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Deals on Meals

How to negotiate a food and beverage guarantee to suit everyone’s tastes

By Donna Paris

Will it be appies and cocktails? Or a sit-down meal with wine? Food and beverage is the cornerstone of most events. “It’s the first thing we think about—it’s the fun part,” says Nancy Croce of Croce Creative, a consulting and event management company based in Niagara Falls, Ont. But it can also be a burden if you don’t properly protect yourself when negotiating the food and beverage guarantee. Like any other attrition clause in a contract, you’re responsible and you’ll have to pony up for numbers that fall short of a minimum commitment.

Document everything
Remember to always record conversations, save emails and document any changes. Get a contract that spells out the anticipated number of guests for each function.

Communicate from the start
“There’s a lot of planning that has to happen—connect with the director and get an agenda right from the beginning,” says Leslie Anderton, director of catering and conference services at Chelsea Hotel, Toronto. “Keep the lines of com­munication open.”

Don’t think you need to come up with a magical hard number in the initial stages. “From a contract perspective, you commit to a certain amount for an event,” says Anderton. “But we recognize that attendance may vary, so we allow for attrition: if you sign for 100 people, we won’t hold you to that, we’ll hold you to 85, for example.” Put it in writing and always have the client sign off on all food and beverage BEOs (banquet event orders), says Croce.

Keep everyone in the loop
“We put together a BEO that serves as a blueprint for everyone of what is ordered, and how and where food and beverage will be served,” says Anderton. Typically this happens about a month to two weeks before the event, she adds, but then, three days ahead of the event, the planner needs to finalize the number of attendees.

Don’t make guesses
Find out from the hotel or venue exactly the minimum that is on the food and beverage order. Get the number of attendees expected and get updates from the client. “If you don’t hear from the client, contact them, that’s on you,” says Croce.

“The food order goes in a week before an event,” says Todd Baril, director of food and beverage at Chelsea Hotel, Toronto. “The food is prepared fresh, but we need to make sure it’s in the building ahead of time.” And it’s not just the food, either. Kitchen help and servers need to be scheduled for work too.

The timing is important
Note, however, that if you cancel or reduce your numbers just a day or two before an event, you are likely to owe 100 per cent of the cost.

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