What’s better than a hugely successful meeting or event with smiling attendees and an appreciative CEO or client?

Well, how about keeping that same function on budget or, hallelujah, under budget?

In the past few years, thanks to a sluggish economy, a variety of criticism about lavish overspending and other factors, meeting planners have learned numerous innovative methods to cut back on costs and avoid wasteful spending.

That said, there are still a variety of common missteps that create cost overruns. If you think you’ve learned every conceivable way to trim the fat and increase value, think again.

Lodging

“Many planners simply don’t ask enough questions when selecting accommodations,” says Joan Eisenstodt, president of Washington D.C.-based Eisenstodt Associates, a meetings hospitality consultant, facilitator and trainer. “They need to be more aware of changing market conditions, increased taxes, additional fees for services such as higher-speed Internet access, and other elements.

“I often see planners take last year’s budget, increase it by 10 percent across the board and think they have all the charges covered. You have to do your research before you can negotiate successfully and find a great deal,” Eisenstodt adds.

When seeking quotes, asking pertinent questions and performing due diligence can help secure the best value.

“Make sure you’re being quoted room rates for room types that your attendees will want and not just what is available to quote,” says Gary Collins, director of association sales at Silverado Resort & Spa in Napa, Calif.

He cautions against overspending on undesirable room locations, especially at resorts.

“If a hotel is spread out, try to get your room block location tied down to avoid attendees being divided up over several acres of land,” he says. “You don’t want to have some people with great views of the water, mountains or golf course, and others with panoramas of the parking lot.”

Food and Beverage
Getting overly preoccupied with room rates can impact other phases of a spending strategy, says Patti Shock, academic consultant for the International School of Hospitality.

“It’s amazing, but some people are so consumed with finding a rock-bottom room rate that they overlook food and beverage to a degree and miss out on some saving possibilities,” she says.

Shock suggests involving the executive chef in the negotiation phase, which can result in savings and creative ways to maximize expenditures.

“Chefs aren’t salespeople and most enjoy the opportunity to provide new ideas to help you stay on budget,” she says. “They generally know from experience what other groups have done to stage a high-quality meal event on a tight budget.”

Other groups meeting at the hotel at the same time as yours can help save money by arranging to dine off the same menu.

“By utilizing a ‘gang menu’ with another group, the kitchen saves time and labor and the savings can be passed on to your group,” Shock says.

According to Shock, other important ways to save money include negotiating soft costs such as corkage fees and decor the hotel may have in stock; offering a special signature drink instead of a fully stocked bar; cutting down on plate waste by executing portion control for the protein entree offered, which is often the most expensive part of the meal; and paying close attention to the cost comparisons of pricey buffets versus served dinners.