September 01, 2016
For our Research survey this month (click here), we asked readers to share their best strategies for cutting costs. Following is a selection of our favorites. (Note: Tips without attribution were sent anonymously.)

Negotiation tactics
 Don't be afraid to share your past meeting history with hotels and venues. They are more willing to help you cut costs than you think. They just need to have the information to make the best decisions for both their business and yours. -- Kristin Norris, global conference manager, The CMO Club

 Tighten up your expectations to better match available resources and maximize their impact. Putting the focus on the anticipated outcome lets us look at what is really needed to achieve that goal, often eliminating some things that have "always been" a part of the program. Paring down like that can open up the door to creativity. -- Sue Alexander, American College of Phlebology

 Negotiate meal prices when you negotiate the rest of the contract, so both parties know what to expect later in the process.

 Review the proposals, then set up a proposal-negotiation meeting with the supplier within a week. At the meeting, present components of the proposal for which you would like to cut costs and have an alternate money-saving suggestion. Indicate that your goal is to cut at least 15 percent of the cost and request that they help you meet that goal. -- Stephanie A. Watson, DZS Meetings & Events

 For smaller events, try unconventional facilities -- community centers, libraries, township or city halls -- where you can bring in a local caterer instead of being limited to in-house catering. You'll likely save on both venue rental fees and F&B.

 We use colleges of nursing as venues for our conventions. The college then buys into the event and increases our attendance, and the venue is free. -- Gingy Harshey-Meade, Indiana State Nursing Association

 I often look for unconventional locations for on-site added meeting space. For instance, we have a handful of exhibitors at some events. While we normally contract actual meeting rooms for them, there have been times where I've utilized prefunction or hall space. This allows us to use a facility that might otherwise turn us down due to their limited meeting space (their perception, anyway)! We maximize space and the facility obtains a new client. Win-win! -- Tim Daugherty, Tennessee Valley Public Power Association

Food and beverage
 Eliminate bottled water. Many hotels will provide water stations at no cost. Attendees are likely not aware that a bottle of water can cost upward of $7 with taxes and service charges. Most will not miss individually bottled water as long as they can easily access water coolers. -- Lisa Thornton, ACUTA

 Talk to the banquet captain for each meal function to determine how close your guarantee was and what leftovers remained, so you can better hit that magical guarantee next time. -- Financial industry planner, St. Louis

 Serve leftover breakfast breads/pastries at the morning break.

 Pull dessert off the lunch menu and instead serve it in the afternoon for a dessert break, especially if you have an exhibit hall. This helps bring people into the hall and saves money, as there's no need to purchase an afternoon snack. -- Patty Olejnik, Association of Legal Administrators

 In some cases, we have been able to eliminate expensive urns of decaffeinated coffee that very few people drink and given out coffee cards that decaf drinkers can redeem at the hotel's coffee kiosk. -- Scott Shellman, Framework Meetings and Destinations

 Keep count of and keep a history on the percentages of participation in food-and-beverage events. Not everyone participates in every meal, and a lot of people leave before the end of a conference, so maybe the breakfast and grab-and-go lunch don't need to be for all 100 who signed up for the event. -- Denise Hoffman, Association Management Ltd. 

 A great idea is to have a meatless lunch and a "saladpalooza" with small samples of plated salads ready for a pick-up and go. -- Stephanie A. Watson, DZS Meetings & Events

 I trim costs by refining some of the banquet menus, making our own to fit our budget (maybe using smaller portions of meat, cutting something out, etc.). I find most places are more than willing to work with us to have something nice that fits into what we can pay. -- Jody Johnston-Mohr, Genesis Health System

 I recommend a la carte F&B orders for breakfasts and a.m./p.m. breaks instead of packages.

 I work with the hotel to learn about other, concurrent groups' menus where we might be able to save by ordering the same things.

 If your group is government-related or a nonprofit organization, ask for per diem menus. Many facilities will allow other groups to order from these same menus in a budget pinch.

 Save on room rental by double-setting a larger room (e.g., classroom in front, banquet in back) or by choosing to set up crescent rounds and having attendees eat (light) meals at their seats.