. 8 Ways to Save Money on Your Next Meeting | Northstar Meetings Group

8 Ways to Save Money on Your Next Meeting

From food and beverage to Internet services, these resourceful tips from expert meeting planners can help lower the cost of your next meeting.

meetings and events cost cutting tips

Having a memorable meeting in a spectacular setting with all the perks -- from gourmet food to branded swag -- is what every planner hopes for. This year, thanks to steady growth in the industry, event schedules have been busier than ever. According to the American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast, the numbers of meetings, attendees, days and cost per attendee are predicted to rise in North America throughout 2019.

Yet despite the increasing demand, costs are outpacing budgets, and increases in spending are not expected to keep up. So how do savvy planners keep the balance? They find creative ways to cut costs without reducing the wow factor that comes with presenting a unique, engaging event. Here are some tips from experienced planners to help keep your budget on track.

Land the Right Location

Holding your meeting close to transportation hubs -- airports, train stations, subways, bus stations -- not only makes getting to the destination more convenient for attendees, it also saves money by reducing or eliminating transportation costs.

"Choosing an event site that is on public transit or in a walkable location saves money on shuttles, rental cars and cabs while letting attendees enjoy the community," says Eric Wallinger, director of sustainability at MeetGreen in Portland, Ore. Cutting gas-powered transportation also helps reduce your event's carbon footprint.

Manage F&B Costs

One way to lower the food tab is to replace catered departure breakfasts and coffee breaks with vouchers or gift cards, says Julie Wong, CMP, president of the Event Concierge in Phoenix. "For a departure breakfast, instead of providing a meal, we suggest a $25 food-and-beverage voucher for guests to use," she says. "They could use the voucher in the hotel's food outlets for breakfast before they leave -- if people take early flights they could grab something quick or, if they are traveling later, enjoy breakfast at their leisure." The vouchers are good just for that day, and the hotel charges only for what was used, explains Wong.

You can also save money by swapping the catered coffee break for gift cards that guests can use at a local coffee shop. This works best with small groups, says Wong. "We have offered a coffee-outlet gift card in place of paying for the expensive coffee-by-the-gallon, decaf and hot-tea setup," she says. "Gift cards allow guests to get whatever they want on their own time, and they save money."

When catered breakfasts and coffee breaks are a must, you can avoid purchasing more snacks by using untouched pastries and fruit from the breakfast service for the midmorning nosh, says Wong. Delaying the dessert from the lunch buffet and serving it instead as the afternoon break also can have value. "Ordering prepackaged bars also saves money as you can serve them for multiple breaks," Wong notes.

When it comes to main meals, going meatless is an easy way to cut back on F&B costs, says Wallinger. In the world of modern meetings, it's likely that many attendees will be vegetarian; offering meatless meals will appease these individuals as well as help save money. "One recent event saved eight Olympic swimming pools of water and substantial dollars by switching from meat to vegetarian cuisine for lunch," says Wallinger, who used myeventfootprint.com to calculate this fun fact.

Another way to work the F&B budget is to under-confirm the number of guests. Hotels require a final headcount prior to a meal, and it is standard for them to produce 5 to 10 percent more for plated and buffet-style meetings. "If you think you'll have 100 people but give an estimated count of 95 for a plated dinner and 90 for a buffet, in the long run you will save a lot of money because they will charge you for that guaranteed number," says Adriana Perez Mitre, director of conference services at the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach in Cancún, Mexico.

Mind Your Beverages 

Bottled water is no longer must, since many hotels, such as the Grand Fiesta Coral Beach, have water-purification systems in place, which means you can avoid the added expense and environmental impact of purchasing plastic water bottles. Using pitchers on tables and water coolers in halls saves a lot of money, notes Perez Mitre (and it's more sustainable).

"It's also important to get a handle on your group's beverage consumption and decide between a hosted bar by the hour or a consumption bar," says Jason Horowitz, franchise owner/operator at Event Prep in Jacksonville, Fla. "Heavy-consuming groups paying a flat price by the hour will probably save more than on consumption, while a low-consuming group should use a consumption bar, not a package price."

Ask for Incentives and Discounts

Local convention and visitor bureaus are great places for discounts. "Ask about the incentives they're offering," says Dennis LaMantia, national account manager for Experient Select in Denver. "I recently got clients into cities that would have otherwise been out of budget, using credits offered by the CVB." The bureau often has access to unpublished discounts and has a good understanding of what's out there — they can help you search for deals so you can concentrate on other meeting tasks.

