Making Cents: Saving Money on Food & Beverage at Your Next Event

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Making Cents: Saving Money on Food & Beverage at Your Next Event

By Natalie Norris - CMP, CMM | Mar 14, 2020

When it comes to food and beverage for events, we want to get the most value from our budget.  This can get challenging when we have to take into consideration menu prices, dietary needs, cultural needs, sustainability, and organizational preferences.  Noted below are some tips on how to help keep your food and beverage budget intact while obtaining the goals for your meals.


  • Communicate with your catering contact and chef about the culture of your group’s preferences, dietary needs, and any theme you are trying to obtain to see if they can create a meal to fit your budget if you cannot find what you like on the standard menu.The chef may have created a menu for another group that may work well for your group.

  • If the cost of an entrée is too high, ask the chef if reducing the portion size would allow a reduction in the meal cost. Or, ask if there is another item in the meal description that could be substituted.

  • Select meals that satisfy as many of your attendees’ dietary needs as possible.The chef can help recommend a menu.This will reduce the number of special meals to be served.

  • Ask the chef if there are other groups in house over your dates where you can share the same entrée so the chef is ordering in a larger quantity and can possibly get reduced pricing.

  • Utilize the dessert from lunch for an afternoon break.

  • Place tables up against a wall instead of in rounds so attendees are not continually grazing.

  • When selecting break options, be conscious of how many different types of food you are providing such as breads, sweets, salty items, protein, etc.Attendees love options but offering too many selections will increase your budget while leaving many items on the table.

  • When decorating a table for plated meals, consider using bread baskets with a variety of breads, cakes, or a platter of small specialty desserts as your centerpiece in place of flowers to reduce the event costs for your meal, especially if the venue does not provide centerpieces.


  • Add fruit-infused water or a specialty drink created by the chef as a healthy option to sodas.These drinks can be ordered by the gallon and are typically a lower cost per person than the cost of one soda.

  • When ordering coffee, ask your convention services contact what size the coffee cups are that are placed on the drink station.For sustainability and cost control, ask the hotel to only place china coffee cups that hold a cup to a cup and a half on the drink station to reduce the amount of wasted coffee.If you want to provide travel cups, be sure to ask the hotel about their sizes as well.Often the travel cups hold two or more cups of coffee and are frequently found in the meeting rooms half full and cold.

  • Serve drinks that can be sold by the gallon versus individual cans and bottles if you have more than 60 people in your group.

  • When serving wine, ask if there is any remaining wine from a previous event that they are interested in selling at the same price as a house wine.

CMP (Complete Meeting Package)

If you have more than 50 people, calculate the cost between a full CMP package and an ala carte package.  The ala carte package can offer more variety at a lower per person cost. 

For groups of 50 people or less the CMP package may provide more benefits than an ala carte menu and be less expensive.

Leftover Food

Ask the hotel or venue if leftover food such as breads, cookies, fruit, or packaged items and soft drinks that you have paid for can be donated to a local charity like a homeless shelter. 

Gratuity and Taxes

  • Remember when sharing menus with non-event planners to disclose that the final price of an item on a menu is the price plus the gratuity and tax noted on the menu.

  • Ask your convention services contact to give you an example of exactly how they calculate the final menu price including gratuity and tax, since different states have different tax laws on how tax is applied to the menu item and gratuity.This is particularly important when creating menus in different countries as they often have an additional tax that needs to be included in the final price.

Every hotel and venue has ideas on how to help you be successful with your food and beverage.  The best way to partner with the hotel is to communicate your food and beverage needs and wants so your next meal is not only a “Wow” factor for your attendees but is also within budget.



Natalie-Norris - CMP, CMM
Natalie Norris - CMP, CMM

Natalie Norris, CMP, CMM, is passionate about learning and creating ”Wow” factors for her clients.  Natalie is the Owner/Director of Meetings and More Inc. in Franklin, Tenn., a member of MPI Tennessee Chapter, and a member of the MPI Association Planners Advisory Board.