Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 07 2014

How To Rein In Your F&B Costs

By David McMillin
Food and Beverage

No matter what kind of meeting you organize, your attendees all share one common trait: they’re hungry. Every detail of your meeting requires your care, but making sure everyone is happy at breakfast, lunch and dinner deserves some extra attention to detail. As any planner knows, an empty stomach can easily translate to a grumpy attendee.

It’s common to want to negotiate lower F&B costs, but the current economy is leaving little bargaining room for discounts. Catering companies, hotel F&B departments and convention center kitchens are all dealing with a challenging environment for food sourcing.

Paul Larson, Executive Chef at Chicago-based caterer Blue Plate, says he has seen an across-the-board increase in center-of-the-plate items including all meats, chicken and seafood. These higher prices are driven by a combination of a shortage of cattle and chicken, decreased quotas in seafood and feed/grain costs. Larson says that even secondary cuts such as flank steak, short ribs and chicken wings are getting more expensive due to a rise in their popularity.

“We have not seen any food and beverages drop in price,” Larson says.

SEE ALSO: F&B Trends For 2014

Data shows that planners most likely won’t see any of those prices decrease in the near future, either. The most recent food price outlook from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that beef and veal prices have surged to near record-highs around the country. Eggs and milk both show big year-to-year increases, too.

Off the plate, the news isn’t much to celebrate, either. A severe drought in Brazil is wreaking havoc on the prices of the beverage that fuels meetings: coffee prices have skyrocketed. In March, they rose above $2 per pound for the first time in two years. Your attendees’ morning Vitamin C infusions are facing issues, too. A rare disease in citrus trees is expected to make Florida’s orange crop the worst it has been in nearly 25 years.

Planning For Higher Prices

While these statistics may seem grim, planners can take proactive steps to put more cost-effective meals on the table. Here’s a look at four helpful tips to reign in your F&B costs.

1) “Locally grown” can be a loose definition.

Planning a menu with foods from nearby sources may sound like a simple way to save, but that’s not always the case.

“Local does not mean more cost effective,” Larson says. “Local could stretch as far as two hundred miles depending on your source.”

That distance can put a dent in the budget, too. Larson highlights that shipping costs are increasing, too.

2) A seasonal approach can deliver big savings.

Rather than focusing on what foods are grown close to the host location, Larson recommends focusing on what foods are being grown at the time of your meeting.

“Seasonality is where you get cost savings because the market is inundated by those products, and large volume events can benefit from it,” Larson says.

“Work with your F&B salesperson on developing seasonal menus to accommodate cost management,” Jennifer Perna, Vice President, Sales, Blue Plate, adds.

3) Leave some room for last-minute modifications.

Many meeting contracts may be secured years in advance. When it comes to food, though, there’s no way of knowing what the future holds. From droughts to damaged crops, the availability of certain foods relies on a number of variables that are well beyond the control of either side of the contract.

“Allow flexibility closer to the date if you want to save money,” Larson says.

SEE ALSO: Farm To Fork To F&B

4) Bigger isn’t always better.

Sure, you want your attendees to feel satisfied, but that doesn’t mean you need to pack the plate. The National Institute of Health highlights what it calls “portion distortion” to show that Americans are eating significantly more than they were 20 years ago.

“We also suggest revising portion size on plates when developing a complete menu,” Perna adds. “Sometimes a five ounce steak is perfectly appropriate for a seated dinner.”

Looking for help with the menus at your next meeting? Click here for helpful tips on satisfying specific allergies and needs in PCMA’s F&B TV: The Dietary Restrictions Throwdown.

This educational article was brought to you by MGM Resorts. Click here to learn how MGM can help you create an engaging experience for your attendees.

MGM Resorts International

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