by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | March 01, 2011

There are some aspects of events that many planners have long assumed are impossible to negotiate. But seasoned pros operate under the assumption that everything is, indeed, up for negotiation. It's always worthwhile to ask for concessions, no matter how off-limits the requests might seem. Following are several notorious charges that should be up for discussion.

Corkage Fees A corkage fee is the charge (typically $2-$10 per bottle) that hotels, restaurants or bars tack on when you supply your own wine for an event. These facilities should be willing to waive corkage fees if you have a robust and positive history of working with them, speak with the right people (e.g., food and beverage managers, restaurant owners and managers) and make a solid, intelligent argument that will ultimately benefit them short- or long-term.

When negotiating, it is helpful to respectfully ask the sommelier and chef or wine buyer for their expert advice on pairing food with the wines you wish to add, but you often can simply get the corkage fee waived if you choose a wine that will not disrupt the integrity of their cellar choices or menu (e.g., if the restaurant serves only local or boutique Napa Valley wines and you wish to bring in wine from a large Chilean winery).

Attrition Attrition is the difference between the actual number of sleeping rooms picked up (or food-and-beverage covers or revenue projections) and the number or formulas agreed to in the terms of your contract with a hotel or venue. Typically, there is an allowable shortfall (20 to 40 percent) before damages are assessed.

But do you really have to pay if your numbers fall short? If you have maintained a positive history, good reputation and a measure of trust with the venue, perhaps you can work out something that satisfies both sides. Even with a first-time event, if you have credibility in the industry, you often can work with the property to eliminate your attrition fees simply by discussing the issue with them.

Much depends on the cause of the attrition; could it have been prevented? If falling short of the room block falls under a grey area surrounding force majeure (contractually defined as an act of God, e.g., a hurricane or other crisis), you have a significant advantage. But even in cases where the scant room block resulted from a clear misstep on your part, you might be able to circumvent attrition by rebooking a future event or, as some smart planners have done this year, by switching off-site elements of the meeting to the hotel's restaurants or bars, so the F&B revenue will help offset the shortfall.

Contract Revisions One item typically considered sacrosanct is the fully executed, or signed, contract. Can a new contract ever be created? Absolutely. If significant terms, such dates, duration or space needs change, you should work with the venue to draw up a new contract.

Similarly, if other circumstances have changed, say you book several more meetings within the same hotel family or caterer or A/V vendor, you should ask to revisit and rewrite a new contract with more favorable terms based on your higher volume of business.