Our biggest challenge is getting attendees to buy tickets to special events (banquets, luncheons) prior to arriving into town for the event. I usually have 60 percent of the tickets sold by the time I arrive at my event, and I sell the remaining 40 percent the first day at the event, just a day prior to the catered events.
These events typically draw between 600 to 1,000-plus attendees, so having to guarantee even 100 extra meals is not something I will accept. The issue is the caterer wants a guarantee 72 hours prior, and I cannot provide that until I sell the tickets.
I demonstrate history of being able to sell the tickets from past events.
When I am successful, I tell them to expect a call from next year's caterer to confirm I met my numbers.
At last resort, I risk on a 50/50 basis all remaining tickets I need, whereby if the cost of the meal is $20, and I risk a 100 more meals on the guarantee, I do that at $10 and ask the caterer to do the same at $10, so we both have a risk. If I sell the “risked tickets,” I give them 100% of their $20. If I do not, I only pay them $10 and that covers the food cost. They must eat any additional labor they plan, and they usually don't.
I allow greed to take over from there. In other words, this year I had sold 700-plus tickets and we could have stopped there, but we did the risk thing and I ended up selling 1,000-plus tickets before we shut it down. Twenty dollars times 300 tickets is a reason for the caterer to take a risk.
The biggest challenge is prices, and we try to limit them through negotiations. Sometimes we have to subsidize from other areas of the budget to compensate for the F&B prices. It's a matter of what's most important — that's how the decisions are normally made.
We still try to talk them into lowering the prices according to the number of people that we are going to have, and then negotiate the per-person price.
Food and beverage is an area where we have received a great deal of assistance from our meeting management company, Arrowhead Conferences and Events.
They negotiate on our behalf to get a flat rate, inclusive of service charge and tax, for meals and breaks. This really helps us to estimate what our costs will be and to keep a cap on food costs for our events.
One of the biggest challenges is keeping the food-and-beverage costs within budget. For our opening night, a sit-down banquet, we request that the venue hold dessert until after the opening session and serve it during the opening-night fellowship hour. We always want a refreshment for that fellowship time and doing it this way minimizes the cost of the reception.
Also, we have discontinued serving soft drinks for breaks. We serve only bottled water. We found that attendees continue to drink the water over a period of time; with a canned drink, they take a few sips, discard it, and then get another one at the next break. The first time we did this, we saved about half of what we had spent in previous events for the breaks.