Food for Thought

How important are food and beverage to your event?  When the budget is tight and you’re forced to look for ways to cut the budget, do you sacrifice quality for savings?

Many years ago, I attended a meeting where it was rumored that the sponsorship sales had not gone as well as expected.  Boxed lunches were served at lunchtime, and from the presentation and food selection, it left me wondering what exactly they were trying to achieve.  Instead of serving the lunches in plain white boxes, they had the boxes branded with the meeting logo on 2 sides and in 4 colors. Inside the box, I found a vegetarian sandwich, a sandwich with meat, a seafood salad, a fruit salad, a pudding cup and a candy bar. Canned soft drinks were served on the side.

Here are some interesting points about this “cost saving” measure”:

  1. Boxed lunches are often no less expensive than a modified buffet lunch. They are labor intensive, so venues end up charging a bit more to make up for this.
  2. Branding a box is expensive (Especially when printing in 4-color on glossy white paper).
  3. Combining the vegetarian and meat selections in each box certainly does not seem to be cost effective. A better cost cutting method would be to separate the items and simply label the boxes, or place a label on the table in front of each selection, denoting what is in the boxes.
  4. The items included in a box lunch need to be well thought out. Remember, boxed lunches are usually put out in advance of the meal time, and can be left sitting without refrigeration for the duration of the lunch hour. Foods that should be kept cold can become a health hazard when left at room temperature. Inevitably, some of the delegates complained of upset stomachs after lunch. Could it have been the “warm seafood salad”?

For the rest of the afternoon, most discussions ended with mention of the terrible luncheon that everyone had suffered through. Needless to say, there was so much food wasted and the beautiful logoed boxes lined clear plastic trash bags throughout the hall.

It should be fairly obvious that the food and beverage service at a meeting is important. Attendees are also demanding more special requests to satisfy special diets (i.e., vegetarian, low salt, vegan, kosher, halal, etc.).  Despite tight budgets, we must always try to accommodate our audience.  Cost-saving measures should still be carefully considered, but be creative.  Here are some tips to consider the next time that you find your food and beverage budget is lacking:

  • Eliminate breakfast and ask the venue to ensure the food shops are open, or if you have an exhibition area allow them to sell coffee and breakfast foods there
  • Negotiate room rates that provide a full or limited breakfast for the delegates in the restaurant
  • Reduce the timing of cocktail receptions
  • In lieu of a welcome reception, provide vouchers for a meal in the bar/lounge area, and encourage your delegates to attend a “meet and greet” in this area after check-in
  • Always modify and negotiate banquet menus
  • Solicit local restaurants to provide discounts for attendees, and provide ample time for delegates to get out and enjoy the local flavors

If a boxed lunch is the only solution, try these tips for happier meeting attendees:

  • Remember to select foods that keep well, such as whole fruit instead of fruit salad, and please no seafood!
  • You can reduce the “per box” cost by going with a plain box
  • Separate dietary options and label the boxes, or place a sign on the table that denotes what is in each box

Thoughtful food and beverage selection at a meeting makes the delegates feel special. Your food and beverage set up should create an atmosphere that encourages networking opportunities for new connections or even reconnection with old friends, not provide a platform for them to discuss how terrible lunch was. As planners, we are always looking for creative ideas to keep food and beverage costs in line with the budget, while still maintaining quality.  Let’s hear some of your ideas.


**Special thanks to Lynne Pryor, Senior Conference Manager at Integress, for her significant contribution to this post.

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A Faster Boarding Method

You’re at the airport waiting to board your plane. You look at your ticket and realize that you’re in zone 4, which means you have to wait until business class travelers, those with small children, those who need extra time boarding and those in the other zones board before  you can finally get to your seat. Once your zone is called, you stand in a long line on the jet way, a line made long by the large number of people who boarded before you who are now standing in the aisle of the plane taking off their jackets. By the time you get to your seat there is hardly any overhead space left, leaving you annoyed that you decided to carry-on instead of checking your luggage. Also, don’t forget about the obligatory ‘leap over the aisle and middle seat’ so you can squeeze next to the window. Why does boarding a plane have to be such a time consuming, difficult process?  Dr. Jason Steffen, a particle physicist at Fermilab had the same question, and has found a solution that dramatically decreases the amount of time it takes to board a plane.

While many studies have been conducted in an attempt to reduce the amount of time it takes to board a plane, Steffen’s is the first real-world tested theory that has been demonstrated to cut boarding time in half!

While most airlines today board using the ‘back to front’ method, Dr Steffen’s method goes a little something like this: First to board are passengers with window seats in alternating rows on the right side of the plane. Then, the same thing is done for the left side of the plane, alternating rows and window seats only.  This pattern is then continued for the middle and aisle seats until everyone is on board. The video below will probably make it a bit clearer…

Using the Steffen method, passengers are able to put their luggage in the overhead compartments without holding up everyone else. Also, no one has to move from their seat in order to let you get to yours (unless they ‘accidentally’ sit in the wrong seat), and you don’t have to wait in a long line for the crowded aisles to clear, making for a much faster and pleasant way to start your travels.

