Carrie Dahm

Meeting Planner, Admin. Assistant National Association of Congregational Christian Churches Oak Creek, Wis.

Our greatest challenge is cost. Our budget has made us cut back on breaks — we might just serve a beverage and eliminate the snack — and any extra F&B functions unless the hotel is willing to negotiate a discount at the time of contract talks, which are two years out.

Our meal plan (which is the choice of the attendee) consists of four dinners and three lunches. The rest of the time, people are on their own. Breakfasts with speakers will cost extra. We might have one sponsored break during our four-day annual meeting. The hotel will have a restaurant and coffee bar or the like. We don't meet in convention centers because they nickel and dime us to death.

Bill Cox

Spartanburg, S.C

We probably don't have the same challenges that most do, because a lot of the conferences we do are at college locations, where Aramark does the catering for us. We've been with them for 10 years. I think it's important to get to know who you're dealing with as much as possible. We have a relationship that's there; it helps to smooth out some of the rough spots. Even so, if there's turnover, we still have to get to know each other again.

We do work with other vendors on other conferences. We ask around and get referrals and try to develop a relationship we can work with from year to year.

We do primarily youth conferences in major hotels that are used to catering to business people with larger budget. We have to help them realize that teens and students are happier with hamburgers and pizza than with higher-priced items.

Matthew J. Anderson, CMP

International Conference Coordinator
Campus Crusade for Christ
Orlando, Fla

My challenges fall into three categories:

  1. Everyone wants filet mignon on a sirloin budget.

  2. How do you make sure guarantees are set so that you don't run out of food but don't waste food, either?

  3. How do you do creative “champagne” options on a soda budget? People just don't want to eat chicken and broccoli anymore. What are the fun things you can do?

We've set upa coffee shop with free popcorn and coffee, or we'll hand out Snickers bars after a session.

Usually the key is making other stuff fun. Usually meals are get-in, get-out, no one gets hurt. I like to take a bit of my food budget and add some fun things. Those little bits win more than what the meal was — unless you can afford a great meal.

Creative costs you a lot of money. You can do a luau or a vegan meal, but it comes at a premium. Providers haven't figured out how to make fun affordable.

College kids don't want to pay a lot. For the board of directors, you can maybe spend more. But nowadays everyone's tastes are more sophisticated. From 4- to 90-year-olds, everyone wants to eat better and pay less.

Barbara Tilley

Program Specialist
National Council of the Churches of Christ, Education and Leadership
Ministries Commission
New York City

I usually choose hotels that can do catering and that have at least one to two restaurants on-site. I look for a variety of menus that offer wholesome food — not just a lot of fried food or cheap food. I stay away from red meat and choose a lot of salads and fresh vegetables and also some poultry or seafood. I also let the hotel know about any special dietary needs.

Karen Witcher

Music and Worship Team Events
Baptist General Convention of

Fortunately, I don't have any challenges. I just provide for our attendees, which can be as few as 300 to as many as 1,100.

Our venues are mostly in churches. Sometimes, if it's a small gathering, I purchase the food. For larger groups, we cater, or the church provides and we reimburse the church.

For water, I order bottled water and have labels printed for our event so that we're promoting ourselves and not the water.

To meet dietary needs, we'll ask the church to provide regular and diet sodas, sugar, and substitutes. If we're providing food, we usually have an assortment to meet needs.