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Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

  • 1.  Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-29-2016 06:50 PM

    Last night we had a very high end function with major upper-tier University donors, our Governor and other dignitaries. A very successful food & beverage reception before a major concert in a nearby performing arts center.

    All reception attendees were limited to our lobby and the one adjacent gallery (only) in which we traditionally permit food and drinks. As a result fewer than a handful took advantage of our major William Eggleston exhibition in our largest Temporary Exhibition gallery.

    Lost opportunity to engage them with one of the largest shows in our history, in part because they only had one hour, but significantly also because no one was permitted to stroll with their very high-end wine and exquisite appetizers into the galleries.

    My question: who among you might have adapted or relaxed policies regarding exceptions to food & beverage in the galleries?  In retrospect, several staff and I are thinking that this would have been an exceptionally low risk group to have dropped our food & beverage gallery policy.

    Sorry to raise such a common subject, but I'm looking for perhaps the uncommon approaches, or any special-exception, special-circumstance adaptations.

    Many thanks!


    Robert Saarnio
    Director, University Museum and Historic Houses
    University of Mississippi
    Oxford, MS. 38655

    808-284-7380 (c)

  • 2.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-30-2016 10:01 AM
    On the other hand you had an excellent opportunity to show your upper-tier donors how seriously you take your collections stewardship responsibilities.   You want these people to remember they are in a museum, not a nicely decorated restaurant.    One approach might be to face the issues straight on and offer them an opportunity to return at a specific date for a private (director-guided) tour.


    Janice Klein

  • 3.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-30-2016 10:17 AM

    Hi Robert and Janice,

    You read my mind, Janice.  I would have answered exactly the way you did.  The opening was an opportunity for networking.  Other events will bring donors and potential donors back into the museum.  The more exposure to the museum's great programming, the more donors will feel that their support goes to a worthy cause.

    I run openings, parties and special receptions.   Trust me: restricting food is a good idea.   If you have only beverages, that's a different story. The Grey Art Gallery at NYU had a carpet, so we only served clear liquids: no red wine, cranberry juice, etc.

    Best wishes,


    Beth Gersh-Nesic PhD
    Ardsley NY

  • 4.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-30-2016 10:36 AM

    Depending on your building/gallery layout, another option would be to place round tables and staff at the appropriate entrances or exits and make it clear that there are no drinks or food beyond a certain point.  Guests then have a chance to put down what they're holding and go visit the gallery where food and drinks aren't allowed.  I've been to many events that manage access to galleries that way.

    Barbara Stauffer, Chief of Community Programs, National Museum of Natural History

  • 5.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-30-2016 01:50 PM

    I'm going to take the devil's advocate position. I run a corporate museum and there is no way to limit food and drink in the "galleries" because these are also working rooms and hallways. I have found, by and large, that people are respectful of the museum displays. During receptions attendees both take extra care with themselves and really engage with the objects - that is, the exhibits give them something to talk about!  Having done this for years, I do have some suggestions: 1. Post guards or monitors throughout the space so people can be warned (nicely) when they are getting too close, 2. Make sure your display cases are tall - yes, I have seen guests lean on and put their plates down on short cases, 3. Have cocktail tables (high boys) around the space so people know where to actually discard their stuff, 4. Stick with white wine, 5. Think carefully about what is on display: small items that one needs to lean in to see are not ideal for parties. Neither are paintings or anything else that is displayed outside of a case. Basically, some exhibits lend themselves to parties and some do not. I know, this is all blasphemy, but I can't recall a single incident in 17 years that would make me think "never again".

    Jenny Benjamin
    Museum of Vision
    San Francisco CA

  • 6.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 10-03-2016 11:11 PM
    I'm reading with great interest the various comments and suggestions on this subject and how different organizations approach "solutions". As a side issue, some of the first considerations and questions that come to my mind would be whether or not these "events" are museum mission related? If the museum is a 501(c)(3) the IRS does have an interest in non-related events held on museum premises but no one has mentioned the possible unrelated business income liability. If unrelated it is still permitted but additional accounting is required. The words interaction, exposure, publicity and a few others are often used when the events are held on the museum floor to justify the unrelated event without incurring UBIT. In going back to the main subject, if the event is related to the mission of the museum, as defined in IRS publications, then the problem of keeping the exhibits secure, protected and without harm is also extremely important as custodians on behalf of the public community, especially if it's a 501(c)(3). There are some good ideas in the comments that can work very well. I questioned some others as being experimental and hopeful, and with a high degree of risk, especially with high dollar value or rare exhibit items. "Eat and drink in the dining room and then we'll move to the parlor and view the paintings and artifacts". A polite and acceptable way of focusing interest on what's being exhibited, without distractions. In my opinion it's the safest and most professional.

