1. Shrink the Cups.
Try six-ounce cups for coffee breaks—there’s nothing worse than seeing half-filled coffee cups at $90 per gallon. And pay for coffee by consumption, not per person.

2. Skip the Juice.
For plated breakfasts, cut out the automatic juice service. The vast majority of attendees won’t even notice. Instead, request complimentary pitchers of ice water on each table.

3. Ice the Bottles.
If you offer bottled water or juice at break times, keep the bottles in ice buckets. People are less likely to grab multiple bottles and stick them in their bags for later if they are dripping with ice water!

4. Compare Prices.
What would you guess is more expensive—a buffet lunch or a boxed lunch? The box is often just as pricey, so don’t make assumptions. Even plated lunches can be affordable if you offer a salad plate as the entrée, which Freeman says can be up to 30 percent less expensive than a typical plated lunch.

5. Skip the Lunch Dessert.
Most people don’t have dessert with lunch at home. Eliminate it and save money. Or if you think your attendees just can’t go without that sugar rush, eliminiate the lunch appetizer.


6. Use Disposables.
Instead of china, use disposable, biodegradable dishware and utensils. It’s not only green, it can save you $7 to $10 per person.

7. Try the One-Item Break.
Breaks should consist of one grab-and-go item such as whole fruit or protein bars, and should be billed by consumption.

8. Go Regional.
Consider serving a regional specialty, because attendees usually appreciate the local flavor (Southern-style, Cajun, etc.), and it can often be less expensive than a beef dish.

9. Get Your Caterers’ Advice.
Ask your caterers about their own specialties, and check out what’s being made for other groups that are meeting in the venue at the same time. Some caterers will allow you to piggyback onto their menu at a savings.

10. Serve the Hors D’Oeuvres.
Use servers rather than offering hors d’oeuvres buffet-style. People tend to take only one item when served by wait staff, but help themselves to more at a buffet table. Buy enough so everyone gets three to five pieces. When it comes to ordering alcohol, it all depends on the group. For most groups, it’s recommended to bill on consumption so that you pay for only what the attendees drink. If it’s a group with big drinkers, it may make more sense to go with a hosted bar, which usually carries a per-person cost. Many groups are wary of paying by consumption for alcohol because it’s a variable cost rather than a fixed cost, but Freeman says the vast majority of the time it’s less expensive.

11. Limit the options.
You can save money with a hosted bar by offering only beer and wine. Also, draft beer is cheaper than bottled beer.

Source: Chris Freeman, convention sales manager, Kansas City Catering

Note: This article was originally published in May 2012.