Advice for Planners Forced to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Author: Convene Editors       


When an F&B event is included in an overall registration fee, navigating the guarantee can be difficult. Planners on the PCMA Catalyst forum offer their ideas.

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Each month Convene features some of the most popular topics in the forum. Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.

Is That a Yes?

“The meetings that I plan (for a primarily DoD/NASA audience and their contractors) start on Monday and usually end on Thursday night or Friday morning, though a lot of people may only attend for one to three days. When they register, we do ask them which days they are planning to attend meeting activities. Everyone pays the same registration fee regardless of how many days they’re there,” Shelley Cohen, meeting manager for JHU WSE Energetics Research Group, wrote to the PCMA Catalyst community. “We always have a networking event with a buffet dinner on Wednesday night, for which we have to give the guarantee on the preceding Friday by noon. This event is included with the registration fee that attendees pay because they’d most likely have to pay for it out of pocket if they had to buy a ticket and I guess the theory is that no one would attend in that case (this predates my time here). We ask them when they register if they are planning to attend this event. But since they are not purchasing a ticket, it probably comes as no surprise that those “yes” responses are not a 100-percent reliable predictor of our guarantee.

“Because the guarantee has already been given by the time the first attendees arrive for the meeting, we can’t do a ticket exchange as a predictor. My boss does not want to force people to commit by a certain date and after that tell them that they can’t attend the dinner, because she feels they’ve paid for it by way of their registration fee. We can’t move the event to Thursday evening since many people can’t justify another night of travel to stay for the event. Short of changing the event entirely (to maybe a Thursday breakfast or lunch), I’m stuck and struggling with the uncertainty of our current process.

“I’m curious if anyone else has found creative ways to get reliable numbers when tickets are not being sold, the event is included in registration, and a ticket exchange won’t work since the guarantee is due pre-meeting. I would love some suggestions. Thank you!”

I would collect as much data as I could from history in order to plot actual event attendance at this meal with the number that RSVP’d “yes” with overall event attendance. Hopefully, some trends will emerge, and you can at least guarantee, knowing you’ve looked at all the numbers!

Rachel Dillion, CMP, senior director, meetings & education, Sentergroup Inc.

One of our clients has a similar dinner. You didn’t mention if the dinner has a program associated with it; our client’s is simply a networking event. We loosely track attendance from year to year and use that as a starting point to plan for next year. We have found that only about 20 percent of attendees go. We don’t order a buffet menu, we order several carving stations of varying sizes supplemented with heavy appetizer stations, so there is something for everyone.

Melissa Ocampo, meeting manager, Murdoch, Walrath & Holmes

Can your room pick-up for the day of the event be a potential indicator of attendance for the dinner? I realize some could check out that morning and stay into the evening, but if there is large variance from the Tuesday versus Wednesday pick-up, possibly use that as one indicator.

As a former association planner, we had a similar dilemma for breakfast on the last event day, which was followed by a closing general session. Fortunately, we had a lot of history and always lowered our count by 10 percent. We never ran out of food!

Looking ahead, are you able to offer some kind of incentive for those that do attend the dinner and incorporate into your marketing? Maybe have a drawing at the dinner, for a free registration and/ or one free hotel night for next year’s event, or gift cards, etc.? We always had a great response when giving away free registrations, hotel nights, and gift cards.

Tammy Wightman, CMP, manager, global accounts, HelmsBriscoe

We used to have the same problem with our closing banquet until we started charging a nominal fee to attend. We charge $25-$50 per person to attend the dinner. This is a plated meal with an open bar and entertainment. It in no way covers the cost of our event but charging a small fee makes people think twice and ask themselves, “Am I really going to this?” I would suggest that you not only require them to check “yes” or “no,” but also put on a small fee to attend. If you have a cash bar, then you could give them two drink tickets for their small fee. When we implemented this practice, no one complained, people starting showing up, and we stopped wasting so much money.

Renee Hornsby, director of communications, National Hardwood Lumber Association

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