As meeting professionals make New Year’s Resolutions, there is one goal that may prove to be more challenging next year: making convention menus budget-friendly. The 2016 Global Travel Price Outlook predicts a 4.5 percent cost per attendee per day increase with food and beverage pressures playing a key role in the uptick. That number may sound intimidating to anyone working to feed thousands of attendees, but it marks the continuation of ever-climbing costs. The National Restaurant Association says that wholesale food prices have surged nearly 25 percent during the past five years.
However, meeting professionals can take steps to ensure that attendees’ appetites are satisfied while keeping their budgets under control. Here’s a look at three simple tips to manage your F&B costs in the new year.
LEARN: Watch a Free Webinar on Food Costs, sponsored by the Louisville CVB
1) Make the catering department your best friend.
Meeting professionals may reference menus from past conventions and events, but some of the ingredients used at last year’s opening reception could be much more expensive based on factors such as the drought in California. Rather than insisting on certain dishes, be honest about your budget, and consult the catering department for their expertise.
“Asking for seasonal or chef’s selection will help keep costs in line for events,” Emilie Pfeiffer, Director of Louisville-based Bristol Catering, says. “The chef can monitor food increases and availability, while substituting ingredients as needed.”
2) Don’t fear the added costs of accommodating food allergies.
Shrimp, peanuts, eggs — the list of foods that could cause serious reactions is long. As you work to make sure your attendees are safe, preparing for food allergies will create some additional work but not necessarily additional expenses.
“Usually, dietary restrictions save money because they are items like shellfish or other meats,” Brett Davis, COO and Founding Partner of Louisville-based Falls City Hospitality Group, says. “This means you are usually eliminating higher-priced items and replacing them with items that are more cost-effective.”
However, it’s crucial to account for those restrictions long before attendees arrive on-site.
“Last-minute dietary restrictions can increase your food cost, depending upon the available products,” Pfeiffer says. “As a caterer, we always plan on several gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian meals.”
3) Shrink your portions to a normal size.
It’s no secret that conference environments struggle to deliver a healthy experience. Many attendees sit for extended periods of time, snack throughout the day and spend their evenings at cocktail receptions. Recent research shows that people eat more when portion size increases even if they’re aren’t hungry. With that in mind, the portion size at meal time represents an opportunity to help your attendees’ — and your budget’s — well-being.
“We have cut down from eight-ounce steaks to six-ounce steaks, and people do not go away feeling hungry,” Eric Larcom, Executive Chef at the Calgary Marriott Downtown and exclusive caterer to the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre, says. “People are more health conscious today, and they don’t even want a huge plate.”
Interested in more education on the current F&B climate? Check out this video, and be on the lookout for a feature on conference menus in the upcoming issue of Convene.
This article was brought to you by the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau. Named one of the “Best Foodie Small Towns in America”, Louisville’s culinary scene has been earning rave reviews from convention attendees. For a taste of what Louisville has to offer, check out Culinary Louisville. And no matter what’s on the menu, the city is sure to offer the perfect bourbon pairing.