Sooner or later nearly every CLE provider has to run a program off-site. Especially if venue options are limited, it’s easy to become held hostage to inflated catering costs. Before you know it, food and beverages are your make or break line. Here are fifteen ways to try and keep your F & B budget grounded:
1. Make your guaranteed minimum cut-off date for food orders as late as possible – if you can, 48 hours before the program.
2. Always reduce your guarantees for the “no-show” factor – attrition at larger CLE programs is usually in the 10 to 12% range.
3. Consider ordering a la carte from the add-on menu instead of ordering the full continental.
4. Use breakfast breads (ie, banana, cranberry, etc.) instead of more expensive muffins or danishes (the latter of which are often syrupy and go to waste anyway).
5. If you order bagels, ask that they be quartered. It cuts costs and avoid a lot of waste.
6. If you order fruit, you can often pass on juice (which is outrageously expensive). Whole fruit is usually less expensive and can be recycled for meals and breaks later in the day.
7. If you order juice, this can often be provided by the pitcher less expensively than in bottles. You can usually be pretty conservative with juice orders too – fewer people want it than you think.
8. Order coffee by the litre, not the person, and ask the venue to provide smaller cups.
9. Always order breakfast breads and afternoon snacks by the dozen, never by the person.
10. Order as much food and beverage as possible by “consumption.” Canned and bottled drinks, and uneaten packaged food like chips and granola bars, can often be returned and not charged.
11. Bottled water is expensive. Compare the cost of water coolers and water service with bottles. Consider ordering cases of branded water if the venue permits this, for example, to be provided by a sponsor.
12. If you haven’t advertised lunch as part of the registration fee and there are lots of quick lunch options nearby, don’t offer it.
13. If you do include lunch, consider box or bag lunches rather than plated.
14. Save desserts included with lunch for the afternoon coffee break. Most people don’t expect dessert with lunch, and it saves on a second sweet/snack order.
15. Re-use what you can. Cover uneaten breakfast breads and save them for the coffee break. If you order juice by the bottle and it isn’t on consumption, make it available at lunch or the afternoon break.
In my experience, when you have to go off-site, a little creative thinking goes a long way to achieving a manageable F & B budget. Honesty doesn’t hurt either. If a venue wants your business, they’ll help you work with the budget you have. So do yourself a favour and know your budget in advance.
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