Steffen’s findings were first published in 2008. Here we are almost 5 years later, and the majority of airlines are still using the traditional boarding method? Why is it that airlines haven’t adopted this strategy? Do you think that this real-world test will open some eyes?


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Healthy Travels

Do you find yourself travelling for work more than you’d like? Have you noticed any changes in your health? According to some researchers at Columbia University, there is a strong correlation between travelling for business and an increase in health problems.

We all know that travelling can be stressful. Whether it’s caused by the job or the actual travelling, stress can negatively affect you in many ways. Researchers at Columbia University reviewed data from 13,000 people who participated in a corporate wellness program. They found that 80% of participants travelled for work at least 1 night a month, while 1% travelled for work at least 20 nights per month. Shockingly, obesity was 92% more common in those who travelled more often.

Now, as well all know, it’s easy to throw your daily routine out the window when you travel so much. With a mixture of altered eating habits, a serious lack of sleep, increased stress and decreased activity, it’s inevitable that your body will take a hit.

Even though you are working onsite, you still need to think about yourself. Do yourself a favor…try to sneak in a visit to your hotel’s gym. Exercise can be helpful. Not only is it a stress reliever, but it will also help you catch up on some much need sleep time and help to burn off those extra calories that you may have consumed by eating those chips from the minibar.

Speaking of your appetite, many hotels offer smart choices on their room service menus. Consider ordering that smoked salmon plate with a fruit parfait rather than the double cheeseburger and fries. One tip that some travelers find helpful is not to request a key to the minibar. That way, even if you do have a craving, you won’t have access to the candy bars and potato chips.

What kind of measures do you take to stay healthy on the road? Are you able to find the time to exercise when you are onsite? What about your diet? Do you find yourself snacking on foods that you wouldn’t normally eat at home?

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Know Before You Go: Tips to Avoid Potential Travel Stress

Planning a trip, whether for business or leisure, always seems to take a load of time and energy. Once you’re off, there are a million things that could go wrong, some of which could make your trip a miserable experience. Booking through a travel agent usually provides the comfort that we need to relax, but not everyone prefers to travel this way. Believe it or not, there are many preventative measures that you can take to avoid the stress caused by potential mishaps when traveling domestically or internationally.


  • Check your destination’s weather – there is nothing worse than not packing appropriately
  • Look up taxi companies before you leave so that you don’t stress about getting from point A to point B
  • If arranging for a rental car, make sure it has GPS. Getting lost in an unfamiliar city can be very unnerving
  • Mark your bags with bright luggage tags or ribbons (use the same color on all of them) so that they are easily identifiable when coming off the carousel
  • Include a business card, on or in every piece of your luggage. In the event that it gets lost, airport security has a way to contact you
  • Keep a list of your confirmation numbers (airline and hotel) handy – try noting them on a slip of paper in your pocket, or email them to yourself so they can be quickly accessed
  • Allow for plenty of time to get to your gate at the airport. Security in some airports can take an hour or longer to get through
  • Text or email your airport parking location to yourself
  • Download an airline application (Delta, Southwest, Continental, etc.) for your smart phone. These handy apps offer features such as electronic check in, airport maps and electronic boarding passes

International (In addition to the above suggestions):

  • Double check the expiration date on your passport 2-3 months prior to your departure
  • Call your cell phone carrier to check up on your phone’s international capabilities (coming home to a $900 phone bill, due to roaming, will definitely stress you out)
  • Purchase maps prior to your departure
  • Read up on airport customs so you don’t get held up in the airport
  • Notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling out of the country so that your purchases do not get flagged
  • Arrive with local currency in-hand to be prepared in case your cards aren’t accepted]
  • Consider bringing a language dictionary, or downloading an application to your smart phone that will assist you with the local language

What do you find helps avoid, or even relieve travel stress when you’re on the road?


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Women…A High Priority

Did you know that women make up over 40% of business travelers? Apparently, hotels do and they have been making adjustments to appeal to their female clientele as much as possible. Comfort is a high priority when it comes to women travelling alone for business. We as women like to be able to check-in to a hotel knowing that our everyday needs are being considered. Hotels have been stepping up to the plate trying to make a woman’s stay feel more personal.

One of the biggest moves in making female clientele feel more comfortable during their stay is the creation of women-only floors. Hotels like the Crowne Plaza in Washington, DC have such floors available Sunday through Thursday. Don’t worry, if a colleague of the opposite sex needs to stop by your room to access the intranet via company laptop, they are allowed. Additionally, if the hotel is sold out, they have no choice but to open these floors to all travellers.

