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by The M&C Staff | September 01, 2013
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Plenty of planners have been asked to do more with less -- most notably, less money -- but saving dollars isn't always about being frugal; sometimes it's about freeing up some cash to make another part of the program more meaningful or spectacular. The editors of M&C compiled the following tips to help you get the most out of your budget.

Décor
1.  Use "house" props. Most hotels have a prop room or closet that houses leftover decorations from previous events. Ask the convention services manager whether the property you're using has one and whether you can peruse it for elements to add to your own theme party or reception. Often these items are loaned out at no cost.

2. Let photos serve as centerpieces. For the final night gala, collect snapshots taken by the event photographer to create photo trees that double as centerpieces, recommends Kathy Miller, president of Schaumberg, Ill.-based Total Event Resources (total-event.com). This trick can cut your centerpiece bill by at least 50 percent.

3. Choose fruit over flowers. Another way to trim centerpiece costs is to display fruits or veggies creatively in clear containers, rather than using more costly floral arrangements. Think seasonal and hardy: apples and cranberries for fall or winter, while lemons, limes and oranges add colorful zest to tables or buffet displays in warmer months or climates.

4. Get creative with light. To cut back on lighting costs, use battery-operated LED panels to illuminate a room or to up-light a stage. As a bonus, colors can easily be changed with the simple push of a button. CSI Rentals (csirentals.com) is among the suppliers that rent LED panels.

Alternatively, to give rooms an elegant look without breaking the bank, use gobos -- reusable partial screens placed in front of wall or floor lights to project a distinctive shape or logo. A number of firms, such as Rosco (rosco.com), can create custom gobos for events.

5. Accent with glassware. Give table settings an upscale look by using one "accent" glass (e.g., colored or rimmed with gold); the other glassware can be standard clear pieces stocked by the hotel or caterer. Party Rental Ltd. (partyrentalltd.com), which serves the East Coast, offers a variety of glasses in rainbow hues.

6. Dress up free linens. If your venue uses a standard floor-length linen tablecloth in a color or fabric that is not to your taste, consider using the "house" linen (typically provided at no cost), and dress it up with rented shorter overlays in a color or pattern you prefer. The overlays cost less, and guests won't notice the underlying layer. Among firms that rent overlays is BBJ Linen (bbjlinen.com).

7. Repurpose the flowers. For multiday meetings, get two or more uses from floral displays by way of this tip from Honolulu-based Current Affairs (current-affairs.net): For the first day, use tall mixed floral arrangements to decorate food stations. For the next day's table décor, the same flowers can be separated, rearranged by color family and variety, or trimmed to fit short, square vases. - Lisa A. Grimaldi

F&B

8. Serve whole fruit. For breaks, provide platters of healthful whole fruits (apples, bananas, pears, plums) instead of cut fruit. No utensils are needed, and leftovers can be served again later.

9. Have a dessert party. Rather than starting an event at 6 p.m., when people will be expecting dinner, begin at 9 p.m., so you can get away with serving desserts and beverages, says Total Event Resources' Kathy Miller. Be sure the gathering is promoted as a dessert or after-dinner party, so no one is disappointed.

10. Schedule tea time. Instead of hosting a costly lunch or dinner, borrow a page from the Brits and throw a late-afternoon tea. Traditional eats are finger sandwiches, scones and tea cakes -- all much easier on the budget than full meals.

11. Pour south-of-the-border wines. Lisa A. Hopkins, CMP, director of catering and conferences at the Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa (houstonian.com), recommends South American wines. "The quality is quite good, and the price point really shows value," she says.

Look for Malbecs and Torrontés varietals from Argentina, as well as Chilean chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Other regions producing quality products are New Zealand, Australia and Spain. All offer wide ranges of good wines for $20 or less.

12. Present wine with fanfare. Jaclyn Bernstein, president and partner of Empire Force Events (empireforce.com) in New York City, says reasonably priced wines can impress when given the appropriate presentation during dinners. She advises instructing the waitstaff to show table guests the bottle and explain why it was selected for the meal (e.g., a local specialty, the chef likes the way it compliments the dish, etc.). "The guests will pay attention, and it will seem to be significant wine," says Bernstein.