By Mark Field FIH, operations director, Victory Services Club
Saving money when planning events is an ever important issue, and I enjoyed reading the agency view points in the October issue. But let’s look at it from a venue’s perspective: My advice to organisers would be to be flexible, open and honest with their venue. We work with our clients to discuss their goals and to establish their event deliverables. A typical event after hire venue is secure will have three elements; the beverages, the food and the entertainment. We would find out which elements are essential and therefore ring fenced, and which elements could be economised. The importance of each element depends on the client, their brand values and their event objectives.
Once a client shares their budget and goals with us, we can work through each line suggesting cheaper alternatives. Even if every line is reduced by only five percent, the savings add up. We can also share our contacts with clients to help them get better deals on outside elements where applicable.
An in-house catering team will be more flexible and accommodating than outside caterers who may only offer a set choice of menus. This is just one situation when a good in-house catering team is worth its weight in gold; they will get creative and be able to offer a range of ideas that fit both the brand and the event objectives while offering savings. For example, healthy options can be cheaper; perhaps a visually stunning buffet with antipasti including vibrant (but cheap) crisp steamed broccoli, chargrilled vegetables and authentic street food stations. This is where the creativity of the chef comes into its own; cutting costs shouldn’t mean resorting to a ‘beige buffet’.
Reception drinks is one area that can be economised. Ask if alcohol is definitely required. If not, then a selection of ‘mocktails’ could offer a cost effective but fun option. If alcohol is a requisite, then it is easy to replace Champagne with Prosecco, or Prosecco with house wine.
If reception drinks have to be alcoholic, then your venue can help it go further by regularly topping up delegates’ glasses. Your delegates will view this as attentive service and yet this results in less alcohol being served, so it’s a win win. Another tip is that alcohol served at a reception is not subject to all aspects of the weights and measures act, so smaller measures could be served and therefore the number of glasses from each bottle is increased.
Decide which costs have to be covered by the event budget and which could possibly be passed on to those attending. Delegates would never be expected to pay for their reception drinks, but a post dinner cash bar may be acceptable. All events are different, some events may work offering cash wines, ordered and paid for by the tables or individuals. It is worth remembering though that a cash wine service requires more staff so staffing costs will increase.
We would always advise if we thought a budget was too low. We have certain standards and we would never serve food that wasn’t up to those standards – the client’s reputation is at stake, and ours is too. For example, we would never advocate serving just one canape per person; the quantity of food is just as important as the quality. Dramatically cutting costs could mean an initially happy client, but if they then have 100 unhappy delegates then the event has failed. Food is a really important element of every event; London is a market leader and people have come to expect a certain standard of food and this should not be compromised. We are well travelled, eat out regularly and are better educated when it comes to food and what we expect from it, we eat with our eyes first, the presentation and delivery of the food is just as important as the taste.
Before booking a venue, consider if your event dates are flexible. Many venues are quieter at certain times of the year, so event organisers may benefit from added value such as a free breakout room. At Christmas time there our only a few prime dates that everyone wants for their corporate Christmas party, if you were willing to have your event on a Monday you would get a better deal.
In summary, if you are open and honest and work with your venue then together you can create an event that works for your brand, your objectives and your budget.