Tierra Madre’s benefit dinner and silent auction was a success on many different levels. The ranch raised just under $9,000 for the horses and everyone had a great time. And on top of this, I personally learned a valuable lesson in setting boundaries and standing my ground for well-earned respect.
Our event started at 6pm, and beginning at roughly 5:45pm, I had three or four volunteers manning the registration table just outside the room. These amazing ladies took down last names, handed out raffle tickets and bidding numbers, and made sure all the guests filled out and signed bidding registrations. They got people in rapidly, too.
By 7pm, the room was hopping and the resort wait staff was ready to serve dinner. No one had come up to the table for 10 minutes or so by that point, anyway. I went over to the registration table and sent my hungry volunteers into the room so they could eat, then asked our AV guy to hook up my mic and started releasing tables one by one to go through the buffet. By 7:15, nearly everyone had gone through the line, so I retreated to my table where my boyfriend had gotten me a plate and sunk gratefully into my chair.
Note: The time I sat down to eat was one of two times I’d sat down since about 5:30 in the morning. And just as I started to pick at my plate, one of the servers came over and tip-toed up to me.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said quietly, “But there’s a couple over there who just walked in and they said they’re supposed to be here. I’m not sure if they’re supposed to get food, or if they have tickets…?”
I bit my lip, got up, and went over and greeted the couple with a smile. “Hi, I take it you guys are here for the benefit?”
The man greeted me with, “Yeah, there wasn’t anyone at the check in table, so we just came right in.”
“That’s okay,” I said, still confused. “Are you guys….? So you guys have tickets, I take it?”
“Yeah, we have them here,” the wife responded, handing them to me. The man said again, “It wasn’t clear what we were supposed to do with them. No one was there outside to check us in.”
“Well, let’s get you over there now,” I said, starting to walk them towards the start of the room. At that point one of the people who had donated a few auction items came to ask me a question. I paused to answer it, and the man made an impatient noise and shuffled a bit. I ignored him. Not ten seconds later, after I’d answered the question, we were walking out to the check in, the man noticeably grumpy now.
“Okay,” I said when we got outside the room and I reached on the registration table for a guest list. “What’s your last name?”
They gave it. The man said again, “Yeah, this wasn’t clear at all. You should have had people out here to check us in. We had to come in to get answers.”
My patience started to evaporate. “Well, I sent my check in volunteers to eat at seven,” I said, fighting to keep my voice calm and shuffling through papers to find them on the guest list. “Registration started at six.”
“Yes, I know, I know, we’re late,” the guy said snappishly. “Deal with it.”
“Okay, you can lose the attitude, because I don’t want it,” I snarled at him.
The words flew out of my mouth before I even thought about them. The man looked as taken aback as I felt. But more so than taken aback, I was pissed.
I’d slaved over this event. I’d been working for 12 hours straight at that point and had worked for ten hours each of the two days before (which ironically were the two days I was supposed to have off for my weekend). I was beyond exhausted. I was hungry. My volunteers were tired and hungry and were taking well-deserved time to sit down and eat. And this man who’d come in an hour late had the balls to be snippy because no one had waited around to check him in whenever he felt like strolling in? No, my inner voice screamed in my head. HELL, no.
“I’m not giving you attitude—” the man replied meekly, and I cut him off.
“Good,” I snapped, loudly. “Because I don’t want it.”
He was dead silent as I finished checking them in and fished around for a raffle ticket and a bidding number. I heard his wife mumble to him under her breath, “You did sound like you had a bit of an attitude.”
In the end it worked out well, because he apologized profusely next time he saw me and we ended the night in smiles. He was one of the first customers to check out as soon as our auction ended, and during the time it took for us to get our check out system down to a science, he was nothing but polite and extremely patient with all of us. He’s not a nasty man by any means – I think he might have had a stressful a day as mine.
But I was proud of myself for setting my boundaries. I may be 23, but as the director of the nonprofit that guy and his wife were there to support and as the planner of the entire event – hell, as a human being, for God’s sake – I deserved politeness at the very least. And maybe an apology for being over an hour late.
In situations like these, everything usually happens so fast that I can’t think to say or do anything at all, and then I obsess about what I should have said or done for hours – if not days – afterwards. But not this time. And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t intend to have that problem ever again.