Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February
Back to Basics
By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM
RAISING THE BAR, NOT THE BILL
To serve alcohol cost-effectively and responsibly, planners
are rethinking cocktail strategies
With entertainment budgets parched and fears of litigation
hanging overhead, open bars at events are drying up. There are
still ways, however, to keep spirits afloat while avoiding monetary
and social troubles associated with serving alcohol.
With a little innovation and lots of control strategies,
planners are integrating new twists on bar management.
FEWER EMPTY BOTTLES
Lynn Johnson, an independent planner based in Monterey, Calif.,
says managing the bar requires meticulous inventory control. To
begin with, she offers free beer and wine only; attendees pay for
And she emphasizes the need to take extra steps when employing a
“by consumption” methodology for an open bar: “We tell the hotel
that we will inventory the bar, so they know ahead of time,” she
says. “We count the number of bottles before the event, and then
inventory all empties after. This method is definitely helpful in
keeping everyone honest.”
Johnson is also very strict about access to and hoarding of
alcohol; she never has waiters walking among attendees distributing
drinks from trays. The guests have to order libations at the bar
themselves. Among other ways to limit consumption:
Time’s up. Cut the cocktail “hour” to 30
minutes. Use a clever title like “Beverage Overture,” or simply
call it a reception.
Engage the players. Many planners use
distractions and interactivity to reduce consumption without
attendees realizing their motive. Cocktail hour ice-breaker
activities that require movement are helpful. If guests will need
to put down their drinks, be sure to distribute a decoration to
differentiate their glasses, such as wine-glass charms or ribbons
they can write their names on in metallic pen.
And, of course, make sure there are places for participants to
set down their drinks and then retrieve them it’s hardly
cost-effective if fresh drinks summarily are carted away and guests
must go get new ones.
Fun food. Interactive food is also a great way
to limit drinking. For instance, fondue with wonderful new sauces
is making a huge comeback.
Commemorative vessel. Consider using distinct
glasses, such as blown-art varieties that look big but have very
small receptacles. These could be paid for and branded by sponsors
and kept by attendees. Or serve drinks in something completely
conversational, like porcelain shoes. And in the right setting,
elaborate crazy straws can be perfect for both ice breaking and
more leisurely sipping.
Serve one liquor. Incorporate a theme and offer
one particularly hip drink like the mojito or classic
crowd-pleasers such as martinis, margaritas or sangria.
Distraction of place. Make the atmosphere extra
festive and give participants a lot to do by having the reception
in a cultural venue such as a museum. If you have limited options
for sites, bring in actors or performers to mingle and engage the
The best tip of all is to make sure your guests arrive well
hydrated. This not only helps prevent hangovers the following
morning but appropriately reduces the thirst sensation from the
Sure, this is impossible to enforce, but it doesn’t hurt to
encourage attendees to drink water or juices during the day’s
meetings by promoting the health effects and keeping event- or
sponsor-branded bottles of water or big jugs of juice, water and
lemonade around everywhere, including in guest rooms and meeting
rooms. Caffeine has a dehydrating effect, so avoid serving coffee,
tea and colas after midday.
LOUISE M. FELSHER, CMP, CMM, is director of
CME admin- istration for the department of medicine at the
University of California, San Francisco.
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