arlene_sheff Problem-free Meetings

Items for Your On-site Management HOT List…

June 29, 2007

By Arlene Sheff, CMP

Lights, Camera, Action! It’s time to manage your meeting on-site. Your HOT On-site Management checklist is in hand, so you know everything will run like clockwork.

Here are some HOT on-site management items that you might want to add to your list.
1. Attend the pre-con (pre-convention) meeting to review final meeting details.
2. Do a walkthrough of the chairperson, meeting host or other VIPs rooms.
3. Review food and beverage guarantees and recheck daily.
4. Tape or lock down the meeting room doors to prevent a noise when opening/closing.
5. Pick up parking stickers/stamp.
6. Pick-up keys to rekeyed meeting space and distribute. Check back-of-house doors to make sure they are securely locked.
7. Distribute radios/walkie-talkies by tracking ID numbers and obtaining signatures.
8. Collect non-disclosure forms from production team, if applicable.
9. Obtain room service menus for staff meals prior to food service days.
10. Take action to prevent any individual who has consumed too much alcohol from driving; a hotel room may be needed.
11. Review ‘no show’ list daily and determine if it’s necessary to reinstate someone who may be delayed.
12. Review banquet checks daily.
13. Test all phone and fax lines before distributing numbers.
14. Check the lectern (many times called podium by mistake) light and provide room temperature water for speakers.
15. Test all audiovisual equipment.
16. Put out place cards, tent cards or reserved signs, where needed.
17. Make sure the ‘bladder’ on air walls (rubber at the bottom) is down.
18.  Locate the control switch for lights/music.
19. If purchasing soda, water, packaged snacks items ‘on consumption,’ verify count of left over items with banquet staff.
20. Contact AV or Engineering to unscrew the light bulb over the screen, if there is too much light on the screen
21. Do final walkthrough of meeting space to check for taped down cords, clean and pressed table linens, burned out light bulbs and squeaky doors, etc.
22. Confirm that all eligible comp rooms are being utilized.
23. Sweep meeting rooms immediately following sessions for items or confidential papers left behind.
24. Designate a specific place for meeting staff to write down ‘Lessons Learned’ throughout the meeting.
25. Check meeting rooms doors to make sure they are unlocked while meeting is in session.
26. Check the facility’s Reader Board/Function Board/Directory to confirm that meeting name, location & times are posted correctly.
27. Write housekeeping announcements which may include: location of emergency exits, location of restrooms, where to store luggage on last day (if meeting ends after check-out time), remind attendees to protect their possessions by not leaving them unattended, etc.
28. Drink water and eat protein throughout the day to maintain energy.
29. Keep your sense of humor!

Surprise Charges for your HOT List

June 28, 2007

By Arlene Sheff, CMP

If you’ve ever been surprised by a hotel charge, then welcome to the club. Perhaps you forgot to ask about resort fees or porterage fees. Or did you receive an unexpected charge for electricity? Reading your hotel contract carefully can eliminate many surprises. Making a HOT list of charges NOT to be surprised by might help to eliminate the balance.

Here’s a list of items you may want to add to your HOT list.

1. Electrical usage (AMPS) charge to run audiovisual equipment
2. Cost to change meeting room door locks, if you need to secure rooms. Some meeting space cannot be totally secured, so security may be required
3. Resort fees
4. Porterage fees (bellman service charge per guest).
5. Housekeeping fees
6. Extension cord or power strip usage – can be $25.00 per cord/per day
7. Service charge added to meeting room rental charge
8. Service charge added to audiovisual charges
9. Fee charged for NOT using the in-house audiovisual company
10. Surcharge to serve a buffet for less than a specific number (sometimes 25)
11. High speed internet connection lines charged per IP (email) address. Fee may be a few hundred dollars for the first line, plus an additional amount for each IP address that hits the line.
12. Additional charge to have hors d’oeuvres passed by a waiter.
13. Use of heath club
14. Early departure fees
15. Fee to charge bill to a credit card
16. Surcharge on phone calls made from hotel phones
17. Acceptance/storage of boxes shipped to the hotel. Some hotels charge per box or envelope. (Note: Try negotiating comp acceptance of boxes addressed to the meeting planner)
18. If you forget to add the word ‘cumulative’ to your comp room clause, you may not receive your 1:50 comp rooms if, for example, only 49 rooms are booked per night. If the word ‘cumulative’ is added, you can add up all the night stays, then divide by 50.
19. Charge to store flowers so they can be reused the following day.
20. Charge to rent additional transportation if complimentary airport transportation cannot accommodate the size of your group.

Develop a HOT List for the Planning Process

June 24, 2007

By Arlene Sheff, CMP

Have you said “OH MY GOSH, I should have thought about that” or “OH MY GOSH, I should have remembered to do that” lately?

Everyday in the planning process, meeting planners strive to produce problem-free meetings. Sometimes, things just happen to fall through the cracks. By developing a checklist of those HOT questions to ask, HOT things to look for or HOT things to do, you can prevent adding items to your Lessons Learned list, after the meeting.

