By Harlan Butler, Past President, Innisfree Hotels

Back in Topeka, at the hotel where I was working for Innisfree, we had the best venue for wedding receptions of anyone in town. It was beautiful. The owner of the TV station’s daughter was getting married, and, as you can imagine, all the press was going to be there. We had booked the ‘Wedding of the Decade’.

To give you an idea of just how fancy an affair this was, the couple was getting married in a Presbyterian cathedral that had original Tiffany windows. Everything had to come from Kansas City. That’s 75 miles away, but it was the only place they felt was good enough. They had hired an orchestra and rented seven Rolls-Royces (all white) to bring the wedding party from downtown to our hotel. They had also hired a woman from a special bakery in Kansas City to make the wedding cake. The flowers had to come from Kansas City, too.

So the wedding day is upon us, and I’m walking around the hotel inspecting the room. The first thing I look at is the flowers … I see the orchestra setting up … I check the gift table. The lady from Kansas City is finishing the cake display, and it’s one of those $2,000 cakes. You know the type. I look at the rest of the room. Everyone is finished and leaving. The orchestra is ready to begin.

I look at the bar. We have two bars, and one of the bartenders is sitting down. That’s against the rules!

I walk over to tell him to stand up, and I say, “What are you doing sitting down?”

And he looks up and says, “I’m eating.”

He’s holding a huge chunk of white cake. My head spins around, and I look at the wedding cake … and he has cut a big slice RIGHT. OUT. OF. THE. FRONT.

I put out a 911 and bring everyone, all of the department heads here now. Just as I do this, the phone rings on the wall behind the wedding cake. The banquet captain answers, says “OK,” and hangs up.


Now the chef comes, and maintenance and the head housekeeper. We’re all standing there looking at this wedding cake.

I say, “What are we going to do?”

And the chef says, “Well … I’ve got some lard.”

So I say get it. He runs to the kitchen and gets his Crisco, and stuffs the Crisco in that hole. We spin the cake around, and later we spin the bride and groom around.

I say “Fire that bartender. You personally escort him out.”

So now we’re down a bartender.

We improvised. I told the banquet captain, when they take that traditional picture of the couple with the cake, “Don’t cut the cake, butcher it.”

The bride and the groom and the mother, they never knew.

And that’s how you have to improvise in the hotel industry in a crisis.



In order to have a great future, we must celebrate and learn from our incredible past. The Innisfree Hotels story began in Topeka, Kansas. So when the folks who were around back then start a story with ‘Back in Topeka,’ we know it’s time to listen. These are tales of the challenges, of the laughter and tears that come with building a company like ours. That’s the sentiment behind this blog series, a chronicle of days gone by at Innisfree Hotels – and a map to get us where we’re going.