by Michael C. Lowe | December 01, 2010

Getting more for less has become the norm when it comes to planning and executing meetings and events. But being frugal doesn't have to mean looking cheap. Here are a number of smart and creative cost-saving strategies that will prove pleasing to attendees -- and procurement.

1. Hold the hard stuff.
Keeping a fully stocked bar open for the duration of an event can lead to a pricey tab. Tony Napoli, president of New York City-based destination management company Briggs Inc., suggests limiting cocktail hour to the period before meals or doing away with hard liquor altogether. "Most people are happy with wine, beer and soda," says Napoli, "and some venues have decent house wines for a fraction of the price."

2. BYOB. Groups can forgo the bar tab completely and save money by supplying their own alcohol.  "Bringing your own liquor and working out a reasonable corkage fee can cost less than the expensive rates hotels and venues offer for the same quality drinks," says Serene Yeo, vice president of marketing and sales development with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in Singapore.

3. Be frugal with food.
Note that morning programs will include just coffee and beverages, and advise attendees to take care of their own meals. Start sessions after breakfast, and schedule a lunch break.

4. Add value for free. Simple things like having the waitstaff line up at the door when guests arrive or asking the chef to come out and say a few words during the meal look impressive but cost nothing.

5. Reuse the same venue.
Contracting meeting or event space for multiple dates allows planners to negotiate a break on rental fees. Jeff O'Hara, president of PRA Destination Management–New Orleans, brought three different clients to one venue on three different dates. By planning ahead and booking all three events at once, he saved around 20 percent total. This strategy also can work with A/V services, food and beverage, and transportation.

In another situation, O'Hara booked the Superdome in New Orleans for back-to-back nights, saving $9,000 for each client by avoiding the $18,000 fee to lay down and pick up the field during the off-season.

6. Skip the tux. Guests dressed for a black-tie event usually expect finer cuisine than those clad in cocktail attire or business-casual dress. "You can go even further and incorporate a casual theme," suggests Emilie Flynn, manager of meetings and conventions with the Professional Bail Agents of the United States in Washington, D.C. "Themes based on the beach or the American West keep the atmosphere festive but dressed down."

7. Enlist volunteers. Asking local hospitality industry students to volunteer or work for reduced wages in exchange for experience can help save money and fill in the gaps between staff members. Jeff O'Hara has placed students in greeter and direction-giver positions.

8. Look local. Hiring on-site staff who live close to the venue decreases transportation costs and creates freelance relationships.

9. Say goodbye to bottles. Planners can save green and be green by asking hotels to serve tap water or offer water stations in place of bottled water at all functions and meals unless otherwise requested. "Going from plastic bottles to free water stations can save an organization thousands of dollars," says Emilie Flynn, "And attendees appreciate the environmentally friendly effort."

10. Double duty on centerpieces. Integrate décor into an organization's corporate responsibility program by donating event centerpieces. Tony Napoli suggests sending floral arrangements to a hospital or senior group. Or, opt for potted plants or dried florals, for longer-lasting giveaways.