Meet Jessie Newell, the event coordinator at Victoria Parks in Queensland. Jessie shares with us how she and her team have been helping couples celebrate their wedding amongst COVID guidelines in QLD and then we discuss why couples choose VIC Parks as a wedding venue.
Recorded 20th Nov 2020
Jessie Newell: I’ve been doing events since I think I could talk, but I’ve officially been doing events and managing events for 20 years. I’ve gone through every facet of the events industry from bartending to working on the floor to closing shifts to being a pokie manager to weddings and then, obviously sales and events. Before Victoria Park, I was at the RNA, the Brisbane Showgrounds, the home of EKKA, so I was there for almost eight years, and I’ve been at a few up venues as well.
I’ve been at Victoria Park for just under 4 years now and as I said, we do about 160 weddings a year and we do about 1200 corporate events a year. We are busy and we love what we do and we do it well, so I’m looking forward to sharing some about tips.
Pete The Celebrant: Tell us a little bit about what wedding ceremonies have been like with the restrictions?
Jessie Newell: I guess what we did was we communicated regularly with our couples, and I would really encourage that, even if you don’t know all the answers, tell them the answers that you do know, even repeat what your premier saying out to them, and let them know what you can do for them. We’ve just tried to make our brides and grooms or our grooms and grooms, as stress-free as possible for them, just laying it all out.
We’ve done the Covid safe plan, we’re going to get your Covid registry for ceremonies. To answer your question, we would space a spot where a chair would be, and then another chair, so there’s a good half a meter between chairs. We’re just putting out half the chairs, and then we would ask our celebrants to really encourage the Covid safe practices, not embracing one another, and just being respectful, especially of the elderly.
And pre registering so for weddings most of the time, you know who’s coming to your wedding, so we had our private registry done, and then we had a manual one on the day that people can fill out, if they were a last minute yes or a replacement guest. We also had QR Codes, which really helps in queuing. There’s nothing worse than running late to get to a wedding and then having to queue for a Covid registry and making the bridal party late. So there’s a few things that we’ve implemented there.
Pete The Celebrant: With some of those, working within the guidelines and restrictions, was there anything the couple needed to prepare beforehand?
Jessie Newell: Not really, obviously just the guest list, everything else was on us as the venue. We would touch base with any suppliers that they had contracted, such as the celebrant, florist, DJ and make sure they had a Covid safe plan and that they were compliant with our rules, and then we’d all work in together to make sure that it was as fabulous as it could be. It was more just giving them the guidelines of what they can and can’t do and we tried to focus on what they can do because there were so many cant’s and just keeping the conversation as positive as possible.
Victoria Parks is close to Brisbane City without the hustle and bustle
Pete The Celebrant: What about wedding receptions Tell us about how you worked within those restrictions, and maybe even some ideas of things that you implemented, or you saw other suppliers bring to life.
Jessie Newell: I think the hardest part of the restrictions for us, was when you weren’t allowed to stand and drink or stand in eat, that was really difficult for families to comprehend, and so we had some great suppliers come up with some workarounds. Where you sit down and then they do interactive things for your tables. Then instead of dancing, they had zoolander walk offs, so 1 or 2 people would get up and have a dance off, and some more wedding trivia in the audience.
From our side of things, we didn’t not give the bride and groom anything that they had booked, we just upped our level of service. So as a venue we took a hit, at the bottom line I guess. So we upped our waiters, we ensured that we had tongs to serve canapés’, so they still could have their canapés’, and we’d just serve it to them seated.
There was a lot of backend operational changes that we needed to do to ensure that our couples had their best day ever, and they did cost us, but we’re so happy that we did, the feedback has just been so rewarding. These people are still saying, it was the best day of their life, and they didn’t even miss dancing, so it was really good.
Pete The Celebrant: Well tell us about Vic Park. I know that you’ve got multiple places in order for ceremonies to happen and getting married and different spots for receptions. Tell us about it.
Jessie Newell: Victoria Park is a very very iconic venue in Brisbane, we have five unique spaces for weddings and receptions and we can cater for a wedding from 40 up to 400, so it’s a really versatile space. One of the things that I meant to touch on before, was about the communication with the couples. One of the things that I did in preparation for our conversation today was to look at how many times I communicated with couples during Covid, and it was twice a month.
I sent them a communication personally, telling them what was happening currently, even if it wasn’t much? This is what’s currently happening, we’re still here, we’re here for you, we’re answering phone calls, we’re not at our desks, we’re not allowed to be at our desks, but we are still here, and that competence really stopped people cancelling.
Some people still postponed, but we were able to retain a lot of business and I would encourage people to really listen to their suppliers and listen to their venues, and if they say they can do it, trust them and still have your day.
We did a booking guarantee to encourage people to book. So if Covid was still a problem in September 2021, you can postpone at no penalty. Those sorts of little clauses in contracts mean the world to people, when they’re putting a lot of their hard earned money in your hands. So, it certainly helps, and we reduced the amount we’re asking for upfront, because we knew people weren’t necessarily earning their full wage. So it’s just those little things that I think really helped us come through.