Here’s a list of items you may want to add to your HOT list.


1. Include ‘24 hour hold’ on any meeting space that you don’t want to vacate at the end of your scheduled event. Forgetting to include these simple words might require you to tear down your AV equipment and vacate the room for another group’s evening event - then reset the room late at night for your next day’s program.
2. Allow enough time for AV set-up and tear down. Check with your AV/production company for their requirements.
3. Include rehearsal time in your contract. Presenters may need to familiarize themselves with the equipment or your entertainment may need time to rehearse.
4. Your contract is not binding until both parties sign the same document and initial all changes.
5. Establish credit with the hotel/venue/supplier by filling out a credit application or credit card authorization form. Allow time for processing.
6. Take shipment tracking numbers on-site and collect the same from anyone shipping to you – but prior to that, confirm with the facility how many days prior to your meeting they will accept boxes – and request the preferred way to address shipments.
7. Ask what other groups will be in-house the same time as your group, their number of attendees and what will be going on in the rooms that share your air wall.
8. Check a calendar to avoid booking meetings on conflicting dates, whether industry-related or religious. (Note: all Jewish holidays start at sundown the night before the date listed on most calendars.)
9. Consider renting radios/walkie-talkies to communicate on-site with your staff and/or hotel contact.
10. Develop a plan with contingencies for emergency situations.

My next column will include items for your HOT list of Surprise Charges, followed by items pertaining to On-site Management.

Sharing Some Trade Secrets…

July 21, 2006

By Arlene Sheff, CMP

Today’s column brings comments from our supplier partners…a Senior Director of Catering and Convention Services, an Associate Director of Catering & Conference Services, Director of Event Catering, Catering Sales Manager and a special event company owner. Since they continually deal with meeting managers planning food and beverage functions, their insight can teach us some valuable lessons.

Each was asked to complete two sentences – and/or offer additional advice on how meeting planners can save money on F&B.

Here’s how our supplier partners completed the first sentence…If meeting planners only did/knew _______, they could save money on F&B.

  • If meeting planners only knew how hotels make a profit and what they can provide at least cost with most benefit (‘bang for their client’s buck’), planners could request benefits and cost savings of less impact to the hotel.
  • If meeting planners only knew to order their Continental Breakfast a la carte (dozens of bagels, gallons of coffee, etc.) rather than the full Continental Breakfast, they could save money on F&B.
  • If meeting planners only knew exact numbers, they could save money on F&B.
  • If meeting planners only knew more about their groups’ needs and objectives, they could save money on F&B.
  • If meeting planners only knew actual consumption history for the last 3 years, they could save money on F&B. I find meeting planners have detailed room history and copies of event orders and banquet checks, but rarely do they have the ACTUAL consumption of hors d’oeuvres, liquor etc. or the ACTUAL numbers of meals served. They either order too much or not enough. If they short order, they are forced to add more during the event and can’t negotiate the same price, but have to take whatever is available.

Here’s how our supplier partners completed the second sentence…Meeting planners are overspending on _______ because ___________.

  • Meeting planners are overspending on their guarantees (case in point, breakfast items) because they are afraid of ‘running out.’ Select items that can be easily and quickly replenished if it looks like its going to run out (pastries, yogurt, or packaged items)
  • Meeting planners are overspending on bottled waters, soft drinks, and coffee (for refreshes) because they don’t indicate specific amounts to the hotel on their f&b specs.
  • Meeting planners are overspending on themed lunch buffets, because people aren’t into eating hot lunch items on 95 degree days.
  • Meeting planners are overspending on DMCs because they charge so much more than if they worked with the hotel CSM staff directly.
  • Meeting planners are overspending on linens, flowers, décor, entertainment, etc. because they don’t try to use resources and/or contacts through hotel catering departments. They hire third party vendors who hire others and add layer upon layer of additional expenses.
  • Meeting planners can also save if they start the planning process 6-9 months out. Most catering departments will give them the existing menus with the existing prices. If they wait too long, the hotel may have changed menu pricing.
  • Also, a good relationship with the Chef and CSM will always go a long way to great teamwork and a mutual understanding of your event. Chefs will work with you a lot more when there is a personal relationship attached.

This concludes my column and it’s time for me to say goodbye. Many thanks to my supplier partners who participated in my questionnaire.

I know it will be hard for me to give up my Jeweled Guru Crown, but they warned me it will turn to straw when Friday draws to a close. It’s been a pleasure writing about Food and Beverage Cost Saving Tips. I still have many more up my sleeve, so please catch up with me another time. Hope you’ll stay tuned for other interesting topics.

What Does Maintaining History Have To Do With Cutting F&B Costs?

July 20, 2006

By Arlene Sheff, CMP

It really has a lot to do with saving costs. Here is some historical data you might want to start tracking, if you don’t already. You decide which ones are the most useful for your group – some pertain more to plated meals than buffets or receptions. Then, the next time you have a similar function, you’ll have historical data to guide you through location selection, menu selection, ordering method selection, service style selection and amount to guarantee.

