by Lisa Grimaldi | September 01, 2010

Food and beverage is key to the success of an event; it's also one of the biggest-ticket items, typically eating up a minimum of 25 percent of a meeting's budget, according to data collected for M&C's Meetings Market Report. For savvy advice on how to help planners stretch their meal budgets while still pleasing attendees' palates, we assembled a panel of top F&B experts:

• Scott Berglund, director of meetings and special events at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island (Fla.);

• Linwood Campbell, director of catering at The Westin Charlotte (N.C.);

• Greg Casella, president of Catered Too, San Jose (Calif.), and president of the National Association of Catering Executives;

• Jerry Edwards, president of Chef's Expressions, a Timonium, Md.-based catering firm;

• Marc Ehrler, corporate chef for Loews Hotels & Resorts;

• Steve Enselein, vice president of catering and convention services for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, North America, and

• Martha Hsu, senior meeting and special events manager at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel (Calif.).

Following are their tips, each of which can trim anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of the cost per item discussed, unless otherwise noted.

Breakfast Switch to shots. One way to save on breakfast and morning break costs is to serve juices and smoothies in shot glasses (approximately 1.5 oz.) rather than in traditional juice glasses (typically 4-6 oz.), suggests Marc Ehrler of Loews Hotels & Resorts. "Attendees rarely finish a full, traditional glass," he says. "This way, there is less waste, and attendees can sample several types of smoothies or juices if they like."

Keep special orders in-house. If you have attendees who must adhere to gluten-free diets (which must steer clear of wheat, rye and barley), speak to the chef before the event, says Ehrler. The kitchen might be able to make "safe" items (oat breads and muffins, for example) in-house, rather than ordering them from outside suppliers at a higher cost.

Go for bulk. Several pros recommend serving breakfast foods like yogurt and cereal in bulk (yogurt in a serving bowl and cereal in dispensers, for example), rather than individual packaging. Hyatt's Steve Enselein says this can cut up to 20 percent of the of cost of those items. The same advice applies to condiments, e.g., creamers, butter, cream cheese and jam.

Limit quantities. The Westin Charlotte's Linwood Campbell says more planners are ordering a set number of individual items, such as granola or power bars. "When they run out, they're done," he notes.

Give leftovers a second life. Campbell also sees an increasing number of groups making use of breakfast leftovers. "The nonperishable leftovers from continental breakfast (breads, pastry, snack bars) are put on fresh trays and served again during the first morning break," he says.

Slice it up. "Pull whole fruit from the breakfast buffet if you need to save dollars," recommends Steve Enselein at Hyatt Hotels & Resorts North America. A more affordable alternative: sliced melon.

Bag savings. Most groups likely have just a handful of tea drinkers, says Scott Berglund at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Instead of paying by the gallon (hotels can charge as much as $25 per gallon of hot water for tea), he advises asking your F&B supplier to charge per tea bag used (typically less than $1).