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