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Jul 14

How to Rent an Elephant (and Other Tales of Hospitality from Allen’s Hilton Garden Inn)

Posted on July 14, 2015 at 11:13 AM by Heather Newman

Inside an intimate meeting room at Allen’s Hilton Garden Inn, catering manager Cami Barclay is inspecting a tiered serving tray formed from vintage cups and saucers. The pieces have a Mad Hatter-vibe, perfect for the whimsical tea party coming to the hotel tomorrow. “I found the idea on Pinterest,” confides Barclay. “We glued them together last night.”

 This level of customization has made the hotel a hit with everyone from business leaders to brides. With 9,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, the rooms easily transform from board room to banquet hall. For weddings, Barclay can “flip” the grand ballroom from a ceremony space to reception hall in under an hour.

“Brides are always nervous, since they can’t see the whole thing ahead of time,” says Barclay. “But when they step into the space, they’re thrilled.”

The Hilton Garden Inn has been throwing parties for over a decade—and they have the trappings to prove it. The hotel boasts a vast collection of chair covers, tablecloths, vases and even a dance floor, eliminating the expense of a separate party rental company. Barclay also works with clients’ florists, DJs and photographers to ensure each event goes off without a hitch.

 “I don’t mind being the bad guy,” she grins. “If there’s a problem, you won’t have to deal with it.”

Though Barclay is responsible for setting the scene, it’s Chef Brian Gray who delivers the flavor. Gray’s career has threaded from South Carolina to Florida to Texas, with each stop adding new flavors to his repertoire. He whipped up a Jamaican-themed menu for a recent baby shower. Once, he nearly convinced a stubborn groom that he was actually Indian.

 “[The groom] wanted a traditional Indian menu, but wasn’t confident in a non-Indian chef,” Barclay explains. Gray learned the out-of-town groom would be in Allen for a few hours on business, so he threw together a huge sampler for the groom to try on his way to the airport. When the groom got home, he called Barclay and ordered even more food than initially planned. “He wanted everything he tried. He couldn’t believe that our chef was a white guy.”

Book your event at the Hilton Garden Inn and you’ll get to sample Gray’s cuisine for yourself. Today he is cooking up an array of entrees and appetizers for client Byron Grimes, who will marry fiancée Christi Hicks at the hotel in December. Grimes sits at the head of an organza-draped table, flanked by Barclay on his right and his best man on his left. He pulls out his phone to document each course for Christi: the bite-sized portions of Thai chicken satay and beef wellington, the colorful salads, the trio of flavored butters. He is shown various vases and napkin folds. A server keeps his glasses full of water and iced tea.

“This is going to be a tough choice,” Grimes muses as the parade of entrees begins. First, a beef filet in red wine sauce. Then, a southwestern-flavored pork loin.  Gray wraps up with a duo of chicken and salmon, both served with a dollop of delicious, herb-flecked alfredo.

“We can do any vegetable you’d like,” Gray promises. “We even had a couple who really wanted Brussels sprouts. I cooked them with lots of bacon and everyone loved ‘em.”

Brussels sprouts are far from the Hilton Garden Inn’s most unusual request. While planning a traditional Indian ceremony, one couple asked Barclay to help them find a crucial piece of the groom’s baraat: for his procession to the hotel, he wanted to ride an elephant.

Barclay made some calls. She gathered information on city regulations and insurance implications. She figured out an appropriate route. She even priced the rental of a small elephant and a trainer who could supervise the procession. In the end, Barclay says, the groom decided to ride a horse instead. Barclay shrugs it off as another part of the job.

“It’s part of hospitality,” she says. “We go above and beyond.”