Really want to offset costs? Consider bringing a sponsor in for
some elements of a meal or that special cocktail.
A shorter dinner also offers up signi;icant savings. Chop the meal
down from four courses to three. It’s unlikely that anybody will even
Navigating special requests. So, how was your Thanksgiving meal?
Thirty-two different special diet requests at the table? Sigh. And that
number, of course, gets multiplied when you have a convention center’s worth of people to please.
Before special diets became all the rage, Feagaimaalii says there
probably would have been a 5 percent overage for specialty foods.
Now, it’s up to 10 percent.
And, as happens all too often, attendees often select a special meal
just in case but don’t pick it up. One way to encourage people to only
select a special meal if they really need it for health or religious reasons (instead of because they think it might be tastier or, oh, I’m feeling gluten-free today): on the attendee form, ask for dietary restrictions with check boxes instead of open-ended questions, Stuckrath
Eating was added to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in
2008 as a major life activity. That makes food allergies, celiac disease
and other food-related issues covered under the ADA. The wording of
choice for your registration form: “Pursuant to the ADA, do you have
any disabilities we need to accommodate?” Then offer a pop-up menu
and then preferences. “Doing it that way breaks it out and helps you
know which ones really need a special meal,” Feagaimaalii says.
Another way to keep specialty meal costs in check—make one
meal type work for multiple groups. So, instead of offering a vegetarian meal, go for a vegan option. “It’s safer that way because you can
customize it to a larger audience,” she says. Even better? Go vegan and
gluten-free, so you can offer the same option to three different groups.
Have a particularly creative chef—and, perhaps, a smaller venue?
Make the whole meal work for a variety of special meal requests. This
would, of course, be easier at a smaller meeting or event. As Stuckrath
says: Serving a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches? Use gluten-free
bread for everybody. Really, who is going to know?
Change is good. Playing with expectations can do double duty: bring
costs down and send engagement up. Surprise can do wonders.
That daily coffee break at a multi-day meeting? Yawn. Imagine
this: One day, don’t put out cookies at the afternoon break. Just put
out iced tea and lemonade. Perhaps something in a local ;lavor? “The
next day, how about we just do ice cream novelties?” suggests Fea-
gaimaalii. “Try and get out of just doing a coffee break.”
How it bene;its the bottom line: coffee and, say, the usual assort-
ment of sugary bits and baubles, runs $5 to $6 a head. Iced tea? May-
be just $3. And, yes, here’s another chance to keep your theme going
(if, of course, you have one): local drinks or ice creams will shake peo-
ple’s brains up a bit and get them ready for the afternoon.
Feagaimaalii also recommends playing with nostalgia. Leave the
innovation and future-thinking to the speaker sessions. Instead, put
some play into the conference day with Rice Krispy Treats. Or maybe
chocolate chip cookies and milk. You can even extend that thinking to
a luncheon: Burgers, fries and milkshakes will make (most) people
feel a little bit naughty (and very happy).
Box it up. Cut service costs out of the picture by going with a boxed
lunch. The less labor-intensive setup does have its challenges when
feeding people who have special dietary needs but, again, creativity
is key here. For example, use the same components for salads to satisfy gluten-free types that you’ll also use on the sandwiches for everybody else.
Use the boxed lunches as the launching point for lunchtime breakout sessions or more casual meals around the pool or the event
Break it up. “The one thing that I’ve always done is if you’re having
lunch and then you’re going to have an afternoon break, take the dessert that would normally go with lunch and serve it at the afternoon
break,” Stuckrath says. “That’s an easy one. You’re not adding that extra cost of that break. And nobody needs that much sugar in that
three-hour time period.”
Know your event history—and get ahead of the game for next
year. “Tracking is invaluable for everyone,” Stuckrath says. Though
some venues like to chalk up the ;inal tallies as proprietary, play hardball in advance and let the sales team know you’ll need numbers
when everything is wrapped up. That will help you plan exactly what
you need the following year. ■
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