Last Friday we held our First Friday social evening at the Tate Britain gallery. Initially, we did not plan to hold our event there, as we usually try to find venues that are close to the City of London and usually arrange in a dedicated area within a Public House or Bar.
Over the Christmas period however, it can be difficult to find a venue that will accommodate the group size that we have, without us leaving a large financial deposit or having a large minimum spend.
So with just three weeks to go before the arranged First Friday for December, we contacted the venue which we had booked three months earlier and we had used a number of times before to confirm all was well for our Christmas event. They informed us that they had double booked us and that our booking was no longer valid.
Upon receiving this information, we were aware that it would be very difficult to find the appropriate venue to host the event at such short notice. Gathering thoughts with Christine and Lulu (who have been invaluable in helping us to re-launch First Friday with the new branding), we shortlisted a couple of potential last minute venues.
One potential idea was to use the Crypt Cafe in Kennington and transform it for a night, but this would have incurred extra costs and required a team logistical effort to ensure it worked properly. Also, although Kennington/Oval is relatively easy to get to, it could put a number of our regulars off.
We also contacted another Balls Brothers venue on the Embankment, knowing that it is a basement venue and that many of their preferred customers would arrive at the venue later in the evening and leave later. Using this as leverage in negotiations, suggesting that our customers would provide early trade and leave early, we started talking and negotiated having just a smaller minimum spend on the bar.
Our third option, was borrowed from "official" event Queen and friend Heather, who was one of the original core First Friday team. Heather is a natural connector and has been organising social events for years. Earlier in the year, Heather organised a number of "Late at the Tate" events held in the Tate Britain for her friends. Having attended one of these events myself and experiencing a different space exploring culture, it became clear that this could be an potential area to host First Friday. There is a great space in the basement cafe, which naturally accommodates a good group in the basement Djanogly Cafe.
We had a chat with Heather, to ask if she was happy with us borrowing her idea, to ensure we had a December event - Heather, as always was fine with this. We also contacted the gallery to see if they were fine with us coming as a group and taking over one area - they too were happy with this. I explained how we would like to use a particular area for our group, so that we could have an element of exclusivity - we were told that was not a problem.
A decision was made to try out the Tate for our December event. When we arrived however, there was the DJ/sound system set up that was blocking the entrance to the area that we were due to use.
When we spoke to the venue and they would not allow us to use the separated area of the venue, which was a shame, but it seemed to work well anyway as people had the option to stay in the cafe area and to also explore the rest of the gallery.
Two things we have learned from this are:
1. Always double check your booking! If we had not double checked the booking, we may have been left without a venue for the evening.
2. Be ready to change your plans and adapt at short notice when things do change.
Last of all, it's most important to relax and have fun. If you have things generally sorted out, the important thing is that you are providing a space to bring people together.