Think it's possible to save thousands of dollars on your food and beverage budget? Think higher. In a session at Meeting Professionals International's recent Professional Education Conference in New Orleans, presenter Janet R. Pickover, CMP, told the story of a meeting planner who, over the course of several years, managed to save hundreds of thousands: $300,000, in fact.

Incredibly, all her savings came from water. The planner had simply bought bottled water in bulk, and by custom branding it, substituted it for the exceedingly expensive bottled water normally provided by her meeting venues.

This was just one of 50 tips that Pickover, a director with Site Inspections Plus in Princeton, N.J., provided to the MPI-PEC audience. Some others:

  • If you want to save money on a reception, consider food tables against a wall rather than in the center of a room. Less access to the table means less food consumption.

  • If your attendees can't tell the difference between standard and premium liquor brands, don't invest in the premium.

  • Put more expensive food closer to the front door, and the less expensive food in the back.

  • Know your group: Higher level executives have probably been to more receptions and tend to eat less, while lower level staff will be ready to chow down.

  • Check out your venue's inventory of tables, chairs, linens, and decorations. Using in-house stock is a lot cheaper than renting.

The biggest enemy of the food and beverage budget? Waste. Whether through faulty planning, poorly timed meals, or a variety of other missteps, food and drink can, and will, be left on a plate or table, or in the worst circumstances, never make it out of the kitchen.

What, for example, happens when a planner neglects to ask dinner attendees in advance if they want a vegetarian option? In one case, Pickover said, the kitchen had to scramble at the last minute to provide vegetarian meals, leaving the extra meat dishes uneaten and bringing service to a standstill.

What about a breakfast scheduled before a meeting that absolutely has to start on time? In one case, Pickover recalled, the planner and kitchen staff eschewed the safe bet — a simple continental breakfast — and went with a five-course, themed meal, culminating in a chocolate dessert! The multicourse meal took longer than anticipated, which left attendees stampeding into the meeting room from the breakfast area, leaving behind dozens of uneaten desserts.