Try these tips for trimming F&B budgets, collected from senior-level insurance and financial services meeting planners.
1. When negotiating the meeting, have breakfast included as part of the room rate. That way, you are saving on the “plus plus” of F&B functions. Many resorts are receptive to this, but you need to ask! They usually only offer a continental breakfast, which I generally try to upgrade.
2. To save money, one of my clients has stopped using continuous beverage breaks and has cut out the snacks from the mid-morning break. Attendees now get just one 30-minute beverage break at mid-morning. To compensate, I have the continental breakfast set up in the foyer area of the meeting room, provide as much seating as I can, and take advantage of hotels allowing us to keep the continental breakfast out for 90 minutes. This helps bridge the gap between breakfast and the mid-morning beverage break, and it also covers all those late arrivals who otherwise would be looking for food at the mid-morning break.
3. For some receptions, if my budget is light, I offer higher perceived value hors d'oeuvres with nice presentations. For example, seasonal soup in a demi-tasse and mini-grilled-cheese sandwiches. Overall I’m offering fewer hors d'oeuvres, but people tend not to notice because the presentations are so nice.
4. Hotels are quick to penalize groups for not meeting room blocks and F&B minimums, so why shouldn't we be rewarded for exceeding those minimums? I have started to ask for a monetary credit based on the F&B minimums set in the contract. If our F&B spend exceeds the expected amount in the contract by 5 percent or other given percentage (or you could incorporate a couple of percentage increments), I ask the hotel to issue a credit to the master.
5. Since you get 1 comp room per every 40, 45, or 50 booked, try asking for 1 comp meal for every 40, 45, or 50 guaranteed.
6. In my experience, the single biggest F&B cost-saver is to track attendance at meal functions and keep an accurate history of the percentage of your group that tends to no-show. This way, you can base your guarantees on your average attendance rather than guaranteeing and paying for the whole group, which not only wastes your budget but also wastes food.
7. To save the cost of a centerpiece, create a dessert display instead—an assortment of fruit tarts, for example. This saves service time since the desserts don't have to be brought out, gives the attendees several options for dessert, and saves the cost of a centerpiece. The diners usually don't even realize that they didn't have a centerpiece.
8. I have been using American Express gift checks instead of an organized dinner for one of our meetings. I give the attendees a gift check (from $30 to $60 depending on location) so they can do dinner on their own. It avoids excess reimbursement expenses and it is about $75 per person less than if I organized an on-site event.
9. We have become more aware of the number of children we have attending our events and have begun providing less-expensive meals for them. The children are typically not interested in a three-course plated dinner so we are offering more kid-friendly meals like spaghetti, chicken fingers, and ice cream. By not including them in the adult meal counts, we are saving money and still giving the kids a fun experience.
10. If the hotel offers a comp/manager’s reception for the group (which needs to be in the contract), I have taken advantage of that so when attendees arrive at our dinner venue, I do not have to offer a reception.
Thanks to the planners who contributed to this collection: Sharon Chapman, CMP, CMM, Guardian Life Insurance; Stephen Clark, CMP, Stephen Clark & Associates; Deborah Costa, John Hancock Financial Services; Donna Costa, CMP, Sun Life Financial; Heather Huebner, Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Co.; Jen Klosner, CMP, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans; Ken Pickle, CMP, Liberty Mutual Agency Markets; and Lynn Schwandt, CMP, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans