Translating the hotel contract

Q? The hotel we’re planning to use for our reunion next summer sent me a sample contract to review. It’s so full of jargon and phrases that I’ve never heard of, it’s hard for me to tell what they’re asking us to commit to. Can someone decipher this for me?

A! Hoteliers and other providers in the hospitality industry do seem to have a language all their own. Below are some common hotel and catering terms you’re likely to see mentioned in standard proposals and contracts, and what they really mean. (Don’t worry … when the hotel refers to your “pick-up,” they’re not talking about someone you met in the hotel bar!)

Something totally unforeseen and beyond either your or the hotel’s control, which would make it impossible for your group or the hotel to fulfill the commitments you made to each other in your contract. If a hurricane destroys the hotel a week prior to your reunion, they would not be obligated to compensate you for their failure to accommodate your group, as this would be an “act of God.” Just because something is beyond your control does not make it an “act of God,” though; an airline strike that prevents your attendees from coming to the reunion is not an “act of God.”

Two rooms that are next to each other. Not to be confused with connecting rooms, which are next to each other and have a doorway that allows passage between the rooms without going out into the hallway.

Menu items or services that are each priced individually, as opposed to those which are packaged, bundled or included for a set price.

A clause in your contract with the hotel which outlines the penalties you will be obligated to pay if you do not utilize as many guest rooms as you’ve agreed with the hotel that you would.


Banquet Event Order (or Event Order, for short). This is the piece of paper that outlines in great detail all the components of a meeting or meal in a hotel: the specific menu, the pricing for the meal, the way the room is to be set up, etc. You must review this very closely before signing it.

Anything the hotel might offer you as in inducement to encourage you to hold your reunion with them. This could includec omplimentary or upgraded rooms or suites, or other items for which there would normally be a charge (e.g., parking, health club usage, etc.).

No, not the blankets on your bed. This refers to the number of people to be served at a banquet or other catered function. Eighty covers means that eighty people will be attending.

No, not a chopped up piece of fruit. It’s the date on which any rooms which have not been reserved from your group’s room block will be released for general sale by the hotel. You’ll always want to encourage your members to make their reservations prior to your cut-off date.

Short for Convention and Visitors Bureau. Almost every city or destination has one, and their services are almost always free. Their mission is to help you plan your reunion or other event in their location. They should always be your first call when you begin planning a reunion. Many CVBs now refer to themselves as Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs).

A hotel room with two beds rather than one.

The hotel’s “brand.” When a hotel converts from a Comfort Inn to a Holiday Inn (or vice-versa), it is said to have “changed flags.” You may wish to request a clause in your contract, allowing you to cancel your event without penalty if the hotel changes flags between the time you sign your contract and the date your reunion takes place.

Information about previous reunions or events your group has held. Many hotels will base certain decisions—e.g., whether to extend credit to a group, provide a more advantageous rate, or give complimentary items—on a group’s history. Be prepared to give this information to hotels you are considering. Having a good, well-documented “history” will increase your negotiating leverage.

Any charges your group incurs in a hotel that are not charged to an individual guest room (for example, charges for your banquet). In order to set up a master bill account, you will likely need to complete a credit application with the hotel or provide a deposit in advance.

Two to three days prior to your event, you’ll need to provide the hotel or caterer with the minimum number of people who will be attending / eating at each meal. You’ll want to be conservative with this number and allow for possible last minute cancellations and no-shows. You can always increase your guarantee once you provide it; you cannot lower it.

A restaurant, lounge, snack bar or other establishment in a hotel that serves food and/or beverages.

RACK RATE The full, non-discounted price for a hotel room (equivalent to the sticker price on a new car). If you’re paying “rack rate” for the rooms, you didn’t negotiate hard enough with the hotel.

Yes, it’s the Latin word for peace. But it’s also the abbreviation for passengers traveling together: “40 pax” means 40 passengers traveling together on a chartered motorcoach.

The months when the hotel or destination are likely to be busiest (e.g., a beach resort in summer, a ski resort in winter). The months when a hotel or destination are least likely to be busy are referred to as “off season” (e. g., Florida in hurricane season); “shoulder season” falls somewhere in between. Scheduling your reunion during shoulder or off seasons can result in significant savings; the destination’s CVB can tell you when these periods occur.

The percentage of your contracted room block that you actually use. If you contract for 100 rooms and use 80, your “pick-up” is 80%.


This is the hotel’s way of saying that yes, you have a room reserved, but that they can’t guarantee or specify whether it will have one bed or two, whether it’s a smoking or a non-smoking room, or any other details.

A sofa in a hotel guest room that can be converted to a bed at night. Not all sofas are sleeper sofas, so you should always inquire about this, especially if multiple guests will be sharing a room.

Relocating guests to another hotel because the hotel is overbooked and has run out of rooms. Guests seldom actually walk to the other hotel; typically, a shuttle, van or taxicab ride is provided. You may want to request a “no walk” clause for your attendees in your contract.

Dean MillerAbout the Hospitality Answerman

Dean Miller, national sales director for Visit Fairfax (, the convention and visitors bureau in Fairfax County, Virginia, is a great friend of reunions. Contact him (703-790-0643; [email protected]) when you are planning a reunion in the Washington, DC, area. Fairfax County is nearby, affordable, and conveniently located to all the area has to offer.