Attendees at the 14th annual Affordable Meetings national conference, held in December in Washington D.C., learned that a scalpel can be more effective than a machete in reducing meeting expenses.
In her session Building a Better Meetings Budget, Vicky Betzig, CMP, vice president of operations, JR Daggett & Associates, Brookfield, Wis., gave tips on shaving costs. Here are some:
Hotelnegotiations — Planners should negotiate into the contract things such as VIP limousine service, amenities, and in-room newspaper and coffee to save on those expenses. Also, make sure the complimentary room policy is cumulative and not per night to get the maximum value.
Program expenses — Try to use guest speakers that are internal to the company or organization as experts on a topic. For keynote and other speakers, negotiate fees by having a book signing or doing other promotional activities. Set guidelines for speakers on expenses they can, and can't, have reimbursed.
Labor costs — For AV equipment strike costs, planners should only pay half what they pay for setup. Strike is much less involved than set, but many planners pay the same for each.
Marketing expenses — Use electronic marketing to save on printing and mailing costs.
On-site staffing — Use local college students, preferably those majoring in hospitality industry studies, for your staffing when possible. Also, it's often cheaper to use local groups or organizations to provide entertainment for the event.
Food and beverage — The biggest challenge with F&B is managing guarantees. Planners should write a clause into the contract that allows them to increase F&B costs, by about 10 percent, up to 24 hours out. That way, they can get a better handle on breakfast, lunch, and dinner attendance for the upcoming day. If it's a rainy day, for example, more people will probably eat at the facility. Also, planners should look at a group's history to see how many people typically show up for meals. The location of the meeting also has an effect. If it's a city or area with a lot of nearby restaurants and activities, there may be more no-shows for meals. For nonmandatory meetings, get an accurate head count by having a sign-up sheet or issuing tickets.
Chef specialties — Some venues offer chef specialties at a lower rate. Planners can also save money by “ganging” menus of larger groups using the same facility that day. Ganging means ordering the exact same food as another party, which makes it easier for the chef and his or her staff because they don't have to prepare multiple menus. Also, planners can save by reducing the size of meat portions or having vegetarian or pasta dishes.
Drinks and snacks — Pre-packaged drinks and snacks are reusable, so you should pay by consumption. With regard to coffee, make sure that the wait staff doesn't refill coffee urns at will. With coffee costing from $50-$120 per gallon, the expense can add up quickly.