank guests- on their way to valet. Side note: along those lines, we did something similar for another event & client and had the guest’s favors waiting for them to take home at the valet station so the guest didn’t have to carry it with them all night at the event or have it take up space on the dining table during the event. It’s a great way to wrap up an event with a thank you and a little unexpected “wow” for your Grand Finale (and yes, every event needs a Grand Finale). “Off-stage”: realizing the lighting we had for the satellite kitchen was not enough for Chef and their team to prep as safely as should be, as well as providing a well-lit (and warm) place for our event partner teams to rest and eat.
While just a couple of examples of how we set “Safety” as our first priority, you may be able to more clearly understand why this must come before all the other fabulous items like Courtesy and Show (my personal two favorites of every event).
Courtesy, Show & Efficiency:
Prompt response to all communications from our clients & event partners; having a pre-event partner prep meeting with everyone on site (even for those event partners who work entirely behind the scenes “off stage”) about expectations, timeline, ethics, staying off your phone while in guest view, holding off on personal in-person conversations with colleagues in front of guests (at Nordstrom, we called it “huddling” and it’s a big no-no); walking a guest to their requested location and not just pointing it out to them – or radioing ahead to let a colleague know so the guest can be personally greeted and escorted; for guests: providing shawls for extra warmth as well as take-home flat slippers for those in heels for comfort; finding out in advance if there were guests with special needs: including guests requiring handicapped access so that we could have special transportation and an escort ready for them on arrival; doing final light, audio, music sound checks long before first guest steps on property, and so much more.
Hiring the perfect talent for an event is the (relatively) easy part. But integrating that talent into the vision so that it is in line with a legendary standard of safety, courtesy, show and efficiency every step of the way is what separates the professionals from the legends.
Finally, while the 5th key of Inclusion was just added this last year and did not exist at the time of this particular event, I can honestly say that this key has always been a part of our events. During the planning stages, asking our clients about their preferences (culturally, religiously and also with regard to LGBTQ+) family and guests having any special needs so that we were actively preparing to accommodate them is one example.
For my own in-house team we make it a practice to keep evolving by actively seeking out opportunities to learn more, grow and watch for any blind spots that are holding us back from being more inclusive: from marketing, to service, to how we treat each other. There are endless opportunities and we are on the constant journey of evolution.
all photos by Summer Scotland
Author Kerry Lee Doehr is the Founder and CEO (retired) of Santa Barbara Wine Country Weddings & Events and while segueing her career to The Walt Disney Company : Parks Experiences and Products division, you can find her at her consultancy for leadership and customer experience for the special event and hospitality industry, Engaging Inspiration.