    This eliminates the risk of spillage of any red wine on the keyboard of a rare grand piano or someone setting a goblet of Chauvinet' on the fender or hood of a Bugatti. If exhibits were placed 10 feet or more from any possible attendee's encroachment of space the risk is much lower but I'm sure that's not the case with most exhibits. It's obvious that various museums have different items to exhibit with numerous methods of display so each present their individual and different challenges. It's encouraging to see good participation in the discussion on procedures and fixes and the ability to ask others who may have similar experiences that could be very helpful and also help prevent some "accidental" disaster.

    Al Frank
    Museum Consultant
    The Shocking Hillary Video We’re Not Supposed To Show You
    Health Sciences Institute

  • 7.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 10-04-2016 04:11 PM

    I am so glad that Al Frank brought up the UBIT issue. I happened to be at an event earlier this spring with a group of former IRS officials and they are very serious about this tax. Many museums host weddings and other events to increase revenue, but this should be done with the idea in mind that UBIT must be paid. A wedding or corporate party is not usually part of the mission of most museums. Once the tax, salaries of event planners, cleaning, repair, utilities, etc are taken into consideration, you may find that you are not making as much as you thought hosting private events. The UBIT tax in my state if I combine both federal and state is 34%! There are deductions to be taken that can decrease the hit, but I think that one must talk to their accountant to make sure that things are done properly. I believe this is an area that many are not aware of their tax obligation, I wasn't and I have since decreased significantly the number of non-mission and un-supported by the museum events.




  • 8.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-30-2016 02:11 PM

    I think this is a question that has plagued many a collections staff and museum policy makers. I don't have an answer for you except to ask you to examine why you thought this group "an exceptionally low risk". Because they were adults? Because they are frequent museum visitors? Because they felt a greater sense of ownership due to monetary contribution or political affiliation? A person who feels like they own or are entitled to a space will treat it very differently than someone who sees themselves as a guest. At one such high end gathering of major donors in a museum I previously worked in, someone used a display as a garbage receptacle for their tissues and chewed gum. And past experience must have led the museum to expect this behavior since almost every single visitor service staff person was scheduled that night to monitor the exhibit space where this event was taking place (so fortunately the gum was found relatively quickly). 

    I am not trying to say that relaxing of food policy is never called for. Fundraising or celebration almost always means food will be involved. But I would caution against making the decision based on who is "worthy" of having those rules bent. If the goal of a museum (or at least hopefully everyone can agree one of the goals) is for for every visitor to feel some sense of ownership and belonging, shouldn't everyone be offered the same exceptions? In that case I would not look at it though the prism of who but rather what. Assuming everyone will treat (or mistreat) your galleries the same if given the same chance to feel ownership, what is the risk based on all the other factors? How fragile is the display? Are there any parts of it exposed? How much circulating staff can be present to offer gentle reminders about trash and climbing on things? How long is the event? What is the expected number of attendees? How much alcohol is likely to be imbibed (are there drink limits or a bar tender who can refuse to serve someone visibly intoxicated)? What kind of food is being served (is it messy, does it require two hands to eat and if so are there plenty of tables, chairs and trash cans available)? How susceptible is the space to pests (is it near an exterior door that will be opened frequently)?

    After assessing these criteria, if you feel your gallery or special exhibit can withstand certain kinds of food exposure, then you could examine whether or not a particular event would fall under the risk level you are prepared to undertake rather than trying to form a judgement about the group attending. If nothing else, it bases your decision on much more easily calculable factors.

    Thank you for letting me get a little preachy. I know it is a constant struggle for museums to balance best practices for collections care and best practices for outreach and human interaction with said collection. It's too bad the two things are so often mutually exclusive when the first is basically completely irrelevant without the second (why care for a collection at all if no one will ever interact with it?).

    Best of luck and I hope you get lots of attendance for your William Eggleston exhibit!

    Michelle Nash
    Assistant Collections Manager
    Coos History Museum
    Coos Bay OR

  • 9.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-30-2016 02:24 PM

    You might consider having a "highlight" talk during the event, maybe 10 minutes, somewhere in the middle. Basically A shorter version of a guided tour to introduce the exhibit and invite people in the space without their refreshments. That way you can expose them to the great show but also allow for continued networking for those who prefer. Most likely you will have folks that linger or their interest piqued to return another day.

    Amy Shook-Perez

  • 10.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 09-30-2016 06:28 PM

    Hi Rob - nice to hear from an MLI colleague with a Forum issue to discuss!

