Nutty Things Meeting Contracts Say



As a practicing attorney, I read hundreds of contracts every year. It never ceases to amaze me how experienced planners and hoteliers–all very intelligent–sometimes sign contracts that are confusing, and often make little sense. 

The vague alcoholic beverage service clause
:

“Hotel reserves the right to deny alcoholic beverage service to those guests who appear to be intoxicated or are under age, or who cannot show legally-recognized proof that they are old enough to consume alcoholic beverages.”

I've seen this exact clause hundreds of times, and each time I wonder if planners and hoteliers ever take the time to think about it. It’s hard to believe that they intend the consequences of this statement. There are 2 things wrong:

(1) The law in all 50 states absolutely prohibits persons under 21 and certain intoxicated persons from being served alcoholic beverages. There is no reason why a hotel would want to “reserve the right” to deny service to those persons, as the contract provision says; rather, the hotel must deny service to them. This vague provision that allows bartenders discretion in enforcing the law is risky for everyone involved, including guests who might be too young to consume alcohol, or who drink too much.

(2) This paragraph is standard for some global hotel companies. But in some states it is illegal to appear intoxicated, while in others it is illegal to be intoxicated–irrespective of one’s appearance. This is not just semantics–it’s a big difference.

Clearly a more precise statement about alcohol service is in order. The clause should be tailored to the particular laws of the meeting location. The risks of unlawful alcohol service are too great to be imprecise.

The perplexing privacy information clause:


"Group will obtain all necessary rights and permissions prior to providing any personally identifiable information (“PII”) to Hotel, including all rights and permissions required for Hotel, Hotel’s management company, and its affiliates and service providers to use and transfer the PII to locations both within and outside the point of collection (including the United States) in accordance with Hotel’s privacy statement (http://www.hotel.com/privacy_policy.html) and applicable law."

Say what? I understand the hotel is using this clause to allow it and its affiliates and marketing partners to use guests’ personal information. They want to use this information not only for the meeting, but also for unrelated marketing efforts. A contract provision like this may be required by law. But it is very difficult to understand, and most groups would not understand what the hotel is asking them to do with regard to their guests. Certainly the guests’ legal protections are not being willingly and knowingly waived.

It would not be difficult for the hotel and planner to craft a simple, easy to understand clause that would ensure that each party knows its obligations and will carry them out. Given the sensitivity of guests’ personal information, the parties have an obligation to create such a clause.

In General
: Both contracting parties have an obligation to create understandable and meaningful contract provisions. The drafting party should create clauses that make sense, and their negotiators should understand what each clause means. Further, neither hotel nor planner should sign contracts unless they’re sure the entire contract is clear and agreeable. We can all do better. The risk of entering into an agreement with hidden obligations and unintended consequences is too great to ignore this issue.

Final Note
: This blog is not “legal advice”; rather, it’s a discussion intended to make you think and draw your own conclusions. Legal advice can only be rendered after a discussion of your particular circumstances with an attorney competent in meetings law.
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