Food and beverage budgeting: 16 tips for doing more with less

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Food and beverage budgetingEvery event planner strives to deliver the ultimate participant experience during their events. We live for the thrill of seeing the participants (and our clients or employers) wowed and amazed. However, in these times of economic restraint, we’re being asked to create these experiences on limited or declining budgets. We’re required to improve the bottom line but not sacrifice the participant experience.

For many events, food and beverage is a critical component of the participant experience. While we long to be able to serve high-ticket items such as filet mignon, lobster and imported cheeses, the reality is often the opposite. I read an article years ago that stated, “Almost anyone can make expensive food taste great, but it takes a great chef to make inexpensive foods taste like nothing you’ve ever had before.”

Events are delivered by teams – and our successes are catapulted when we incorporate the whole team: sales, CSMs, chefs and banquet supervisors at the beginning of the planning. To deliver successes, planners need to be open to new and creative food choices, crafty in our expectations for presentation (we eat first with our eyes after all!), and stealthy in our planning.

Here are a few seasoned (no pun intended!) suggestions to assist planners with their food and beverage budgeting – and I hope that you’ll add in your own in the comments section below!

  • At the time of contract negotiations, request the previous year’s prices be applied to your event or that prices won’t increase by more than a certain percentage or a fixed percentage off the printed menu prices.
  • Begin planning by looking at the whole food and beverage picture for your event – including divulging your budget! This will allow your team to carefully manipulate the food and beverage budget for maximum participant experience.
  • Using cultural cuisine offers an opportunity to serve inexpensive foods with creative flair.
  • negotiate to have iced tea included in the meal price, along with coffee and hot tea – to eliminate the need for other more expensive bottled beverages
  • Instead of planning a closing luncheon or reception, offer a food outlet voucher.
  • Order a smaller selection of hors d’oeuvres, but in larger quantities, and have them served (one kind at a time) by wait staff rather than at stations.
  • Limit consumption by featuring one-sided stations or by featuring identical food on both sides.
  • Select the same menu for simultaneous functions.
  • Compare the cost of ordering package prices (per person, per hour) versus buying in bulk (per piece, per dozen, per gallon).
  • What are the chef’s specialties? What specialties are indigenous to the area? What seasonal foods can be served? (Regional and seasonal foods may be available at reduced pricing.)
  • Instruct wait staff to ask if wine refill is desired rather than automatically refilling glasses.
  • Guests will eat less during receptions if their attention is diverted by entertainment, music or dancing.
  • Request the option of buying liquor for beverage functions on a “bottle basis” rather than “per drink basis”. If liquor is purchased on the bottle basis, request the venue to agree that partially full bottles may be carried over to the next scheduled reception.
  • When a full bar is cost-prohibitive, you can make beer, wine and soft drinks more exciting by serving a variety of different microbrews and wines from the region.
  • Ask your chef what they’ve done recently that they’re really proud of and what are some new and exciting things that they’ve done.
  • Expect the venue to provide you with a summary of statistics for all of the revenue generated by the event, including group functions, in conjunction-with events, hospitality suites, room service and business in restaurants and lounges. This spending history is critically important for planning future events.

The greatest asset a planner can have to minimize food and beverage costs and maximize participant experience is advance notice. Approach your culinary team. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t assume! If everyone knows in advance what you are needing to achieve, your team can brainstorm creative, innovative, healthy and cost-effective solutions. Bon appétit!

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