1. Know your history

    Chances are, not everyone who registers for a meeting is going to eat every meal. To avoid paying for unconsumed meals and drinks, look at historical patterns of how many people actually attend food functions, and how much they consume at breaks and at cocktail parties.

  2. Control what's served

    On breaks, food service workers will often refill empty coffee urns to the top, even if there are only five minutes left in the break period. At some $90 a gallon, that's a lot of money going down the drain. Make sure they check with planning staff first before refilling, particularly in the last few minutes of the break. Same thing with wine. Tell food service personnel to open one bottle of red and white per table and fill glasses only on request.

  3. Order bulk breakfasts

    For continental breakfasts, order in bulk, not per-person packages. The packages often include more food than is necessary. By ordering in bulk, you can cut it in half. And if it's a full breakfast, offer buffet meals, not plated.

  4. Use house brands of wine and cocktails

    This can save you a lot over the cost of premium brands.

  5. Negotiate bartender fees

    If you agree to a beverage minimum, negotiate to eliminate the bartender fees if you meet the minimum.

  6. Use stand-up tables

    For cocktail receptions, use stand-up tables instead of sit-down tables. People are more likely to network, and they are less likely to hang around and drink and eat all night — saving you money.

  7. Know that lines are OK

    At cocktail receptions, don't be afraid of having medium-sized lines at the bar. Long lines are a no-no, but lines that are five or six deep encourage networking and discourage overindulging on cocktails.

  8. Ask the chef

    Meet with the chef to see if you can use the same menu as another group that was meeting in the facility. Asking the chef to preparing more of the same food in advance can result in cost savings. Also, check with the chef for seasonal or regional specialties, which may be less expensive.

  9. Don't pay more for drinks

    Whether it's a cash or a hosted bar, don't pay more for drinks than you pay in the hotel outlets (bars and restaurants).

  10. Lock in the menu prices

    If the hotel will not provide a specific menu in advance, at least agree that the menu prices will not increase more than a fixed percentage per year.

  11. Order as much as possible “on consumption.”

    Uneaten food and drink can be returned and not charged. This works well with soda and packaged foods like potato chips, but can also be done with perishables.

  12. Ask about discontinued wine labels

    If available, a discontinued label often can be a bargain compared to what's on the current wine list.

  1. Leave the rate alone

    In a seller's market, hotels are reluctant to budge on the room rate because that is where the biggest profit comes from. If you leave the rate alone, hoteliers may be more willing to give concessions in other areas — ancillary fees (resort fees, Internet fees, etc.), comp rooms, additional staff rooms, airport transfers, even food and beverage.

  2. Avoid attrition

    Knowing your history is paramount in avoiding attrition costs. If you know how many rooms you typically use, you'll be less prone to make room-block promises you can't keep. Being ultra-conservative with the block is a surefire way to avoid attrition, but then you run into the risk of not having enough rooms.

  3. Know the total value of your meeting

    When negotiating for hotel rooms, planners should come armed with data on how much the group spends in total, not just on space, rooms, and food and beverage. Try to get historical data on how much the group spends in hotel restaurants, bars, spa, golf, Internet usage, gift shops — in other words, track every dollar spent. This will, of course, require the assistance of hoteliers, but planners should request this information for future use. It will give the hotel a better picture of how much your business is really worth.

  4. Use second-tier cities

    Moving downmarket to second- and third-tier destinations will usually result in more availability and better room rates, depending on the city. In general, the lower the demand, the lower the rates. It may also be easier to negotiate meeting space at convention centers in second tiers.

  5. Use universities

    If there are no sleeping rooms involved, universities are an inexpensive alternative for meeting space. Many allow groups to rent space for smaller meetings; but you do have to provide your own food and beverage.

  6. Negotiate multi-year deals

    Planners can negotiate better deals on hotel rooms if they book multiple meetings at a hotel over a period of years. Some planners have found that hoteliers who wouldn't budge on rates for a single meeting commitment were willing to reduce their rates if the planner booked two or more meetings at a time. Signing long-term agreements with contractors and vendors is another way to save money over time.

  7. Be flexible on dates/patterns

    In a seller's market, deals can be found in top-tier cities by simply being flexible on dates and patterns. Filling holes in a hotel's calendar will give you more negotiating leverage; even changing your day-of-week patterns can result in lower rates.


  1. Tear down those costs

    Often, AV companies will charge the same labor fees for teardown as they do for setup. Strike, or teardown, takes less time, so teardown fees should be about half or three-quarters of what setup charges are.

  2. Identify matching sets

    Put sessions that require the same type of seating in the same rooms so you don't have to pay for room reset costs.

  3. Work with outgoing associations

    Find out what associations or organizations are meeting in the convention center or venue before you, and see if you can piggyback off of any of their sets or services. For example, if they are using the same AV provider or decorator, you might be able to work out a situation where they leave certain room sets, staging, and black drape for your event and you foot the bill for dismantle and move-out.

