Planning a Conference or Seminar
Budgeting Your Food Requirements
Food and beverage functions are a major part of the conference program and are usually the most expensive budget item.
Therefore, thoughtful decisions need to be made to balance the food costs with the total cost for the event.
The conference committee should consider the following things beforehand:
· How many meals will be on an "on your own" basis and how many will be included in the registration fee or ticket price?
· What will be the total cost of food and how much if it will add to the registration fee?
How much will tax and gratuity add to the cost? It is usually about 26%, but could be higher in some very specific locations.
Are there any other reasonably priced sources for meals? For example there may be many reasonably priced restaurants in walking distance whereas there might not be any at a resort.
What will be the time frame for meals/breaks?
How many meals were included last year and were they well attended to?
Will this meal/break enhance the overall conference?
Meals at the end of a conference are often lightly attended. This should be considered in the planning of the conference and in ordering a lower number of meals.
Hotels have set menus, but are usually willing to take your budgeted amount and custom fit a menu for your group. This obviously only applies if you are hosting your conference or seminar in a hotel.
A good rule is to check out the cost of the hotel's restaurant lunch buffet and ask for that rate. They will usually charge a little more because it is a catered event, but it gives you a good basis to indicate you would be willing to take the same menu as the restaurant to help cut costs.
Plus-plus costs. Most menus list a cost for the meal, but then they add at the bottom in small type that tax and gratuity will be added. Standard gratuity is around 16- 18% and tax is often in the 6-10% range, so this adds to the overall cost of the meal.
The hotel will ask you to predict how many people you think will attend the meal functions; generally, this number will be listed in the contract. The Hotel will usually set enough places and prepare enough food for 5% more than you guarantee. (Check your contact first just to be sure).
Rarely does everybody at the conference eat the meals. Therefore, you can always lower the guarantee by at least 5% beforehand and perhaps a little more, if you have reason to believe that everyone won't show up. Sometimes RSVP’s do not come in and yet the people listed still arrive.
It will also say in the contract that a final guarantee must be given 72 hours in advance of the event. You should check your contract carefully!
If you have had fewer enrollments than you thought when you made the contract, you may lower the guarantee at this point in the negotiations. After the 72 hour cutoff, you will have to pay for the number you guarantee.
Hopefully, you will have a record of how many people actually ate at the meal functions last year to help you make an educated guess. Don't estimate for late registrants because this rarely helps. The hotel may let you raise the guarantee within the 72 hours but not lower it.
Have conference committee members serve as greeters to help people find places when the seating gets tight. They can check nametags if necessary to assure entrance only by registrants and paying ticket holders so as to avoid crashers.