no secret that the same problems smacking your food
budget at home—those sunny side ups are up, up, up in
price—are also wreaking havoc on the bottom line of
meetings and conventions.
“Food costs are going up across the board,” says Tracy Stuckrath,
CSEP, CMM, CHC (MPI Georgia Chapter), president and chief connecting of;icer of Atlanta-based Thrive! Meetings & Events.
But attendees need to eat. Speakers don’t like to look out on a
room full of protein-deprived dozers and, on the engagement front,
there’s no better way to get people talking than a good (or bad) meal.
So it looks like, more than ever, it’s really time to put some thought
into your event’s food program.
“I don’t think food is something people pay attention to as much
at the front end,” Stuckrath says. “They know they’re going to do food
and beverage and they know they just want to do what they did last
But at what price for the same old, same old?
Stuckrath says a client who was thinking about doing a food repeat found the meeting budget tipping into frightening territory once
they ran the numbers. The day-and-a-half program, which already
cost US$17,000 in 2015, would have run an additional $13,000 for
the same number of people this year (and that was for the cheapest
items on the menu).
What to do? Worry not—you won’t have to resort to asking attendees to bring lunch from home. Thanks to some creative and tasty
solutions, you’ll likely ;ind yourself on the receiving end of compliments after the meals are done.
Boost the interest level. Helene Feagaimaalii, senior catering sales
manager for Levy Restaurants at the Hawaii Convention Center,
knows how challenging it can be to get people excited about conference food. After all, she’s in Hawaii. And who really wants to focus on
a conference lunch when you’re in Hawaii?
“Once they’re here, they don’t want to be locked into a conference.
We compete with our own selves,” she says.
And some of Feagaimaalii’s keep-them-hooked methods also rate
high on the cost-cutting front. Put the still-hot small-plates trend into
play during a themed event that makes the most of your location.
“You can lower your budget but still get the culture,” she says. “
Focus on smaller bites using local resources.” Warning: Don’t choose
There’s no reason to stop with the minis as you turn attention to
something to wash down the tapas. For example, Feagaimaalii sug-
gests pairing small plates that serve up an island theme with a mini
Mai Tai or mini mimosa using local fruits and juices.
A customized theme “makes the event a little special. They’ll go to
different stations and get a taste of everything.”
She adds: “When you sit down at a table with somebody, you’re
breaking bread with them and so many relationships are built around
it. Barriers are broken when you sit down to share a meal with some-
one. Creating an environment that will allow you to experience things
with each other is fabulous.”
Trust the experts. It’s time to get the person under the toque involved
in your event’s planning, instead of just having a discussion with the
sales team. Chefs know how to put a creative spin on supposedly lesser cuts of meat or can help you inject some fun into the menu. For example, Stuckrath says, instead of the popular-because-it’s-fancy ;ilet
mignon, ask the chef to recommend another cut of meat that’s just as
tasty but nowhere near as pricy.
Also, during the early stages of planning, it makes sense to ask the
sales associate and, eventually, chef what food they’re serving at other
events during the same timeframe. Perhaps you can share like-minded
foods so the chef can buy in greater bulk and, hopefully, save some
money. Just because you get the same ingredients doesn’t mean you
have to serve the same meals. Chefs can be incredibly playful. An “I like
this but I want a twist” might help get chefs at smaller venues on your
Another chef favorite that can, at times, be a good cost cutter—
especially at smaller venues—is to put local ingredients to work. “You’re
reducing the transportation costs,” Stuckrath says. “Then, again, you
have to trust your chef.” They know the resources available and the
ways to dress them up for company.
Be upfront about the budget. Stuckrath suggests posing a simple
question to play with the chef: “‘What can you do to help us?’ He knows
his labor costs and his food costs.” Just make sure you put minimum
and maximum food costs into the contract.
Go slightly shorter—but just as sweet. “Before it
was abundance. It wasn’t uncommon for people to
host 100 percent of the cocktails and a formal sit-down meal,” Feagaimaalii says.
Of course, the cocktail hour usually spilled over
into a three-hour drinkfest. Cutting cocktail receptions down to an hour or hour-and-a-half offers
people plenty of opportunity to network or catch
up without making them feel like they’re at their
second cousin’s overly long wedding reception.
And, really, if they want to keep chatting old (or
new) friends up, there’s no reason they can’t move
on to the hotel bar once the formal event is over.
The upside for your bottom line: You can expect to save about 20 percent by going shorter, Feagaimaalii says.
One tactic that might not be quite as popular—and, yes, will be noticeable—is to cut out the open bar. Drink tickets put some people off,
but perhaps they’ll feel more kindly toward the practice if they can
swap a ticket in for a cocktail customized for the occasion. Serve up
one (maybe two) with beer and wine for a special, yet far-less-expen-sive, drinks option.
Servin lunc o grie chs
brea fo everybod. Rea,
wh i goin t kno?