Today, it is our pleasure to interview Hillary Offutt of Union Station Special Events, who we were thrilled to speak with. She is a fantastically positive person who truly has a passion for making her clients happy. We were so excited to learn more abouth her and can't wait to share that information with you. Here she is - Hillary, get ready!
How did you get started in the wedding business? My events experience began at Ridgewells Catering in its Major Events division. Our office was at FedEx field. Game Day, we catered to the box suites, loges and owners’ clubs. During the off-season, we catered at the USGA’s U.S. Open, Tiger Woods’ AT&T National and at the Washington Kastles tennis tournament. As exciting as it all sounds (and was), it was hard work. The lessons I learned and challenges I faced in planning large scale events gave me a newfound respect and passion for the events industry.
After four and a half years with Ridgewells, it was time for a change. I heard of an opening at Special Events at Union Station that involved wedding coordination and found myself really excited about the position. Finally – a chance to work “pretty” events and it was an amazing opportunity to work at such an iconic D.C. venue. That was just over a year and a half ago.
What do you do when you are not working? My husband introduced me to fishing on our honeymoon last year- and I’m hooked! I go with him whenever I can. We mostly fish for rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay. This summer we are planning to go to Bermuda to fish for Marlin – I can’t wait. Otherwise, I’m mostly out with my friends. I have undoubtedly the best group of friends - we always have an activity in the works- skiing, wine tours, line dancing lessons, or even a group trip to Spain!
How would you describe your approach to weddings? I aim to provide a complete picture in hosting a reception here which includes all pricing and options to be considered. Most couples I meet with are in the beginning stages of the planning process and I recognize that they may not necessarily know what questions to ask or what they are looking for yet. I can be resource of information and help them see the vision of their wedding day.
What inspires you in your work? I find an incredible amount of inspiration from the couples and their story. I start out site visits by asking: “Did he get down on one knee?” I love getting the big smiles and excited responses. The bride will tell her side of how she was SO surprised and she’ll show me the ring. Then the groom will fill in the back story of his “stealth” planning efforts. I’ll hear about where they are from, how they first met or something along the lines of a favorite trip together. It’s really sweet.
What do you find the most rewarding about your job? Being a part of such a monumental event in people’s lives – I feel very lucky to share in a small piece of that experience.
What’s the one thing you wish everyone knew about you or your business? Union Station is gorgeous. Guests approach me at every event in awe of the architecture, the marble floors, the legionnaires... We have these black and white photos in the foyer of the Columbus Club that I like to point out. The Columbus Club was the original soda fountain room of Union Station and the East Hall was the original dining room. These spaces were built in 1908 for entertaining and I find it truly amazing that more than 100 years later, they still do so today.
What do you think sets your company apart from other venues? The romance of being a train station! I picture a time when taking the train meant glamour, chance meetings and goodbye kisses. We’re always hearing stories of couples meeting on a train or travelling by train to visit their loved ones.
What do you love about weddings? I just love seeing the new menu items from the chefs at Design Cuisine like short rib sliders or baked Alaska lollipops and the details incorporated by event planners like mint juleps served on a Derby day reception by Simply Chic Events.
What do you hate about weddings? I don’t think I could have answered this without going through it myself - you only get to wear the dress once. I really hate that. I love my wedding dress.
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen at a wedding? At most weddings, you will find guests mingling at the bar, some are on the dance floor, some are seated eating their cake, etc. But this one wedding, with about 300 guests or so, the second the music started - every guest was on the dance floor and they danced ALL NIGHT LONG. The staff and I working that night just couldn’t help but watch. They were having so much fun. It just doesn’t get cooler than that.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to couples planning a wedding? Hire vendors you trust – it can get stressful at times and you want the right people around you. Referrals are also the best way to find great vendors. Anyone can pay to be on a list – but if you ask around, you’ll find out who the good ones are because you’ll keep hearing the same names over and over again.
Who is your favorite artist or band? Josh Groban – and he’s coming to the Verizon Center in July!! I am also a HUGE fan of Michael Bublè.
What is the worst song of all time? The Macarena – ugh. And that new song Friday may have just topped it.
Open mic, final thoughts: Maybe it’s because I come from working in sporting events that I consider wedding planning a team effort. If you take that approach in working together and having fun while doing it, you’ll have a great experience.
[Evan] Thanks, Hillary - we always have such a grat time working with you! We love people who love this business, and it's obvious that you do. See you soon!