  1. Demographics of group
  2. Day of week, date and time of event
  3. Location/room set-up/staging of event
  4. Size of ballroom (the more crowded the reception, the less food/drink consumed – or the more crowded, the larger the number who won’t stay and eat).
  5. Theme/entertainment/décor/linens
  6. Type of food served (some may not stay due to menu selection)
  7. Number of guests invited
  8. Number of RSVPs – whether YES or NO
  9. Number who actually showed up
  10. Number of on-site registrants (those who didn’t RSVP)
  11. Number of ‘no shows’ –I’ve noticed more ‘no shows’ on the west coast, than the east coast - perhaps weather is a factor in this.
  12. Number of guests guaranteed
  13. Number of places set
  14. Number of guests served - if the group is less than 400, it’s easy to count empty chairs– identified by unused napkins.
  15. Type of beverage service
  16. Number of drinks consumed per person (split by type of beverage)
  17. Reception prior to dinner and/or wine with dinner
  18. Was there enough food at the function – or was buffet or chafing dishes empty?
  19. Any complaints you may have heard or read in evaluations about the food.
  20. Final budget

Do you have any examples to share about how historical data related to the amount of money you saved on food and beverage?

Are Your Guarantees Wasting Money?

July 19, 2006

By Arlene Sheff,CMP

Do you waste $$$ when you give your food guarantee?
Are you embarassed by too many empty seats?
Are you paying for ‘no shows’ at meal functions?

If you answered YES to any of the above, read on. And, even if you answered NO, don’t quit now. Read on, then send me a note with your suggestions.

Here are some guidelines to help you determine correct guarantees…

1. If ‘night before’ was a late night, breakfast attendance might go down.
2. Breakfast counts go down each day of the meeting, unless there is a prominent breakfast speaker (i.e. the company president).
3. If the kitchen is far from your ballroom (or suite), consider giving a higher guarantee, as it would take too long for last minute reorders.
4. Consider what distractions are close by and whether your attendees might pass up a meal function to do something else…i.e. close by shopping.
5. Ask re food function attendance on registration form
6. Verify attendance at food functions with local attendees. Many may not arrive in time for breakfast or stay for the evening reception or dinner.
7. Verify speakers’ participation in food functions. Some may use the time to rehearse or set-up equipment.

Please reply with additional guidelines for giving accurate guarantees or questions.

Is Drinking Responsibly a New Trend?

July 18, 2006

By Arlene Sheff

Many years ago, I attended an attorney’s presentation. His message left a lasting impression on me and I try to incorporate it into my ‘Food and Beverage’ or ‘Problem-free Meetings’ presentations. He asked the meeting planners in the audience…’when your organization is being sued and they put you on the stand, will you be able to prove that you did everything in your power to protect your organization and your attendees?’ Sounds scary, doesn’t it…but oh, so true.

What effort are you putting forth to protect your attendees and limit the liability of your organization?

Here are 10 steps you might take when serving alcoholic beverages. Some of these suggestions might even save you money.

1. Provide pre-meeting information outlining guidelines for drinking responsibly.
2. Serve only beer and wine.
3. Provide sufficient food (avoid salty snacks) and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages.
4. Provide drink tickets to control consumption.
5. Include a dual indemnification clause in your contract.
6. Instruct bartenders not to serve anyone who appears to be intoxicated
7. No self-service - ALWAYS hire a bartender, even in hospitality suites. 
8. Cut 15 minutes off your cocktail party – no one will notice and you’ll even save $$$.
9. Close bars prior to the end of the event. Do not announce a ‘last call.’
10. As a precaution, pre-arrange taxi service and hotel accommodations.

What steps have you taken lately on this subject?

Is Breakfast Breaking Your Budget?

July 17, 2006

By Arlene Sheff

To those of you who haven’t decided to add protein at breakfast, have you heard complaints? Is it a budget issue? Is it a time issue? Or, is it something you just haven’t thought about?

Breakfast is costing you more than it used to, if you’ve switched from serving a basic continental breakfast to a breakfast that includes protein.

Protein in the morning keeps your attendees alert and awake, at least through the morning. Where is the protein in coffee, juice, fruit or Danish/bagels? You’re right, there isn’t any.

Here’s a great way to add protein to your breakfast without breaking your budget.

If the menu states:
#1 - Basic continental breakfast (coffee, juice, fruit, and Danish/bagels) - $16
#2 – Basic continental breakfast above with yogurt and individual cereals - $19

TO SAVE $$$: Instead of ordering #2, just to serve protein, order the #1 continental breakfast and add on yogurt and individual cereals ‘on consumption’ (which means you are charged for the yogurt (individual cartons) and cereal that is consumed.) That way, you don’t have to pay the additional amount for EVERYONE.

NOTE: A side order of hard boiled eggs also is a good addition – at a price tag of between $1 to $2 per egg. NON-shelled eggs don’t smell. Even a platter of thin cheese slices (about 1 inch square) goes over well.

Let me know what you’re doing to add protein to your breakfasts…

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