It also pays to ask for discounted hotel rooms, says LaMantia. While it can be hard to get hotels to nudge the run-of-house rate down a few dollars, it can be surprisingly easy to get rooms for on-site staff at 30 to 50 percent off the regular rate, he says. "I usually don't have a problem getting these concessions if I'm only asking for 3 to 5 percent of the total room block at a staff rate."

Another way to lower the room rate: "When booking with a resort, I have requested a discounted resort fee, or if possible, a waived resort fee for my groups," says Allegra Novalis, event planner/site-selection specialist for Federal Conference in Dumfries, Va. "This usually saves quite a bit of money, and attendees are still able to use the amenities on-site."

Negotiate All That You Can

When it comes to keeping meeting costs down, the power of negotiation can be one of your best weapons. When possible, negotiate F&B pricing in your contract and indicate that the cost per meal is not to exceed the lowest dollar amount you can afford, says Jill Jordan, managing partner at Guardian Event Solutions in Longwood, Fla. "Confirm menus three months prior to the event so you know what your attendees will be served for the budgeted amount."

Another big way to save: "I negotiated complimentary Internet for a 3,000-person group, which saved them tens of thousands of dollars," says Horowitz of Event Prep, who also suggests working out a complimentary reception or break as part of the contract. "Whatever you negotiate, most importantly, make sure you include it in the contract," he adds.

Cashing in or trading in concessions during contract negotiation is another way to save money, says Novalis of Federal Conference. "The concessions that hotels offer in the beginning stages of negotiation can be used as leverage to give back to the hotel to lower the group rate during the final phases of contracting," she notes. "For example, if the hotel is offering five junior suites at a group rate, which has value, and your stakeholders determine that the suites are not necessary, you could give back the concession and ask for a reduced sleeping-room rate. But you have to have something from the hotel in order to give back or trade in."

Invest in Tech

After F&B costs, the second most requested expense that planners were asked to cut back on was A/V costs, according to the PCMA survey. On-site technical assistance can add up, especially in union houses, says Event Concierge's Wong. "For A/V, we have purchased our own remote advancer, which saves $45 per day — that adds up for multi-day meetings." Another option is to bring your own IT person. "This will be less expensive than hiring the hotel's A/V technician," notes Wong, if the property allows outside technicians.

LaMantia of Experient Select says planners should shop around for audiovisual providers: "A/V ends up being an afterthought for a lot of groups, but I always advise my clients to get at least one proposal from a supplier outside the hotel. Even if you end up using the in-house A/V person, you can use the other proposal to help negotiate costs."

Organize Your Supplies 

Keeping shipping costs down, limiting the amount of printed materials and bringing only what is needed are all ways to lower meeting costs. "We found that ordering minimal supplies and shipping them directly to the hotel beforehand, versus us boxing and shipping them, saved time and money," says Wong. For example, you can order supplies via Amazon Prime for free shipping, then donate the leftover supplies to a local school or nonprofit, thus doing good and saving return shipping costs.

Recycling and reusing are also good strategies. "We collect name-tag holders and lanyards to recycle for the next meeting by putting a collection basket at registration and gently reminding guests to turn in their badge holders," says Wong.

Reusing signage or going electronic are also ways to save. "Printed signs can be a recurring expense that can add up," says Andy McNeill, CEO of American Meetings in Fort Lauderdale. Consider investing in banner stands at your next event. They come in different shapes and can be put together to make a simple backdrop. "In addition to multiple uses, you will also save money on shipping — they are lightweight and fold up to fit in the overhead or your carry-on," says McNeill.

Plenty can be saved by eliminating handouts at registration. "Printing the schedule on the back of the name badge is cost savings versus printing a separate document," says Wong. Or put everything on the event app, a trend that has gained momentum among planners.

Check the Math

"As a rule of thumb, I always make sure that the totals listed on hotel contracts add up correctly," says Novalis. "I've heard from industry friends and partners about times when the math did not add up, and because of binding terms, the organization lost big money."

Check contracts for key words like "daily" versus "cumulative," she says. "When signing [an agreement] with an attrition clause, you do not want daily rooms attrition, you'd rather have cumulative." In the end, if you miss something in the contract, it could cost you: Charges discovered after the fact are difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate. 

Kim Fredericks is a content contributor for Northstar Travel Group