A First for Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre

After months of uncertainty and unprecedented circumstances, the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg worked diligently with public health officials to host the first food and beverage functions at a Canadian convention centre since COVID-19 brought the country to its knees.

When it was evident that large gatherings were not going to be possible this summer, events everywhere were either cancelling, rescheduling or adapting in order to meet public health protocols.

During the first weekend of July, the convention centre converted a 43,000 sq ft exhibition hall that would typically accommodate 2,500 guests for a banquet, into a modified setting for a downsized 115-person wedding on the Friday and 150-person wedding on Saturday.  Manitoba Public Health guidelines dictated that the maximum number of people permitted indoors was 50, except where distinct groups of 50 could be separated to prevent contact with other groups. The couples had the task of reducing their original numbers and grouping their family and friends into cohorts of fifty.

The large area meant the room was basically divided into three separate, beautifully decorated dining spaces with designated washrooms, their own bar, bartenders and dedicated serving staff for each cohort. Coloured wristbands to differentiate cohorts were distributed when guests arrived at the centre.  Convention centre ambassadors then escorted each guest to their pre-determined area which was their space for the duration of the evening to eliminate the opportunity for intermingling between cohorts.

Guests enjoyed a three-course plated dinner with individually served bread, personal wine service and individual servings of all condiments to avoid multiple contact touchpoints.

From the moment their clients decided to continue with hosting their downsized events at the convention centre, it was evident that the key to the success would be consistent communication between the clients and the centre with exceptional attention to detail.

“We knew that in order to successfully deliver and execute these two events, communication was going to be paramount,” said Drew Fisher, President & CEO, RBC Convention Centre. “Our sales manager, event coordinators and director of food & beverage worked closely with our clients and Manitoba Public Health officials every step of the way in order to ensure we were all on the same page and complying with the detailed public health guidelines and mandates. We wanted to create an evening that felt ‘normal’ in these not so normal circumstances. What a perfect learning opportunity for us to be better prepared for hosting large meetings and conventions once again.”

“The extra attention to detail and preventative measures by all members of our team was exceptional and ensured our building was ready. All members of our service team went through a specialized return to work training in order to be prepared for the new environment. With our enhanced cleaning and safety protocols, we ensured safety and security for everyone who walked through our doors,” Fisher added.

From the early planning stages, it was important that the client agreed to be a partner in ensuring the cohort model guidelines were adhered to and communicated clearly to their guests during the event. “We felt it was essential that announcements and gentle reminders pertaining to the guidelines were made throughout the evening by the emcee or wedding party. It was more effective coming from a familiar face,” said Fisher.

In an exhibition hall that would typically host large meetings, conventions, galas, trade and consumer shows, the beautiful City View Room with its floor-to-ceiling windows was an ideal backdrop for two events that were in need of extra space.

As convention centres across the country continue to look for creative ways to welcome guests back into their buildings, the RBC Convention Centre has used this experience to reinforce their capacity to bring people together in a safe and comfortable environment.

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