What Makes a Benefit a Success?

Although I'm happy that the $15 at the door went, hopefully, to help out a great musician, I still felt like I'd bent over

By Dena Burroughs
Published on LatinoLA: November 28, 2005

What Makes a Benefit a Success?

I'm talking about a social event or a performance that is held to raise money for a cause.

Obviously the main sign of success for such a Benefit would be to gather lots of money. But I am of the opinion that for such an event to be truly a success, both the organizers, and those in attendance, should leave it feeling satisfied.

The way I see it: If an event promises a good time, a good performance, X or/and Y, in exchange for money at the door, just as the attendees are supposed to come up with the cash, so are the organizers supposed to come up with the promised product.

Problem is, I don't think that's always the case. Take my experience Sunday, November 27, 2005, as an example. I attended the Benefit at La Barca Grill in Whittier, just to find myself back at home within two hours, holding my liver in my hand [figuratively speaking. Don't freak].

On paper it sounded great. Fifteen dollars at the door for ten hours of entertainment... what a deal! Plus one of the best congueros in the world on the line up... I'm there!, and on top of that I'd be helping out someone that can really use the cash... sounded like a plan!

So I arrived at La Barca around 3 pm, paid at the door, and was escorted to a table right by the sound system. After a bit of adjustment between my chair and the sound people, bump here and bump there, excuse me ma'am here, and pardon me there, I found a non-bumpable spot, ordered a pitcher of beer and an appetizer platter and got myself settled for my anticipated several hours of fun. Got to see the end of Middle Life Crisis' performance. Nice sound! Then Traffic Jam did their thing. Good stuff too! Folks were starting to move on the dance floor, the band was full of energy. Life was good.

I had a chicken wing in my mouth when I heard an announcement over the speaker. "People wearing the blue band-wrists, please move behind the red line, as the chairs in front are for white band-wrist holders only". Hmmm... sucks to be them! I thought. I would have hated to be one of those poor devils who had to get up and move right then and there to try to find an empty chair in that very crowded mess back there. Good thing I was right behind the red line! phewww...back to my chicken wing...

I must have been cleaning out the last bit of chicken bone when some gray-haired dude (Editor's Note: Not Frankie Firme!) with a radio came over to our table. [I was sharing it with another six people, five strangers and my man, David]. Gray-haired-dude-with-a-radio said we needed to move. That although we were behind the red line they needed our table for the family members of the performing bands. First thing on my mind was.... are the family members paying the get in? Do you already have another table for us to move to Mr.? can I clean the hot wing sauce off my fingers first?

The answers were: [I still don't know], No he didn't have a replacement table, and Yes, I could clean up my fingers on my way elsewhere.

If something similar has happened to you, you'll agree with me. Getting moved from one place once you're settled and eating does not feel good. It is embarrassing, it makes you feel like a second class citizen and it's just plain rude. Having people staring at you while you look around wild-eyed for another chair is further humiliating. Dave and I ended against the back wall, facing a couple who looked just as uncomfortable to have us facing them, as I was to see her boobs popping out at me.

By now the afternoon was starting to lose its charm. While we sat against the wall, I looked for the other five folks who were shoo-ed from our original table. They were 'discussing' the situation with gray-hair-dude-with-a-radio who was now becoming gray-hair-dude-with-an-attitude. Perhaps born from the ultimate power trip of his radio? Who knows.

Meanwhile, a man and a woman two tables in front of us got up and left. I promptly walked to gray-hair-dude-with-a-'tude and asked if we could move there. He told me "No." That if I wanted to request better seating he would work on it starting now but that the table I wanted was going to be given to someone else, and then, and I quote, he said: "Go sit down and wait".

If I were violent I would have punched him. If I were ghetto, I would have cussed him out. Since I'm neither, I lost my happiness and returned to my seat. The waiter asked me if I wanted more beer, I asked for my bill instead, told him I didn't think I'd be staying.

If I were mean I would have left without paying. In that crowd of people nobody would have noticed. But I was a server once upon a time, and the poor waiter was not at fault. He was just a little guy without a radio, come to think of it!

If I were my dad I would have left without tipping, but again, poor server.

At the end, I paid, I tipped, and I left. And although I am happy that the $15 at the door went, hopefully, to help out a great musician, I still felt like I'd bent over.

By my book, having attendees leave a Benefit feeling abused is not a sign of a successful Benefit. Ethically speaking, if my part is to pay at the door, the part of the organizers is to effectively entertain me, or at the very least not make me feel like crap.

Word to the wise: if you are planning a Benefit, estimate carefully how many people will attend. Estimate appropriately how many of the band's grandmas, cousins and tias will attend, and reserve the correct amount of seats to start with. If a customer is already seated and with a chicken wing in her/his mouth, let her/him be, find another seat for grandma.

Even better, quit the bureaucracy and allow the person who got there first to get the better seat. How's that for a concept! A world without red tape!

Do not embarrass your patrons. Do not give a radio to someone who hasn't even seen one before. Instruct your staff to talk to the attendees, understanding that they're no longer four-year olds. Deliver what you promised and people will be willing to help. "If you build it, they will come"... but build it right!

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