Event Design

What The White Lotus Can Teach Event Planners

Jennifer Coolidge and Jon Gries of The White Lotus on a Vespa.

Skift Take

Meeting professionals can learn how to avoid making major mistakes in food and beverage, attendee health, and more by heeding the lessons of the offbeat hit TV show, The White Lotus.

We can learn from TV. Seinfeld taught us that nothing can be fraught with meaning. Breaking Bad warned against mixing ruthless ambition with chemistry. Likewise, the current hit The White Lotus offers cautionary lessons on event planning and hospitality as each season takes viewers on a surreal vacation in a different exotic setting, courtesy of the fictional White Lotus luxury global hotel chain.

The following points gleaned from the dramedy offer advice for event professionals of all stripes, with a special nod to those planning a return to in-person VIP programs in far-flung locales. Warning: Synopses drawn from the show’s first two seasons may contain spoilers. 

Keep the Menu Fresh

In both the freshman and sophomore entries of The White Lotus, breakfast and dinner provide a backdrop for drama — along with an unappetizing monotony. The guests, who seem to never miss a meal, are hyper-aware (and wary) about the food being paid for in advance, and at least one character complains about having fully memorized the menu. In planning real-world premium events, planners can avoid menu fatigue by selecting venues with multiple restaurant outlets and/or collaborating with venue chefs to create exciting rotating options. For multi-day events, offering menu variety is as essential as adhering to individual dietary restrictions. 

Prepare Attendees for Activities

In season one, insecure corporate honcho Mark Mossbacher, played by Steve Zahn, desperately seeks to connect with his alienated teenage son through various activities at the White Lotus Maui. Unfortunately, he has not planned ahead, and thanks to various snafus such as bad weather and a lack of certifications, father and son are relegated to snorkeling in murky seaweed. Today’s savvy VIP event planners ensure their attendees (even the spoiled ones) have the best experiences by working ahead to guide and prepare them for potential activities. They do this by providing as much information as possible, including detailed descriptions, booking deadlines, and weather forecasts, along with personal recommendations.

Pre-book Spa Appointments

Eccentric heiress Tanya McQuoid, played by Jennifer Coolidge, arrives at the Maui resort in season one with jet lag and a bad back. She attempts to set up an impromptu massage from the spa only to discover the facility is fully booked. This conflict is essential for the plot, but in real life, smart planners overseeing high-end groups avoid such setbacks by encouraging and facilitating pre-booked spa sessions. When the budget allows, hold onto a few generic appointments just in case. If attendees do not use them and your company policy permits, they make great gifts for deserving event staff.

Create a Smart Custom Library

Whether Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” or Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae,” the books carried about and read by the vacationing characters in The White Lotus are not just props; they serve as ironic clues to character, making delightfully blatant statements about their readers. In the nonfictional VIP event world, creating a library and customizing reading material for attendees is an inexpensive yet impactful way to delight. Find out in advance what they want to read and curate a library for them. This can include their favorite magazines and books as well as pre-loaded iPads and Kindles.

Bedside Reading is one program that can help. It places books in the guestrooms of luxury and boutique hotels and offers a digital program, Bedside Reading on the Download.

Go All-Out on Medical Resources

Each season of The White Lotus opens with a murder. While this is an extreme scenario, preparing for attendees’ safety should be routine. Most event professionals fashion some kind of security plan yet rarely consider having access to a medical team, which is especially key if holding the event outside the host company’s country. Luxury properties often partner with local physicians, clinics, and hospitals, but even this might not be enough. Aim for round-the-clock coverage, and put all pertinent contact numbers on speed dial. While hotel manager Armond, played by Murray Bartlett, could not avoid tragedy in season one of The White Lotus, immediate access to doctors and associated care could prove the showstopper that saves the day for your VIP event — and helps renew your role as a savvy event planner for another successful season