Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Lower Costs for Small Group Meal Functions

We have discussed in previous posts how you can control costs in receptions by limiting items served. We have also looked at ways to save some money when providing break service to your groups (by ordering on consumption, by shifting dessert to the afternoon break, or looking at bulk vs. package pricing). We have even looked at working with the Chef to create great meals within a limited budget but what about your small groups? Lunch may be the only meal provided, yet it is just as important to control costs with a small group as it is with a large one. Planning meals for small groups can be difficult. With small groups, it can be hard to accommodate every food preference and there is often an additional “service fee” tacked on if your numbers drop below a certain amount. However, there is a way to potentially reduce the costs of providing a meal for your small group that just requires understanding where the hotel’s costs are in producing that meal for you.

The two biggest cost areas when it comes to food and beverage functions are materials costs for the food itself and the labor involved in preparing and serving the food. Find out what other groups that are at the hotel at the same time as your group are having – and serve the same meal. If you can “piggyback” onto their meals by ordering the same items for your group, you may be able to save some money on your meal function. How does this work? It basically comes down to bulk ordering and reduced staff time.

If my small group is using the same menu as a large group that is having their meal the same day, the Chef can simply include my order in with the other group when purchasing the raw materials to create the meal. The cost for 500 entrée items, like a chicken breast, can be significantly cheaper (per item) than if I only need 25 of them. By including my order of 25 with a larger group’s 500, I may be able to save a few dollars on the total cost of my meal. The same principle can work with salads, sides, and desserts, though not usually to the same extent as with entrées.

The other area of potential cost savings comes with the labor involved in putting together my meal. If my group is eating at approximately the same time as the large group (and we’re serving the same meal), then the kitchen does not need to assign additional staff for the sole purpose of creating my group’s meal. Preparing my group’s meal can be included in the food preparation for the larger group and the kitchen and the servers just need to make sure that my order is separated for actual serving. I can also ask my CSM and the Chef for meal ideas that are less labor-intensive. Again, I may be able to save some money off the total cost of my meal.

It is important to remember that any time you want to modify the contents or prices of a hotel’s banquet menus, you need to involve your Convention Services Manager at minimum. It is also preferable to include the Chef in the discussion as well. They can both work with you to find ways to reduce the costs of your meals but you have to ask. While piggybacking onto a larger group’s meal function does not work 100% of the time as a cost savings measure, it works often enough that it is a method I will always explore with the hotel when the food budget is an issue for one of my small groups.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises