by Amita Patel, Area Director of Sales and Marketing, Kahler Hospitality Group
In 'Frugal Meeting Planning' part 1, we discussed money saving tips based on location, budget, flexibility, and negotiating. Let’s now look at F&B and a few other areas which could help you cut back costs for your next event.
Champagne events on a beer budget
Food and beverages can make or break a meeting. Experts quoted in industry trade publications spend a great deal of time focusing on how to get the service and quality just right, because it’s the item attendees most often comment on.
The majority of convention centers outsource their food and beverage service, and that can make it difficult to negotiate costs. Look for venues that have in-house food and beverage operations. They can often be more flexible in customizing menus to fit an event’s budget.
Always ask for help. Convention center and hotel staff understand the need to be frugal and can often offer cost-saving suggestions.
Even here, location is key. “Experienced meeting planners know they can judge the overall cost of food and beverage in a particular city just by comparing the cost of a gallon of coffee,” writes Elizabeth Pillsworth, CMP, and Director of Meetings & Events at Association Resources Inc, in her article, “In Tough Economic Times … How to Save on Food and Beverage.”
Since coffee and water make up such a huge part of the food and beverage service, consider these tips: Order coffee by the gallon, not the person, and ask the venue to provide six-ounce cups versus eight-ounce ones. Likewise, order pastries or cookies by the dozen, and not per person, Pillsworth advises. Bottled water can also be expensive. One enterprising meeting planner ordered cases of water labeled with her organization’s logo, and used them in lieu of per-bottle pricing at the venue. A sponsor might cover the cost of this too, in exchange for providing bottled water with the sponsor’s logo on the label.
Alternatively, water, juices, and teas can often be provided by the pitcher for far less than the cost of individual bottles or cans. The same is true for sodas and other beverages.
Reconsider your mandates. Instead of a sit-down dinner for 600 people, make it a lunch. Or hold a reception with savory appetizers. Either way, you will significantly reduce your costs. Flexibility here can also save you time and staffing costs, which often translates into significant savings.
Desserts served with a meal often go uneaten, so try scheduling desert and coffee service during a break between sessions. Setting up food and beverage tables along the walls instead of in center aisles will reduce consumption, experts say. Also monitor when coffee urns are refilled; beverages served scant minutes before a break is scheduled to end will likely go to waste.
Getting AV costs in focus
Audiovisual equipment is an area where costs can mount quickly, according to Rob Hard, event planning guide at About.com4, as renting gear, including LCD projectors, can be pretty expensive.
A simple tip for saving on AV costs is to not arbitrarily place projectors in every room. First, ask speakers whether they will need A/V. You will be surprised how many will say no.
Use more volunteers
When money is tight, the least expensive source of labor available to many membership organizations is volunteers. Though they are a bit harder to manage, and it’s a good idea to have backups available for every slot, volunteers will often work in exchange for a free lunch or free admission to an event. Often, they are happy just to have the opportunity to interact with other members of the group.
A few simple management tips can go a long way to help you get the most out of your volunteers:
- Make sure volunteers are well-trained. Provide tip sheets or checklists wherever possible.
- Share your expectations with volunteers, including the objective and desired outcome of the event. The more they understand the targeted objectives and desired results, the better they can accomplish their assigned tasks.
- Praise volunteers often. Let them know their work is appreciated. If you can find room for it in the budget, a simple thank-you gift can go a long way. If that’s not possible, sometimes simply having an emcee thank them for their efforts from the podium at an appropriate event can speak volumes.
Remember the ROI
Sometimes the hardest part of meeting planning and preserving your budget is convincing the Board or the Executive Director that it is all worth it. While this is especially important for large events, it is even more critical today as every line item in the company budget is being scrutinized for potential savings. It is a good idea to calculate the ROI – Return on Investment – for most meetings.
ROI is a simple formula. The ROI percentage equals meeting benefits less meeting costs, divided by meeting costs, times 100, or in a more formulaic format: ROI=(MB-MC)/MC X 100.
There are many factors for determining the ROI of a successful meeting, and they must be tailored to the objectives of a specific event. In the end, the answers are simple: Were attendees satisfied? Did they walk away with more knowledge than they came with? Did sales — or at least the number of likely prospects — increase?
Answer those questions, and do so with a cost-effective, interesting, and fun event, and your event will be a success.
Check out Midwest Meetings Checklists and Forms for more helpful information.