    After reviewing the thread here, I think you have plenty of food for thought. I agree that restricting attendees to only one main area is potentially a lost opportunity, and possibly also one that can't easily be pushed to some other time for these folks. Unfortunately, it's often difficult if not impossible to get certain audiences to ever return within a reasonable timeframe, thus finding a way to engage them while they are on-site for a reception is often very wise. While certainly policies are usually in place for a reason, this is an area where I've found you can almost develop a checklist to determine when, why, and how much of an exception to make if you believe there are valid and overriding reasons.

    Best wishes in working through this issue. I'm using things like this as opportunities for our staff to examine each others' perspectives - which is almost always a valuable exercise in an industry where we can too easily get caught up into silos. Happy team building!

    Paul Hammond
    Executive Director
    March Field Air Museum
    Riverside, California

  • 11.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 10-04-2016 09:35 AM

    Interesting topic and one that everyone wrestles with from time to time. A decent compromise between accessibility and disaster may be in combining thoughtful food choices (no red wine or sauces of any kind as mentioned above), audience considerations ("just say no" to 10 year olds with juice boxes), staff on hand, and good old fashioned stanchions. Give your guests the opportunity to view the exhibits (though not necessarily read any labeling) while at the same time giving your exhibits an extra foot or two of safe space. Extra staff can help interpret as well as defend low cases from becoming coasters.

    I understand this is people, space, and stanchion dependent, but in a limited area for a special purpose (such as the temporary gallery + event as mentioned in the OP) it might do the trick. Show off those exhibits! 

    Kurt Griesemer
    Coordinator of Primary Education
    Wisconsin Historical Society
    Madison WI

  • 12.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 10-06-2016 02:01 PM

    At the Aerospace Museum of California our general policy is no food in the Exhibition Hall and Air Park.  Only fluid allowed is water.  We have two major fund raising events each year.  A Bar-B-Que on the ramp with fireworks and a Crab Feed.  Soda, Beer, Wine and water are available.  We also rent to weddings – receptions and ceremonies, birthday parties, other types of receptions and dinners, military events - receptions, dinners, and change of commands, etc. 


    Rental events are allowed food and drink.  But they have to clean up.  We provide trash cans, etc for use during the event and insure that stanchions are

    In place.   We will also have Museum volunteers overseeing.  If an exhibit or aircraft is open, we place tables at the entrance with signs to leave food and drink on the table before entering.  We have a 100 person theater/meeting room and a 40 person meeting room separate from the Exhibition Hall.  Renters can have food and drink in these room, but the agreement states food and drink do no come into the Exhibition Hall, unless it's just water.


    All rentals include a cleaning fee with the standard language.  The rental agreement also includes a section about damage to exhibits.


    Raymond Meyer

    Safety-Security Manager

    Archives & Artifacts

    Aerospace Musuem of California

    916-643-3192 x102



  • 13.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 10-05-2016 09:41 AM

    Your inquiry has certainly prompted an interesting discussion Robert.  Thank you.  I espeically like the commentary questioning what sort of people are more prone to spill wine in a museum gallery - high end or low end types.  Regardless, mainstream museum practice is to avoid food and drink in exhibitions.  There are valid reasons for this and I can cite examples of unfortunate results when the practice was ignored.  Two points that might be relevant: I think we in the museum field worry too much about "lost opportunities" rather than creating oppotunities. I doubt the people who were there for the reception would have had the time (one hour goes real fast when eating, drinking, socializing, seeing and being seen, using the rest rooms, etc.) to really appreciate the exhibit.  I doubt most were there the whole hour anyway, though students in particular will always take advantage of free food and drink for as long as they can.  This is not to say the museum and the exhibit should not be promoted.  On the contrary, glad-handing and proselytizing ib behalf of the museum is to be encouraged.  One excellent comment suggested having a few minutes of public welcome and introduction from a museum staff person.  I have sometimes made this a requirement for space use in museums where I have worked.  My second point relates to the fact that you are a museum within a university.  No one outside your operation knows how museums function.  Your adherance to strict policies regarding food and drink are admirable.  You are educating those who are not in the know.  I suspect the science departments would hardly permit a reception with food and drink in labs where research and experiments are underway.  Of course, I suspect that if, on this one occasion, you relaxed the rules about sipping and chewing in the gallery, nothing bad would happen but I can guarantee that one exception will set you up for repeated requests later.



    Steven Miller
    Executive Director
    Boscobel House and Gardens
    Garrison NY

  • 14.  RE: Food & Beverage in Galleries, special occasion exceptions?

    Posted 10-06-2016 12:26 PM


    I think one more consideration might be loans. If a gallery contains only your institution's own works, then you also have only your own collection management policies to consider. However, if you were to have loaned works in the galleries, then there would likely be other considerations. Many institutions would deny loan requests if there were to be food and beverages present in the galleries where their works were to be displayed.

    Best, Jennifer

    Jennifer Day
    Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research
    Santa Fe NM