We’ve actually continued to do showcases throughout this period, so we’ve done three wedding showcases, we did an open day, and we did hour intervals. So we allowed 100 Covid guests for the first hour across all of our venues, then we did the next hour and then the next hour and people were so appreciative that they could still have an open day experience with restriction. We did menu tastings as well. Once again, clients really appreciative, suppliers really appreciative, because they were locking in customers as well.
Great places for wedding photos at Victoria Parks
Pete the Celebrant: Tell us how long as Vic Park been running?
Jesse Newell: Oh gosh, I think 20 years, and we’re just coming up to some really big changes here. The Lord Mayor is about to announce, we just had our election, so we’re just waiting on where money is sitting and how much money is left in the kitty after that little thing called Covid 19, so our extended golf course here, the 18 holes, is actually closing on the 30th of June and then it’s being turned into public parklands for the general public, and then we’re hopefully going to be adding some of our facilities. So hopefully building a few new wedding venues, a few new beautiful arbours and purpose built facilities for the Brisbane general public to come and use.
Pete The Celebrant: Yes that’s great and did you mention that Vic Park has a few different venues within it, like a few different business areas within it?
Jesse Newell: The area I’m in is the Function Events Team, and then we have our bistro which is extremely popular, especially for families on the weekend. We do free jumping castles, kids playground and then we have our golf and our golfing facilities.
The driving bays, and the putt putt has been insane during Covid, people have got that recreational sport town back. So we launched our Christmas putt putt and we’ve got 13,000 people booked to come through the doors over the next four weeks. Good old putt putt, my area, which I was just talking about. So we’re extremely busy here, but we love what we do and we’re very versatile, so you’ll see somebody walking around in golf gear and someone in a black tie gown.
And we would do on average day, about five events daily.
Pete The Celebrant: Is there anything else about Vic Park you’d like to share?
Jesse Newell: It’s just one of those beautiful venues you feel like home, when you come here. We’ve got two full-time gardeners and the gardens are impeccable, you walk through we’ve got herb gardens, we’ve got sustainable gardens, our chefs pick the vegetables and herbs from the garden, put them in our products. We try to only use locally sourced Queensland products for all of our meals, so it’s the footprint that we’re leaving. Yes it’s a really lovely place to be daily and to work.
Wedding Ceremony and Reception at the same place…wedding organised!
I think we’re very transparent, and the way that I sell it is, we’re a one stop shop, but the figure that we put in our proposal, you can come and have your wedding for that figure. You don’t need to add $5 for a centre piece, $5 for a cushion and $5 for this, there’s no additional fees.
Our fee includes everything and it’s really comforting to couples, especially those on a budget, to know that that’s there. Our food quality is also exceptional and that’s why I host so many menu tastings a year, because I think if you come and eat the food, then it’s a very simple decision and it’s a picture perfect, we’ve got a beautiful city views behind you, free parking, and yes we’re a stone throw from the city, so it’s easy for people to get to.
I think that they need to trust us more. I feel as though I hear my planners on the phone answering the same question to the same couple every week. There just needs to be a little bit of trust there, and know that we’re professionals at what we do, and we do it so often, that they should have a little more faith in the system, and the product that they’ve purchased.
I think we would all like that and you know, people calling, I think if there’s an announcement in the government, we’re hearing about it the minute you’ve heard about it, we don’t have a magic hotline.
So if you’re going to call me, one minute after announcements made and asked me what our plans are, I’m going to say to you, I might need an hour or so to work out how we are going to implement these changes. So I wish they would just consider those things as well, but I understand they’re excited and it’s a big day, and we’re very mindful of that.
Also, if we’ve recommended you book a certain supplier, book them. I had a couple that I booked during Covid, and they went and found all these quotes, and they came back to me and said, the DJ can’t do this, the celebrant won’t do this, and this person won’t do this message.
Here are the people I trust, call them. Four months later, they finally called them and they were so happy because they had a proper Covid safe plan. So listen to those that are doing what they’re doing and doing it well, and listen to who they’re going to recommend, because they’re not going to give you a bum steer.
I think always make sure that you read your contracts. I feel for people that are losing money during these times, especially people that have integral parts of their family overseas and they can’t have their wedding without them, you need to be able to change your wedding date. I think it’s really important that you have contracts that are flexible and that’s with a postponement, I’m not encouraging people to cancel, I’m just saying postpone, and keep the money in the industry, keep your dreams alive, and postpone to a date when your family can attend.
But, make sure that you have the ability to postpone without penalty, if it is due to Covid 19. That’s something that I think a lot of people haven’t really put a lot of thought into, especially suppliers and venues, they haven’t redone their contracts? If you want to cancel because a guess can’t come, you’re up for cancelation fees and that can be quite expensive. So I would really encourage people to read their contracts and negotiate a Covid clause, especially if you’ve got overseas guests.
My brother’s getting married in December, and he’s been touching base with me every week going, Jesse what’s happening? Can I dance yet? Can I do this yet, and I was so thrilled to be able to call him the other day, and say mate you can dance. He’s just so happy.
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