Looking for ways to save money on food and beverage? Here is a checklist that will be a great starting point.

The Fundamentals

  • Be very tight with your guarantees. Use your historical data; place conservative estimates; and track your delegates' patterns closely.

  • Crunch the numbers. Compare the pricing options on a spreadsheet. Is it better to buy in bulk, by the dozen, or à la carte?

  • Deal with chefs directly. Challenge them to be creative within your budget and to work with your meeting's goals and concept.

  • If you are overbilled on your guarantee, explain your case in writing to the hotel; more than likely, they will write the excess off immediately.

  • Be honest. Give the banquet manager your budget and work with the chef to come up with F&B that works for your group and the budget. Don't use set menus, except as a guideline.

  • F&B guarantee guidelines:

    • Function description: Will your attendees mostly be from out of town, or will 50 percent be local?

    • Include the F&B events in the registration materials, so you'll have a good idea of how many guests will attend.

    • Never base your guarantee for small groups on the percentage of tickets sold. Guarantee the exact number of guests that RSVP, excluding staff (usually 2 percent to 5 percent don't show up).

    • Receptions: Count on eight to 12 pieces per person; 15 to 20 pieces per person if it is replacing a meal.

    • Buy your coffee and tea in bulk or by the gallon, if possible.

    • Order reduced portions.

    • Centralize your break service.

    • Share the purpose of the functions. Hoteliers can help you save on networking events and provide more elaborate sit-down functions.

    • Order by consumption as much as possible so that unconsumed food and drink can be returned without your being charged for them. This works well with soft drinks and packaged foods such as chips and granola bars, but it can also be done with some perishables.

    • Use tickets that delegates exchange for seating. This will make your guarantees more accurate.

  • Re-use if possible. Wrap unconsumed danishes and doughnuts from the coffee break and provide them at lunch with the dessert options.

  • Work with the chef. Chefs will know what is in season and which produce is local, and they can be very creative if given the opportunity.

  • The caterers will also know what is labor-intensive and what is not. This will save money.



Examining Meals

Breakfast:

  • Instead of a hot breakfast, do an extended continental breakfast by adding fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereal. Get creative: provide fruit/yogurt/granola layered in a sundae glass, with optional syrup toppings.

  • Serve whole fruit, not sliced.

  • Cut down on your portions. Cut danishes and doughnuts in half. Offer mini-muffins, mini-doughnuts, and mini-danishes. Not everyone wants to eat the whole pastry. Offer them the option to “indulge” without the guilt of leaving half on their plate.



Lunch/Dinner:

  • Chicken is one of the least expensive, most healthful meats to prepare. Vary sauces and styles of preparation.

  • Served meals are generally cheaper than buffet style. Sit-down meals can have as much as 20 percent less in food preparation labor costs.

  • If you have several dinners at the same time, try to have the same menu. You'll be more flexible with your guarantees (i.e., an over-guarantee in one room can offset an under-guarantee in another), and the hotel may eliminate the “minimum service” labor charges.

  • Skip the dessert, salad, or soup. Dessert can be served at break.

  • Eat at a famous local restaurant during the off-season. It will be colorful and add local flair.

  • Distribute box lunches instead of holding a formal sit-down meal to increase networking. Or try pizza or submarine sandwiches.

  • Ask who else is in the hotel at the same time. You may be able to have the same menu and gain economies of scale that can be passed on to you.



Beverages:

  • Buy soft drinks in bulk and serve them yourself. Some hotels will waive their “must use our banquet services” for small hospitality suite functions.

  • Do an inventory before and after the reception. Have the server sign the sheet personally. Also watch for empty beverage containers at the start of the event. They may accidentally be included in the amount-consumed count.

  • Determine which option is better: by the person, by the beverage, or by the container. Be clear about what “by the container” means. If a juice jug is opened to pour one glass, will you be charged for a full jug or a percentage?

  • Serve iced tea or lemonade instead of soda at the breaks.

  • Instead of providing coffee, ask the hotel to sell coffee at hallway kiosks.



Receptions:

  • Room setup affects consumption:

    • If your buffet table is against a wall, it will only offer half the space of a buffet table in the center of the room.

    • If the buffet table is far from the door, fewer people will eat because it takes longer to “work” their way over.

    • Fewer buffet tables mean fewer opportunities to “fill up.”

    • Watch out for overkill. You do not want to frustrate your invitees! Nor do you want to appear cheap where perceived value counts most.

  • Use smaller plates, or better yet, napkins only.

  • Place expensive items in harder to reach places on the banquet table.

  • Entice invitees with a dessert buffet so that meal consumption is lower.

  • Staffed food stations with stir-fry and tables piled high with fresh pasta are inexpensive crowd pleasers.

  • Have a smaller variety of foods. Everyone likes to have a “little bit of everything.” If you offer 50 items, plates will get overloaded, even when delegates are not particularly hungry.

  • Pass the food so you can control the portions and extend serving time.

  • People will eat less if their attention is diverted with entertainment, activities, and décor.

  • Set cold, less-expensive platters on a buffet; replenish hot items periodically.

  • Avoid shrimp, oysters, and other expensive delicacies.

  • Provide a small selection in large quantities.

  • If you can't re-use your leftovers, donate them to charity.