We always manage to leave something behind when we go out of town. Amy Mehta, Account Manager at Meditech Media™ doesn’t like to go onsite without her favorite face wash and moisturizer; however, sometimes she’s running late to the airport and forgets to pack them. Some properties are able to provide name brand spa products, such as Bliss® or Bath and Body Works®, in situations where the guest forgets their own. While these brands might not be her preference, they may still suit her better than the normal skincare products offered at many hotels. Kimpton® hotels adopted a program especially for instances such as this. They call it “Forgot it? We’ve Got it!”. This service provides most of the common items that might have been left behind by a traveller. From sunscreen to hairspray, and even heating pads to sooth the aches and pains of a busy day, it is nice to know that they try to cover all the bases. The idea behind these floors is to make women feel more comfortable, knowing that all of their needs are being met.

Also, in the interest of catering to women, more hotels are providing things like manicure sets, salon-grade hair dryers, makeup mirrors with lighting and magnification and lighter room service menu options.

What are some of the other trends you’ve noticed? Leave a comment and let us know!

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CAN-SPAM? No this is not what you think; I’m not offering new and innovative ideas on ways to eat Spam®. Despite the name, this issue is quite serious and could have very negative consequences if your team does not manage their emails properly.

Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing, otherwise known as the CAN-SPAM Act, was established in 2003 and is regulated by the FTC and FCC. This act establishes requirements for all commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them and spells out expensive penalties for violators. According to the CAN-SPAM Act, fines up to $16,000 are possible for each incident of non-compliance with the guidelines. Gone are the days of receiving dozens of unsolicited, misleading emails that clog up our inboxes!

To clarify, per the CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business there are three basic types of emails:

1. Commercial: Advertisements or promotional messages regarding a product or service

2. Transactional: Established relations content relaying information as follow up to an agreement communication

3. Other: Content not promoting a product or service and not containing information as follow up to a previous conversation

Regardless of the email type, you should avoid these potentially costly errors:

  • Use of false or misleading information in your message header
  • Use of deceptive subject lines
  • Failure to identify message as a promotion or advertisement
  • Omission of sender’s contact information to include physical address, PO Box, or private mailbox
  • Omission of “opt-out” option for recipient to decline receipt of future emails
  • Prompt removal of “opt-out” recipients from future distribution lists
  • Improper management of vendors used for mass email distribution to insure adherence to CAN-SPAM regulations

As the old adage goes, it is better to be safe than sorry; therefore, we suggest using a do-it-yourself email content publisher, such as MailChimp, for any marketing pieces that you intend to send out. Not only is it easy to use, but it also reminds you to “keep it relevant” when it comes to your subject line and requires you to include your physical address and phone number before allowing you to send out a campaign. It also includes an easy to find, one-click “opt-out” button for those on your list who do not want to hear from you anymore.

So, in a world of KISS (keep it short and sweet), it is advisable that you err on the side of caution and maintain total transparency in your email communications. This will help you to avoid stiff penalties, being black-listed as a spammer, and/or tarnishing your professional reputation with current and future clientele.

**Special thanks to @cheyennejack and Matt Fuller for educating our team on appropriate email marketing practices as well as to Brenda Wilson, Conferencing Marketing Director at Integress, who was a significant contributor to this post.

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Protecting Your Valuables On the Road

With all the hustle and bustle at a conference, it’s easy to become distracted and let your guard down. While you are running around making sure that registration is going smoothly, making sure your clients, supporters, exhibitors and delegates have everything that they need, worrying about your valuables is the last thing you need to think about.

Many people are under the impression that the best place to hide their personal belongings during a conference is under a registration table. This, however, is one of the biggest no-no’s when it comes to protecting yourself from thievery. Never leave your valuables unattended, even if you think they are in a safe hiding place. Someone could be watching you and waiting for you walk away. The next thing you know, your purse is much lighter than it used to be. Your wallet is gone along with your cash, credit cards and photo ID. Now, instead of being able to focus on the job, you are worried about how much financial damage is going to take place as well as the fact that you have just been personally violated. It’s a scary feeling.

Here are some important tips on how you can help avoid becoming a victim of theft when working onsite:

• Utilize your badge holder for something other than just the badge. Lock your valuables up in your in-room safe and put your room key in your badge holder.
• If you require more than will fit in your badge holder, consider carrying a fanny pack or small backpack. Your wallet and any other valuable items will be strapped to you at all times so there will be no worry about someone else picking them up.
• If you can’t live without your purse, do not – under any circumstance – leave it unattended.

If you do find that you’ve become a victim of theft and your wallet is gone, here are the steps that you should take to protect yourself from identity theft:

• Call the police – file a report with hotel security
• Call all of your credit & debit card issuers to cancel your cards
• Report your missing ID card
• Call the 3 major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union) to request a fraud alert
• If you had checks in your purse contact the major check Verification Services
• Pull a credit report about 3 months later

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