February 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 2003 Current Issue
February 2003 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM


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.

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 hard liquor.

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 crowd.

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 start.

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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