How to spend less without sacrificing quality

Imagine a world where you can stay under budget while producing an event that looks as if it broke the bank. In this alternate universe, despite the pressure to make your next event better than the last one without spending an extra penny, you venture forth confident that you will turn dreams into reality with efficiency and style.

Smart Meetings asked experts about their tricks for creating a phenomenal experience while spending a minimal amount of money. You may be surprised how down-to-earth their suggestions are.

In-House Catering

Food and beverage is an essential element of any gathering—and it is also one of the costliest. It’s unfortunate that copious amounts of food go to waste, but event professionals need to ensure there is something for everyone and that there is enough. No one wants to be the last person in the lunch line facing a limp lettuce leaf and picked-over chicken parts.

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When searching for a venue, securing a property with in-house catering gives planners some elbow room—financially and in menu customization. It’s more difficult to negotiate prices with a venue that outsources its food and beverage service, as it doesn’t have much control over food options. There’s flexibility in negotiating with a venue that provides in-house food and beverage, however, as it has more control over adjusting menus to cater to the planner’s budget.

For further saving, Ingrid E. Lundquist, CSEP, founder of The Lundquist Company, suggests avoiding buffets and minimizing the number the appetizers offered—for instance, if you have six, scale it down to four. This will both manage your budget and help attendees decide, as the more options they have, the tougher it is to choose.

If you know your attendees’ preferred food choices, forego the highest-priced menu items and opt for basic, lower-priced options. Add a little excitement by focusing on one wow item—fun fruit and veggies, or a dessert option presented in a novel way. Lundquist suggests salad wrapped in a tortilla as an example, as it keeps food items on the lower end of the price scale, but is easy to eat and satisfying. She also recommends avoiding labor-intensive meals, such as croquembouche.

Recycled Decorations

Reused signage and floral decorations from six months ago can be serviceable, and it’s unlikely that attendees will be overly concerned that you’re reusing material—they’re there for the event, not to judge decor. Of course, this means making sure all your reused material is in mint condition.

For event professionals who would like to lessen their spending on decor without sacrificing the look of the venue, Lundquist recommends focusing on the space’s accent pieces, such as artwork, props and displays. It may also be financially beneficial to focus on the event’s sensory atmosphere, such as sounds, lights and smells to create a new look and feel—all while remaining within your budget.

The adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” remains a truism, and it extends to the event-planning world. Venues often store leftover items they consider useless, but if you rummage long enough, you just might score some gems. While these items might be deemed unusable by the venue, with a little creativity, they can be repurposed, adding vitality to your event and saving you a few bucks.

Effective Use of Event Tech

Technology is immensely helpful to planners and attendees alike. Along with dollar savings, event technology can also bring significant time savings.

Chatbots have seen a rapid increase in usage in recent years—for good reason. “The more effectively your event app can answer your attendees’ questions, the fewer you or your staff will have to field. It’s why we’re seeing such a great response to event chatbots,” says Brandt Krueger, owner of Event Technology Consulting.

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Time saved on answering repetitive questions can be used to tackle the harder stuff. “While they should never be seen as a replacement for on-site staff, you might not need as many, which is a direct cost savings. Those you do have are freed up to focus on the details of your event, rather than answering, ‘What’s the dress code for tonight?’ for the 500th time,” Krueger said.

He contends that it’s tough to beat the value gained from creative uses of lighting projection. “You can add texture and color to set pieces, furniture, bars, stages, walls—anything, really,” he said. “And you don’t need expensive projection-mapping software. Experiment with video, color and patterns dropped directly into a PowerPoint.”

Virtual reality site visits are a relatively new offering in the event planning world and the potential cost in savings could reach thousands of dollars. With VR, planners can cut out travel, hotel stays and transportation expenses. And no time is taken away from the office. VR can also help professionals take pre-emptive measures.

“Being able to fully visualize an event in 3D can prevent costly mistakes,” Krueger said. “I can’t tell you the number of times that something looked fine on paper, but once implemented, it clearly wasn’t going to work.”

Savvy Contract Negotiations

Contract negotiation is an incredibly important—if not the most important—part of planning your event. When something happens at an event, the terms of the contract determine who pays the price. That is why you want everything in writing—we mean everything.

Even something seemingly as small as the name in a contract is crucial. Lisa Sommer Devlin, founder of Devlin Law Firm P.C., recommends avoiding using the name of the event as the contracting party. Unless the full legal name of the party writing the check is named, there is no binding contract and no one can be held responsible if things turn sour.

Attrition clauses—the agreement that you’ll fill a certain percentage of rooms or else pay a penalty—is another place to look for savings. If you can negotiate for no or low attrition numbers, you could save yourself some unexpected bills at the end of the event.

Save more money and headaches by asking for cumulative attrition rather than night-by-night minimums. Room blocks must be accounted for on a nightly basis with night-by-night attrition; it’s great on the days that are bursting with attendees, but you could be left with fees on slower days.

Event cancellations happen at no fault of the planner. Setting the terms in the case of cancellation cannot be overstated. Making sure that all payments made from the venue prior to cancellation are nonrefundable might save you a substantial amount of money. Sure, you’ll be out of money because the event has been cancelled, but you won’t owe anything back.

Have an Emergency Fund

As with the rest of life, surprises happen at events. Even small setbacks can result in big bills. If you have room in your budget to spend on lower-priority items, keeping those funds as a backup in case of emergencies may be the best option.