Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How much coffee do I need for my group?

This is an excellent question, especially for anyone planning a meeting that has an early morning start. Figuring out how much coffee (or tea, or decaf, or any beverage really) to serve a group is one of the most common tasks that meeting planners are asked to do – and the answer can be more art than science.

First, the science…
One gallon (of coffee, decaf, or tea) contains 128 ounces of your chosen beverage. The typical hotel coffee cup is usually either 8 ounces or 6.4 ounces. This means that, on average, you should get 16 to 20 cups of coffee per gallon. If everyone attending your meeting has just one cup of coffee and the coffee cups are 6.4 ounces, then you will need one gallon of coffee for every 20 people attending. So, my group of 100 people needs 5 gallons of coffee, yes? I wish it were always that simple.

Now, the art…
There are many factors that can influence how much coffee you will need but I find that they can be condensed down into essentially three main areas: the time the coffee is being served, the length of time the coffee will be available, and the group’s “coffee preference”.

1. What time is coffee being served? Are you serving coffee first thing in the morning, later in the morning, or at some point in the afternoon? People will generally drink more coffee first thing in the morning than at other times. Afternoons are often the next highest time of coffee consumption as attendees look to combat the post-lunch lull.

2. How long will coffee service be available? If people only have 5-10 minutes to get their coffee, then most people will just drink one cup and may even choose to not have any coffee at all. On the other hand, if coffee is available for a half-hour or more, then your coffee drinkers will go back time and again for refills. The longer the coffee is out, the more refills they can get. A typical break is 15-30 minutes, which is plenty of time for people to have one or two cups of coffee.

3. What is the group’s “coffee preference”? This can be the trickiest to answer. Basically, it comes down to what percentage of the group drinks coffee, tea, or decaf (as opposed to other beverages, like water or juice) and how many cups will the average member of the group drink. I have some groups who drink very little coffee (or tea for that matter), so I adjust the total order for caffeinated beverages downward. For my hardcore coffee fiends, I increase the order significantly since I know that they might average 4-5 cups of coffee during a 30-minute break.

Also consider other possible impacts on your coffee needs… How about the coffeehouse across the street? Or, does your group like to stay out late the night before the meeting?

In any case, the more you know about your group’s behavior and preferences, the closer you will be able to estimate how much coffee you will need to provide to them so that they can be satisfied with the service yet not have a large amount left over.

When I don’t know much about a group’s preferences or behavior – such as when working with a group for the first time – I fall back on the “science”. Using an estimate of one cup per person and 16 cups per gallon gives me a solid number to start with. I can then adjust the figure up or down from there based on the timing of the service and any other information I can glean by talking with my client about the group’s coffee habits.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises