Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Should I order a break package or should I order items "a la carte" for my Break?

The answer, as with so many things in this industry, is “it depends”. Both methods of ordering F&B (Food & Beverage) service for your event have their advantages and drawbacks. Which one you choose depends on your specific circumstances and needs.

A service package from the hotel gives you a set menu for a set amount of time for a set price (typically per person). For example, a hotel might offer a “Chocolate Lover’s Break”. For the price listed, you would get chocolate chip cookies, brownies, chocolate bars, coffee, tea, decaf, and sodas for, say, half an hour. They pretty much guarantee that there will be enough food for everyone. They will maintain enough food and drinks (within reason) for everyone to partake the duration of your break. When the time is up, everything is removed. Using packages can be a huge time-saver for the meeting planner. The hotel does all of the calculations for how much to serve and the planner knows that there will be enough food for everyone. This approach also works well in situations where you do not know the eating habits of the group or there are enough people eating so as to even out the variations of individual preferences. Please note, though, that ordering a package does not allow you to get more than you pay for. If you guarantee for 75 and 100 people show up, the hotel will only put out what they calculate to be enough for 75 – unless you increase your order to 100.

If you were to order the same break a la carte (or “in bulk”), you would specify to the hotel exactly how many cookies you wanted to have served, how many brownies, how much coffee, and so forth. The hotel would not set out any more than what you ordered (though you could always order more). This approach works well if you do not want all of the items in a set package or if the hotel does not have a package that has the items you need. It does require a little more work from the planner as well. You need to figure out exactly how much of each item your group will consume and order accordingly. The plus side to this is that you can tailor your break (in this case) to be more in tune with what your group actually wants. If my group doesn’t eat brownies but loves cookies, then I can order just cookies – instead of having a lot of brownies left over after the break is done (which then might just get thrown away). You can also have your food and/or drinks out for longer than you might get with a package.

When deciding which approach to use for my groups, I look at several factors: how well do I know the food preferences of the group, how large is the group, and (most importantly for groups on a tight budget) which is the better price value. If I know the group well, then I lean towards a la carte ordering. If it is a large group with diverse preferences, I look to packages to provide what I need. Ultimately, though, I sit down and do the math. I will calculate the total cost of the break both with the package and with the a la carte items I would provide if I were to order in bulk. This takes a bit of time to work out but allows me to know if the package is cheaper, more expensive, or the same cost as my expected bulk order.

Ultimately, though, my final decision is based on the needs of the group and which approach is the best way to fulfill those needs. But, by spending the time to compare approaches, I am better able to determine whether I should order a package or a la carte for my client’s food functions. I am also better able to work with the caterer/hotel to ensure that my group gets the best food options possible at the best price I can arrange.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What is a Hybrid Meeting?

The dictionary defines a hybrid as a mixture, a combining of two elements to produce a whole new thing.

When someone uses the word hybrid, what images or ideas does it bring to mind? You may think of your pretty Prius in your garage, or maybe that tomato variety you just planted in your garden. Perhaps you think of your bicycle – not a sturdy mountain bike with wide, knobby tires, yet not a road racer with skinny, slick tires.

Here’s something new to think about – Hybrid Meetings. They take the elements of a live meeting and a meeting via the internet and combine them to produce a whole new kind of meeting. The participants sitting in the meeting room and the participants sitting in front of their computers are “attending” the same event. They may both participate and interact together and with the presenters. While this may sound like a Webinar, it is not. Usually, a Webinar is simply a presenter, alone in front of a web camera, presenting to “attendees” exclusively over the internet.

Here are a few ways that an organization can take advantage of the Hybrid Meeting format: (1) a situation where the conference has drawn less than the expected numbers of attendees; (2) for large associations with thousands of members but only several hundred can physically attend the annual conference; and (3) a situation where a conference is sold out and cannot accommodate any more attendees at the physical event. The online participants register for the event just as the “in person” attendees but with a different fee. This has the potential to really boost participation in and revenue for your event. It can even allow you to build interest virally online and build interest for future events. Archiving is another benefit of Hybrid Meetings and can produce residual revenue for the organization if you make conference presentations available after the event has concluded.

Most experts don’t foresee them replacing live, in-person events, though. People will always benefit from the face-to-face networking opportunities that internet-based meetings can’t fully provide. While there are quite a few companies out there to assist with the technical and production aspects, Hybrid meetings don’t eliminate the need for extensive planning and a cohesive team headed up by an experienced Meeting Planner.

- Ginger Myrick, Meeting Planner

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ordering Items "On Consumption"

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned a few ways to gain a measure of control over your F&B budget at your meetings, conferences, and events. Ordering some of your items “on consumption” is another easy way to manage your costs.

“On consumption” is a term that essentially means that you only pay for what your attendees actually take or consume, instead of paying for everything that the hotel puts out for them to choose from. When you order sodas “on consumption” for your group of 40 people, for example, the hotel might put out 40 cans but, if only 15 sodas are taken by your participants, then you only pay the hotel for those 15 instead of the 40 they put out on the table. When you scale this up to a large event, the potential savings can be huge. But, before you get too excited about the possibilities, please bear in mind that there are a few limits as to what this can be applied to.

This approach really only works with pre-packaged items that do not spoil or otherwise become unsafe to serve again at a later date. For example: bottles or cans of soda, water, or other beverages; candy or snack bars; ice cream bars; or bags of chips or nuts – these are all good candidates for being ordered “on consumption”. The hotel can take any "left over" items and sell them to another group. Whole fruit is also often a viable possibility as well (they come pre-packaged by nature) as there are many uses for fruit that the hotel can take advantage of before they spoil.

It cannot be done with items such as pastries, breads, carving stations, coffee or tea, fresh-baked cookies, etc. These items, once made for you, are yours. The hotel cannot repackage them to sell (or give!) to another group – in fact, in many cases, they legally are forbidden from doing so.

So what about the other end of the spectrum? What if the group decides to take a lot more that what we can pay for? Let’s use our group of 40 people as the example again. To prevent our example group from taking way more than what we are prepared (or able) to pay for, we set an upper limit with the hotel. By instructing them to put out no more than 45 sodas, we have effectively capped the total amount that we would have to pay for these drinks – which means we can know with certainty how much of our budget is committed to this item.

As a meeting planner, wise use of “on consumption” can really help you to manage your F&B budget – but you have to ask for it. Few catering departments will offer it to you. As always, though, the hotel is your partner in this. Work with them to determine which of their F&B items are best suited to order “on consumption” and which items are best suited for your group and their needs.

- Karl Baur, CMP, Project Director

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So what is it exactly that Meeting Planners do?

I encountered an interesting situation over the holiday weekend that kind of surprised me. A long-time friend was asking about how my job was going and, after we chatted about that for a while, proceeded to ask what it was I actually did. She knew what my job was in a general sense but did not know specifics…

Meeting Planners actually perform a wide range of duties that can be hard to sum up quickly. The Employment Development Department for California, though, actually has a nice overview document which divides the work of a Meeting Planner into these general areas of responsibility:

Program Development
Marketing and Promotion
Site Selection
Travel Arrangements
Entertainment and Speakers
Food Arrangements
Trade Show Management
Guest Programs
Reservations and Event Registration
Audio-Visual Equipment
Public Relations
Program Evaluation

I would also add Onsite Staffing to this list, since that not only encompasses many of the areas above but also requires a different set of skills and knowledge - and comes with many additional responsibilities. Many things can happen onsite (good and bad!) during an event that a meeting planner is eminently suited to handle.

Some meeting planners specialize in one of a few of these areas while others handle all of them. Most, though, cover the majority of these areas and leave one or two to other specialists or to the sponsoring agency to handle. In my 15 years of meeting planning, I have done everything on this list at one time or another. However, I would not consider myself a specialist or an expert in Public Relations or Guest Programs, for example (I do think I’m pretty darn good at the rest, though).

The other interesting thing about my conversation was the misconception that, as a meeting planner, I only did events from the very beginning to the very end. In fact, a good meeting planner will tailor the services they provide to each individual client’s event. If a conference only needs assistance with their registration process, we can do that separately from every other task. If they just need onsite staffing support for while the conference is “in session”, that can be provided separately as well.

For more information about what meeting planners do here is a one-page brochure describing what RDL enterprises does. We also address some of the more common questions about meeting planners at the bottom of this page.

- Karl Baur, CMP, Project Director

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Quickie Guide to Room Sets

There are many approaches to setting up a room for an event but, if you think about it, there really are only so many ways that you can fit people, chairs, and/or tables into any room. So what are the common types? Let’s take a look at the five standard sets…

Banquet Seating: This one seems pretty self-explanatory; people sit around a table and eat. Yes, that is true, but there are other possibilities. Typically, a 60” Round will seat eight people and a 72” Round will seat ten (60” or 72” refers to the tables diameter). This is a good style to use for banquets, hence the name, but can also be used for meetings where you might have to have people work in small groups. Each table forms a pre-made "group". This style of seating is also often used when a planner wants to have a meal function in the same room as the meeting. A common variant is something called crescent rounds. This uses a standard round but seats fewer people around it. I will usually use a 72” Round to seat 6-7 people, removing the chairs that have their backs facing the front of the room. This allows everyone at the table to face the presenter, yet still be in a small group for planned activities.

Classroom (or Schoolroom) Seating: Again, a fairly obvious description. In this case, you are providing long tables (18” or 30”, referring to the depth or width of the surface rather than the height or length of the table) at which chairs are placed along one side. All of the chairs face the front of the room, with the tables providing a space on which to work. Tables are typically either 6’ or 8’ in length.

Theater Seating: This is simply using rows of chairs, all facing the front of the room. And, just like going to the theater, you do not usually have a surface to write on. This style maximizes the number of people that you can fit into a room for a session.

Reception Seating: Huh? A Reception has seating? Sometimes, yes, it does. When I provide seating for a reception, we’re typically talking about a mix of tables. “Highboys” stand waist-high to chest-high and provide attendees with a place to set their drinks and snacks while socializing. I’ll often provide a few regular Rounds as well for people who wish to sit down rather than stand the whole time. In both cases, the number of “seats” is generally far less than the total expected attendance. Among other things, this helps encourage mingling.

Hollow Square: This is a rectangular formation of tables (not necessarily a true square) with chairs spaced along the outside, all of which are facing inward. This style is great for board or committee meetings. However, it does use a lot of space and can become a bit unwieldy when your numbers grow beyond about 20 people or so. A variation of Hollow Square, called Conference Seating, is often given its own category. It is typically a single table with seating for 1-2 people at either or both of the short ends and the rest of the chairs along each long edge.

I have seen many more seating arrangements than just these five – and I’m sure I haven’t seen every possible combination either. Some groups use just one kind of seating for their events and others mix it up from one event to the next, while some mix styles within the same room – whatever they need to use to support their program effectively, really. However, you don’t need to know every possible set or style to be an effective meeting planner. As long as you keep this basic set of five styles in mind, you can find an appropriate seating style for nearly any meeting.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director