  4. Bid out AV and other services

    Consider putting AV service out to bid. Not always, but in many cases, you can find better deals by hiring an outside AV provider instead of using in-house AV.

  5. Bring your own

    It may be cheaper to bring your own flip charts, markers, etc., with you.

  6. Ask what else you can get

    You may be able to get one complementary microphone per session room, for example.

  1. Keep the setup identical. If your meeting lasts more than one day, keep the meeting room setup the same.

  2. Use skirted tables instead of renting secretarial desks for on-site offices.

  3. Use fewer breakout rooms. This saves on AV and setup costs.

  4. Use multitasking meeting rooms. For example, use the same room classroom-style for the education, and banquet-style for serving lunch. Put up screens or use plants to divide space.

  5. Use an outdoor venue to minimize décor needs.

  6. Use public facilities such as libraries, parks, botanical gardens, and museums. They can be very cost-effective because you can sometimes use your own caterer and vendors.

  7. Develop generic signs that are reusable and that you can Velcro updated information on.

  8. Use hotel signboards rather than buying your own.

  1. Use members or locals as speakers. Among the membership ranks for just about any association are experts in just about any given field. If possible, ask members to be presenters perhaps in exchange for free registration. Or hire local speakers in the city where the meeting is being held and save on travel costs.

  2. Have travel guidelines. For speakers from out of town, have travel guidelines in place so you are not paying exorbitant costs for limo transfers, five-star hotels, or first-class airfare.

  3. Use homegrown talent. While it's fine to use big-name talent for one night, consider tapping into local religious groups, youth groups, or school groups for music and other entertainment needs.

  4. Hire now to lock in rates. Speakers and entertainers often raise their rates every year. Lock in at this year's rates.

  5. Negotiate a flat rate instead of fee plus expenses.

  6. Piggyback speakers and entertainers with other groups in the same hotel or same city.

  7. Use versatile acts. Try to book acts that can take part in more than one piece of your event.

  1. Keep events close. With gas prices high, shuttle costs are going up. To keep rates to a minimum, schedule special events as close to the bulk of the guest rooms as possible, or seek convention facilities with as many rooms within walking distance as possible.

  2. Use public transportation. Educate attendees on public transportation options in a city, particularly if there's a stop right at the convention center. Often, it's quicker than taking a shuttle through downtown — and cheaper for attendees than a cab.

  3. Distribute vouchers. Instead of using meet-and-greet services, give out vouchers for airport shuttles and/or fare for public buses or subways.

  4. Ask for complimentary limo service for VIPs. When negotiating, request complimentary limousine service for VIPs to and from the airport. Also, inquire about reserved and complimentary parking for them if they're driving to the meeting.

  5. Establish a transportation “window.” Set up a four- to eight-hour window for transporting delegates to cut back on bus transfer costs.

  6. Ask for coupons. Ask the local taxi company about discount coupons for local shows, restaurants, and sight-seeing attractions.

  7. Use the air-carrier's VIP lounge for the group's meet-and-greet.

  8. Get sponsors to help defray the costs of the shuttle system in exchange for ads at hotel shuttle schedule postings, the shuttle stop at the convention center, and on the buses themselves.

Editor's Note: I know, I know. This is only 48 of the promised 125 tips — For the remaining 77 cost-saving tips, visit our cost-saving tips page.

Sources: Jason Eggleston, operations manager, meeting logistics, American Society of Microbiology, Washington, D.C.; Barbara Dunlavey, CMP, CAE, executive director, Biomedical Engineering Society, Landover, Md., Vicky Betzig, CMP, founder, Meetings Industry Consulting, Brookfield, Wis.; Christine Simpson, CMP, meeting planner, Gas Processors Association, Tulsa, Okla.; Gary Rosenberg, CMP, partner, Rosenberg and Risinger, Culver City, Calif.; Sandy Biback, CMP CMM; Imagination+ Meeting Planners Inc.

Thanks a million — dollars, that is. That's how much Vicky Betzig, CMP, a Brookfield, Wis.-based consultant and independent meeting planner, saved a client on food and beverage costs by simply tightening up the food and beverage guarantees.

Previously, the group had guaranteed “everybody for every meal,” she says. So, for a meeting of 6,000 people, that meant 6,000 breakfasts, 6,000 lunches, 6,000 dinners, every day — for five days. But when she dove into the history, demographics, and past behaviors, Betzig found that not everybody went to all the meals, particularly on the last day of the conference when people were leaving for home.

“For a big group like that, it was almost a full-time job (getting a handle on how much food and beverage to guarantee),” says Betzig. Or, planners can make attendees sign up for meals in advance and exchange a ticket for each meal.

“The No. 1 way to cut costs in food and beverage is to spend the time and effort managing guarantees better.”