Remember the first time you paid $4 for a cup of coffee? It was probably a pretty shocking moment. Coffee shouldn’t cost $4 a cup, right? That’s just…wrong. Now imagine the first time you plan a professional meeting and you learn that a cup of coffee can actually cost $10.

And that’s before the cost of labor, gratuity, and taxes are tacked on.

When you add it up, it makes you feel like your $4 cup of coffee—a ridiculous price to begin with—now costs $400. That may be an exaggeration, but the cost of food and beverages at hotels and other conference venues can be staggering.

$7 chocolate chip cookies.

$40 bowls of pretzels.

A can of soda that will set you back $6.

Iced tea at $9 a glass.

Planning professional conventions and meetings is not like planning your nephew’s bar mitzvah, or a large family reunion.

Meeting costs begin to take shape the moment the site selection committee makes its choice. Some locations are just more expensive: it is far costlier to host a meeting in Washington, D.C., than in Salt Lake City, Utah. Venues that are in higher demand will likely be more expensive.

And that is just once the site selection committee makes its choice.

The potential for costs to get out control escalates from that point forward, leaving the meeting planner responsible for balancing two objectives: the optimal attendee experience and the meeting budget.

It would be much easier for a meeting planner—and ideal for the hotel—if the organization had unlimited resources. Meeting planners would be able to take seemingly simple suggestions provided by attendees (e.g., “it would be really great to have snacks at the mid-morning break and beverages available all day”) and make them a reality. And venues would be more than happy to accommodate requests for more $9 glasses of iced tea and $7 chocolate chip cookies.

Attendees would be happy. Venues would be happy. Board members who are also attendees would be happy—until they get the financial breakdown of the meeting, and see how high the food and beverage costs were.

The reality is that food and beverage costs are one of the fastest ways for associations to lose a great deal of money on a meeting.

That’s why meetings require professional planners who know how to minimize costs and maximize any size of budget.

When it comes to coffee, meeting planners know to use refillable, smaller cups, which helps minimize half-drunk cups of coffee from going in the trash. Professional meeting planners know to have wait staff place uneaten lunch desserts on a table for an afternoon break. Planners know to tray pass hors d’oeuvres instead of setting out a free for all buffet, in order to control the flow and amount of food served.

Meeting planning professionals also know the biggest planning secret of all: the success of any convention is not dependent on how much money is spent on food and beverages.

“Attendees come to conventions and meetings for two main reasons: to network with their peers and to learn how to do their jobs better,” says Rachel Dillon, Senior Director of Meetings & Education and a Certified Meetings Professional (CMP). “Our ability to deliver value-added content that helps our attendees become better at what they do for a living ultimately dictates whether or not a meeting is successful.”

Sentergroup will help your association stay within its budget, whatever its size, through the use of best practices and the negotiating leverage we have with venues and locations we work with. We will also partner with your association to help you focus on the real reason why attendees come to meetings, return to meetings, and tell their colleagues about those meetings: the content and quality of your educational sessions.

That’s the advantage of working with meeting planning and association management professionals.

While we can’t turn the $4 cup of coffee into a $1 cup of coffee, we can certainly keep it from becoming a $400 cup of coffee.

Want to learn more about how Sentergroup’s professional services and client successes can benefit your organization? Contact us today.