August 15, 2009

Put Your Meeting Food and Beverage Budget on a Diet

In a tough economy, businesses look for ways to cut costs and eliminate expenditures. Because meetings can often be a big-ticket item for many budgets, there may be a natural tendency to seek to reduce meetings or eliminate them altogether. Before you consider eliminating your meetings, think about ways in which you can reduce costs related to producing meetings, since they are valuable methods of distributing information and helping businesses to thrive and survive. Here are a few cost cutting tips related to your food and beverage budget that you can implement right away to reduce your meeting budget and increase your value to your employer.

· Instead of purchasing continental breakfast and break service at a per person price, compare how much it would cost to pay by the item. For groups of about 30 or more, it frequently costs less to purchase gallons of coffee and pieces of pastries or cookies. Here’s some guidelines to use when doing your math:

One Gallon of coffee yields 20 cups per gallon; figure 1.5 cups per person for continental breakfast, 1 cup per person for a coffee break
Iced Tea/Lemonade/Punch

One Gallon of Iced Tea/ Lemonade/Punch/Juice yields 20 glasses
Allow 1.5 pieces per person when serving Pastries/Cookies/Brownies
Allow two ounces per person when serving Chips/Pretzels
Allow 3 Ounces of dip per person

· Don’t serve bottled water or individual sodas, switch to water pitchers or water stations (free) and for afternoon refreshments, serve iced tea, lemonade or punch by the gallon instead of sodas at $4-5 each.

· Reception Beverages: Switch from open bar to a ticketed bar where you provide guests with 2-3 drink tickets good for any alcoholic drink. The hotel or caterer will give you a price per ticket that reflects an average price of all the different levels of alcohol and you’ll be charged for each ticket redeemed. Ask the caterer to set up a water pitcher and iced tea or soda station separate from the bar so you are only paying for alcohol tickets and not tickets redeemed for a soda or water.

· Reception Food: I use the following assumptions when planning reception menus:

Plan on six items per person per hour for a reception. For a two hour reception estimate 12-14 pieces per person

Veggie Display- Plan on enough for ½ the group
Fruit Display- Plan on enough for 2/3 of the group
Cheese Display- Plan on enough for 2/3 of the group
Chips and Dip- Use formula above
Cold Appetizer-Select 1-2 appetizers
Hot Appetizer-Select 3-4 appetizers

To control consumption, ask the caterer to use the smaller plates and consider laying out your reception food in the following order, which you will note is from least to most expensive. The idea is that your guests will fill up the space on their plates with the less expensive items prior to getting to the more expensive items.

Chips and Dips
Cold Appetizers
Hot Appetizers
Carved Items
Dessert Items

Another option is to have chips, veggies, fruit and cheese on a buffet table and have waiters pass the hot and cold appetizers, as that will reduce consumption as well.

· Meal Service: Meal buffets always cost more than a plated meal, so offer plated meals when appropriate. To save money at lunch, consider eliminating dessert and instead applying that money to the afternoon break service and beef that up. Many people who will turn down desserts at lunch would love a mid-afternoon snack, so why waste $3-4 per person on a dessert that won’t be eaten? For dinners, ask the hotel or caterer to allow you to pick an item off the lunch menu, as frequently the only difference is a couple of ounces in the size of the meat. Or better yet, give them your per person price you want to spend and ask them to get creative and develop menus that meet your needs. If you have a group that wouldn’t mind a lasagna, enchilada or meat loaf plate, let them know you don’t need to have a fancy cut of meat.
Saving money on F&B is a quick and easy way to reduce your bottom line while minimally impacting your attendees’ meeting experience. By looking for ways to proactively reduce costs, you’ll be seen as a valuable partner in your company’s efforts to reduce operating expenses as you weather these tough economic times.

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