by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | January 01, 2014
Beverages for breaks and receptions are tricky to order and negotiate. Liquid assets are a vital component of most events; however, they typically have the highest markup of any event element and are a primary revenue generator for most hotels, conference centers and caterers.

Pitcher Perfect
With the widespread greening of the meetings industry, the once-ubiquitous individual water bottle has become an endangered species. While that's a good thing for the environment, the shift has driven a number of venues to compensate for the lost revenue by charging clients for pitcher water service.

What this means is you might have to negotiate water charges before they hit your contract. Compromise by having one water station at the back of the room instead of the customary stations per table. Note that while pitcher sizes may vary, count on attendees pouring/drinking six ounces per serving.

Coffee Talk
Coffee is still the top beverage consumed during breaks. It's also one area you don't want to scrimp on unless you're prepared to face a caffeine-withdrawal-fueled mutiny.

That said, you do have some leeway in negotiating on the cost and quality of java. For example, you might be able to get the venue to provide premium Colombian coffee for the same price as the standard house brand. Also note that condiments (milk, cream, sugar) are included in the cost of any type of coffee service.

As for servings, the industry standard is one gallon per 50 attendees, per hour. The larger the cup, the more your attendees will consume or waste, so stick with four- or six-ounce cups whenever possible. Small disposable cups are less expensive but create a poor experience and are environmentally frowned upon. Large disposable cups with lids usually are more expensive than china, and they increase both consumption and waste.

Meanwhile, don't forget the tea drinkers in your crowd. Besides offering traditional black tea, consider adding green and herbal tea bags to your selection. If you don't include the latter, your health-conscious attendees likely will ask for them, and you will end up frantically hunting them down during the break.

Tea is typically charged on a per-person basis; figure that 5 to 10 percent of the group will be hot-tea drinkers.

Bar Logic

For receptions, drinks (both alcoholic and non) should be calculated at 1.5 per person, per hour. However, this rule can vary greatly, depending on variables such as event time, gender/age of attendees and the group's consumption history.

Drinks are nearly always charged on a per-consumption or per-person basis; the latter is typically the more cost-effective option for groups of 100 or more.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is an event producer and writer who specializes in strategic global event marketing. She is based in Pacifica, Calif.