Cutting Meeting Expenses

By Lain Ehmann

No matter how much the economy recovers, we’ll probably never see the heyday of big-budget events with the Rolling Stones and Wolfgang Puck sautéing tableside again. Keeping costs down is part of the new world order. So what better time to resolve to keep your budget in check than right before a new year? Here are some tips to keep your wallet in your pocket.

Get estimates. Even if you’ve dealt with a particular service provider a dozen times before, make sure to get a written estimate and compare the final bill against that estimate. For some reason discrepancies – even honest mistakes – are rarely in the buyer’s favor.

Keep a tab on incidentals. Ask all attendees to use their own credit cards at hotel check-in. Then make sure the hotel staff knows which extras, such as mini-bar purchases, in-room movies, spa treatments and so on, are to be charged to attendees’ accounts and not the company’s account.

Travel and stay off-peak. Aspen in the summer is gorgeous, as is Cape Cod in the fall. Look for off-season deals on travel and accommodations – though you might want to avoid the Gulf Coast during hurricane season.

Review your food. “The Tradeshow Coach” Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, author of Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies (For Dummies, 2003), has several suggestions for keeping tabs on the food bill. For hors d’oeuvres, go for fewer options in larger quantities and forgo the expensive shrimp. Ask if you can use up the hotel’s or restaurant’s dead wine stock – wine they have on hand that is no longer on the menu. Also, have the wine steward open new bottles as needed, not all at once.

Hire a consultant. The word consultant usually comes with dollar signs attached, but if you’re an inexperienced meeting planner relying on a professional actually can save you cash. Experts such as’s founder Michelle CatallaMeeks, a former hotel salesperson and meeting planner, will review your hotel contracts to make sure you know what you’re getting into before you start negotiating. Her prices (starting at $45 per hour or $545 for a full, five-step consultation) are modest when you consider the hours of frustration and thousands of dollars she can save you.

Stay close to home. Using nearby vendors, accommodations and speakers can save you big money. Attendees and presenters won’t have to travel, salespeople will spend less time out of the office and you’ll be able to keep a close eye on your service providers during the planning stages.

For more information, contact Michelle CatallaMeeks at or Susan Friedmann at