Creative ideas to maximize your meeting dollars.

At the 17th Annual New England Meetings Industry Conference and Exposition, held April 2 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Janet Sperstad, CMP, Meeting Expectations/Sperstad & Company, and Dona J. Geracie, Hilton Milwaukee City Center, challenged attendees at two sessions to come up with ideas on how planners can maximize their meeting dollars in the areas of food and beverage, sleeping rooms, and meeting room rental. After much head-scratching and frantic scribbling, here's what they came up with:

Eat, Drink, and Save Money

  • Order dessert trays instead of individual dessert plates. Also, provide trays of food and drinks rather than a buffet.

  • Serve luncheon-sized portions at dinner.

  • Minimize the use of fruit, which can be expensive.

  • Use the hotel's daily special for soups and desserts.

  • Serve a continental breakfast rather than a hot, plated meal.

  • Save leftover dessert from lunch for the afternoon break.

  • Cut danish and muffins in half.

  • Serve only regular and decaffeinated coffee (not more expensive flavored coffees).

  • Get an accurate head count before the event.

  • Use self-serve instead of full-serve.

  • Take advantage of complete meeting packages for food and beverage.

  • Order vegetarian meals instead of more costly meat dishes.

  • Have a soup-and-salad lunch instead of full-coursed meals.

  • Order lemonade and iced tea instead of canned soda.

  • Don't serve shrimp cocktail at a reception; it's very expensive.

  • Work with the chef to customize the menu. Ask the chef what s/he can do to help lower costs.

  • Order based on your group's history.

  • Offer boxed lunches.

  • Track consumption so you can more accurately provide future guarantees.

  • Let the facility know if you'll have multiple yearly bookings.

  • For smaller groups, use the hotel restaurant instead of having the meal catered.

  • Do not pre-open bottles.

  • Provide water coolers and cups instead of bottled water at breaks. Also, provide pitchers of water or iced tea at tables, instead of individual bottles or cans.

  • Use local suppliers to build relationships for future discounts.

  • Serve pasta — it's inexpensive.

  • Include breakfast and evening receptions in the guest room rate.

  • Use food that's in-season in the local area.

  • Sell sponsorships for food functions.

  • Use family-style service for smaller groups.

  • Order food to be replenished only as needed.

  • See if you can get food and beverages donated.



Sleep on the Cheap

  • Use a property that is under renovation, as long as the work won't get in the way of your program.

  • Ask for standard rooms with amenities instead of executive rooms.

  • Use points or miles for staff rooms, if possible.

  • Give the group a choice of room type.

  • Choose a location that is central for most of your attendees to minimize the need for sleeping rooms.

  • Create a multiproperty contract with branded hotels, if possible.

  • Negotiate reduced rates for hotels that you use frequently.

  • Book a regional meeting on the tail end of a national meeting to take advantage of extended group rates.

  • Base your room block on an accurate history.

  • Have a good attrition clause in your contract.

  • Find out if pre-paying a certain percentage of the room rate will get you a discount.

  • Do your homework: Check rates of competing facilities and rates that the headquarters hotel publishes on the Web and elsewhere.

  • Book rooms on lower-level floors and rooms without a view.

  • Negotiate for free local and toll-free phone use.

  • Ask for free breakfasts for your attendees.

  • Create your own contract — don't use the hotel's boilerplate contract.

  • Be flexible in your scheduling options, so that you can take advantage of down and shoulder periods.

  • Negotiate rates with meeting space.

  • Find out when the hotel room rates are cheapest: weekday vs. weekend, early bird rates, off-peak season.

  • Negotiate a favorable complimentary room ratio.

  • Negotiate upgrades for VIPs.

  • Negotiate commissions, if using a third-party site selecting firm.

  • Split your room block among differently priced hotels to accommodate different attendee spending needs.

  • Provide one-year advance booking notice.

  • Apply for nonprofit rates.

  • If it looks as if you're not going to make your room block, release rooms as early as possible so that the hotel can resell them.

  • Double up staff in sleeping rooms.



Meeting Room for Improvement

  • Right-size your space — don't ask for more meeting space than you really need.

  • Use the room for a half day instead of a full day.

  • Avoid 24-hour holds whenever possible.

  • Ask not to have tables set with linens.

  • Maximize your space use: Eat in your meeting rooms, and use the same room sets for different activities.

  • Check out universities and public spaces for meeting rooms, instead of using a hotel.

  • Trade or share space with other groups who are in-house at the time of your meeting.

  • Book in second- and third-tier cities, or outside large cities, for more reasonable rates.

  • Use your own audiovisual equipment, or have AV included in the room charge.

  • Include Internet access in the room costs.

  • Negotiate to have room rental waived after food and beverage guarantees are met.

  • Be creative with your meeting setup: Use hallways for breakouts, and look into using outdoor meeting areas, which won't need much in the way of decoration.

  • Negotiate a reduced meeting room rate that is based on the number of sleeping rooms booked.



More Great Ideas

  • Always buy in bulk.

  • Reuse and recycle everything possible, from posters to nametags to floral arrangements. Create reusable signage.

  • Discover the joys of online registration.

  • Use unpaid interns and volunteers whenever and wherever possible.

  • Ask for and use any and all donations or contributions from companies.

  • Purchase your own easels and LCD projectors.

  • Use the hotel's props and equipment for decorating.

  • Use a speaker from within your organization.

  • Negotiate a multiyear contract when possible.

  • Negotiate parking prices along with your room rates.

  • Negotiate airport transportation

  • Don't book last minute.

  • Use meal plans.

  • Ask local suppliers for discounted materials.

  • Partner with universities to use their facilities, which usually cost less than a hotel's.

  • Eliminate giveaways; add more sponsors.

  • Go to smaller cities during off-peak seasons.

  • Order meeting supplies directly from the manufacturer when possible to avoid paying premiums.

  • Use staff creativity and talents — you may have musicians, artists, and other creative geniuses on staff who could double as entertainment and help in other ways for no cost.