You have to love someone who is enamored by the grace and elegance of Venice, Italy, while also being drawn to the gritty rap of Eminem. And we do love Christine Lawson, not only for her style but also for her astute business acumen. Christine is Senior Vice President of Sales and Catering, overseeing a 240-person sales force as well as our meetings and banquet operations. She’s also a pillar of the Kimpton family, having been with the company for 23 years. We asked Christine a few questions about her job, what she’s learned at Kimpton and how she keeps her life in balance.
Q: Why is it important to have truly memorable banquet food? People are so used to mediocre food at meetings and events.
A: A lot of people don’t realize that in nearly all of our 60 hotels across the country, we also operate the restaurant that’s directly adjacent. With the average size of our hotels being relatively small — about 200 rooms — we don’t have separate catering kitchens that service our banquets; our food comes from the same line that serves the restaurant guests. It’s important for us to have unexpectedly creative and delicious restaurant-quality food at our meetings and events because it’s simply part of our brand promise.
Q: How does that catering process work?
A: We like to sit down with a client and say, “Listen, we’ve got menu items already created that you can pick from, but what are you really trying to accomplish? What do you want from this meeting or this event? Do you want to grab people’s attention? Do you need them to feel productive and inspired?” A client can then actually sit down with the chef in one of our living rooms and create a special menu or create a special theme. So I think our ability to really customize an event, combined with our chefs and our food, is a big deal.
Q: What’s the best or biggest lesson you’ve learned at Kimpton?
A: I’ve learned it’s OK to be authentic at work and to not be afraid of taking risks. Which can sometimes be daunting, frankly. There’s just a sense that nothing’s off the table. When we have a meeting, every idea is thrown out there — as crazy as it may seem or as benign or basic as it may sound. I think my biggest lessons have been to be myself and to take risks; to do things that are counterintuitive to what I might normally do within my comfort zone.
Q: How do you keep balance?
A: My nature is not to be balanced, but I can really find balance in the simple things. I’m pretty adamant about exercise, and I don’t mean having to be on a treadmill; I just mean being out and moving to clear my head and my body. I’m very committed to my friends and family and to making sure that my social circle is well maintained, that I’m not letting that atrophy at the expense of work; I find that the times I’ve done that, I’m not as effective at work. And I’m also pretty much a certified music fiend. No matter how stressed I am, if I have access to great music or you take me to a great concert, then I’m a happy camper.
Q: Who are some of your favorites?
A: That’s a tough one. My parents were Berkeley hippies, and I credit them for my rather diverse taste in music. I love everything from classical to ’60s rock to any good head-banging G N’ R or Nirvana song. And, while I hate to admit it because it is not PC, I am a big fan of Eminem. His lyrics and the speed with which he raps are amazing … I just find his music entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. I’m gonna let my parents off the hook for that one, though.
Q: What’s your favorite place on Earth?
A: Venice, Italy — which I’ve been to many times — is my favorite place on Earth. It just has this absolute, indestructible beauty and grace about it, and there’s something mysterious and exciting about its instability. Everywhere you walk, the cobblestones are unstable, and you know it could flood at any moment. It’s somehow withstood the test of time and continues to persevere; it’s simply breathtaking and amazing. It just speaks to me.
I have a question:
On taking risks, and what you might normally do within your comfort zone, can you name a specific example of an event idea that your team implemented, that you thought was crazy?
Great question Sally! Every year, I host a company meeting with about 400 of my closest Kimpton friends. I’m always ready in hand with a 20 page checklist outlining in excruciating detail every last piece of the program. And every year, we always end up veering away from it in some pretty interesting directions.
• Man in a bathtub (with swim trunks on – promise!)
• Man singing on a horse in the hotel lobby (and playing a guitar, of course)
• Woman on stilts (wearing a dress of champagne flutes)
• Woman in a red-carpet dress (with employees walking down her train – no joke)
• Synchronized swimmers (for breakfast time entertainment)
• Real live bison (who just so happens to be an honorary InnerCircle member)
I would have to say these items were not on my checklist and outside my comfort zone, but made the meetings special.
Great insight into you Christine! Having worked with you on industry projects, I know you are the most dedicated and talented of those I’ve had the pleasure to work with. At the same time, never for lack of having some fun!
Oh, Laurie. Thank you so much. I have always loved working with you. You bring out the fun in me, and taught me what it means to be “snarky.” Which I’m not … at least not most of the time. 🙂
12/28–Today’s Web ad “Last Minute Deals” (Washington DC) touts a beginning rate of $99. good for seven days. We tried to book that at the Madera. The web reservation site does not work. NO reservation clerk at the end of the phone line knows anything about that ad nor is willing/able to help book that or any other DC hotel in that ad for that rate or anything close to it. False advertising? Incompetent help?? Not the Kimpton we are used to dealing with.
Hi David! We’re bummed to hear we dropped the ball in helping you with a reservation for DC. We would love to show you the Kimpton service you’ve come to expect and help you out with booking a stay. Could you send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org? Thanks!
Ms. Lawson, I’d like to know where I can turn to received assistance with settling a cancelled meeting. I recently had to cancel because my contract dates were incorrect.
I have all my emails to back up the mistake and I’m being ask to pay for the all the rooms.
Hi Monica, please contact the Sales Manager at the hotel where the meeting was cancelled, and we’ll be happy to assist you. Thank you.