Tag Archives: Tracy Stuckrath

You’re Charging How Much?!: The Case for Smarter F&B Budgeting

Originally published Meetings Focus.

You’re Charging How Much?!: The Case for Smarter F&B Budgeting

Food and beverage (F&B) can make or break a meeting or event. And certainly, the complete absence of F&B can set in motion kvetching like you haven’t heard since the last time you managed a meeting without it. Just try to have a meeting break with no coffee!

I’ve been in this industry a long time. Years before my own company, Eisenstodt Associates, celebrated its 38th anniversary on June 1 of 2019.

Planning meals has never been my favorite thing to do. In fact, I would place it among my least favorite things tied to the involved process of planning meetings and events.

Guessing what others would want to eat on a given day is a nightmare especially when we are planning months out and have no idea what will be fresh, what will be available, and what factors impact what a chef can best prepare.

Or what an audience will want to consume.

Key Considerations When Planning F&B

In planning events where food and beverage elements play a starring role or for when any sort of F&B is offered, we must consider, at least, the following key items:

  • Group demographics
  • Availability of food and beverage
  • Chefs’ abilities and specialties
  • Religious practices
  • Allergies and food and beverage sensitivities*
  • Accompanying meeting and event activities
  • Service provided
  • Meal and item costs
  • Service charges and taxes**

*Tracy Stuckrath is a prolific writer and speaker about allergies and sensitivities. You can learn more about her and read additional insights about F&B on her website.

**These are likely to change if we are booking six months or more from the planned event.

Not only must we consider the above items related to F&B, we must convey all this information in our RFPs for meetings and events.

And we must clearly state that in order for us to respond appropriately and then create a contract, we need full and complete information.

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Coffee’s Cost Per Gallon

In all my years in this profession, there is rarely a month—or even a week!—that goes by when the cost of a gallon of coffee is not discussed.

As in, “Why does a gallon of coffee cost x?” Lately and frequently again on social media, the cost per gallon discussion has reared its head.

(We used to look at the cost of “dry snacks”—potato chips, peanuts, pretzels—when those were considered the budgetary best for cocktail receptions without “real” food!).

The discussions have been accompanied with questions about the amounts billed for taxes, service, and ancillary fees, on top of per plate or per person costs for various F&B offerings.

Other popular topics of discussion related to F&B include:

  • the number of, and charge for, servers for buffets, continental breakfasts or breaks
  • bartender and, if cash bar, cashier charges and minimum numbers to serve and the minimum hours we must contract
  • the administrative fees now added to food and beverage (F&B) events

Nothing in the discussion seems to change.

Calculating the Cost of a Gallon of Coffee

I looked back at 2012 menus*** from a contract negotiated for a client’s 2016 meeting.

At that time, a major Las Vegas hotel at which the meeting was booked charged $70.00 per gallon of Kona coffee plus 21% service charge plus 8.1% tax on both the coffee and on the service charge.

If one calculates that, and assumes 20 cups per gallon, it’s about $4.57 per cup.

In emails with James Filtz, interviewed here, I asked about the cost of coffee.

He said “In 2014 coffee at The Venetian in Las Vegas was $86 per gallon. Today it is $100 per gallon. That’s about a 16% increase.”

I checked with the same unnamed Vegas hotel above for their current prices. The price of coffee at the major Las Vegas hotel previously contracted, came out to $95.00 per gallon, with a service charge of 23%, tax of 8.5%, and the service charge taxed slightly over 4%.

How does that compare to what a cup of made-at-home coffee using a Keurig costs, considering the purchasing and labor that goes into how a hotel provides coffee?

Is it cheaper for each guest to run back to their rooms, use the in-room coffee maker (if there is one and the condiments are to their liking), and the time it takes for them to return for valuable networking?

I found this about Keurig, where the cost per cup is measured on a 5-6 ounce cup.

***A Pro Tip Regarding Food & Beverage Menus

Most hotel menus are now electronic.

When you negotiate more than a year out with an escalation clause on food and beverage, the menus from which you are negotiating will no longer be live on the website.

I recommend printing them out—on post-consumer paper—and attaching to the final signed version of the contract and saved as a PDF in your files and saved with the printed contract and menus and other policy documents on paper.

Otherwise, you have nothing from which to gauge prices.

Hidden—and Not So Hidden—F&B Costs

Hotel owners and management companies want to make money. Now more than ever. We want hotels to be kept up—that is, furnishings to be clean and updated.

I hope all or most of us want people who work in hotels, especially those who provide service, to make “livable” wages—though I’m not sure even $15.00/hour in most markets is “livable.”

Or is it “not on my group” mentality among meeting and event planners that is the issue—you know, charge other groups what you need but negotiate my costs to what I want to pay?

My meeting and event clients have almost exclusively been not-for-profit groups for whom budgets are tight. Yet, as chef and humanitarian José Andrés says:

“I realized very early the power of food to evoke memory, to bring people together, to transport you to other places, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

If we skimp on food or beverage, it reflects badly on the hotel, caterer or our group.

The Power of F&B at Your Meeting or Event

Food makes memories. Food brings people together. Harrison Owen, back in 1985, knew the power of breaks on the overall experience of learning at meetings. We know the power of available food and beverage to make or break a meeting or event experience.

See what three planners interviewed had to say about what’s important to them and their questions about costs. When will we budget differently and realistically and think about what the two NACE officers have to say when we plan and negotiate meetings?

Oh, and don’t miss the “bonus section” of the August 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter: I had the pleasure of dining with Tom Sietsema, food critic for The Washington Post, at a José Andrés restaurant. Read more about how noodging can pay, the ethics of dining with a food critic and Sietsema’s “go-to” food when he’s not on-duty—one of my favorites too!

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

Original post Meetings Today

Meeting Trends: We’ve Only Come This Far?!

I’m frustrated with the meetings industry.

If I had written the final version of this blog in December 2018*, before my cousin Gayle** sent me the book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott, my written frustration and anger toward OUR industry—that can’t seem to change—might have “burned your eye.”

As I thought about the state of the meetings industry and read Ms. Lamott’s book, I calmed a bit. “Stop the anger,” I thought. “Be nice” and write calmly. And as a colleague said to me years ago and others have said more recently, “be patient—it takes time to change.”

This was all before the 2019 Meetings Today Trends Survey results were released.

I read the numbers in print and digitally and was even more livid, especially at the question asking if planners had a written security and disaster plan in place for their event(s).

28% of respondents said they were “working on it,” which really is a “no.” And those planners who actually responded with a “no” totaled 44%.

That’s 72% of planners who said “no”!

Then I read the summation of some comments Tyler Davidson, Meetings Today’s chief content director, compiled. My cranky anger rose again.

Should I write a cranky blog or a “nice” blog?

I chose to focus on trends where the numbers and some comments were to me most troubling. I then reached out to industry and industry-related or former industry colleagues to respond to a few questions to check my own levels of exasperation and get their input.

[Side note: I’m a Myers-Briggs “P” if that helps you better understand my position].

These colleagues read the numbers and the comments on specific topic areas and responded. Their comments are the sidebar (or “Part 2”) of this Friday With Joan blog post.

If in editing their remarks, we’ve changed their intentions, we apologize and hope they’ll add to the comments here or there. I insist you go and read through those responses.

[Editor’s Note: Scroll down to the section of this blog post labeled “Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward” for links to all of the responses].

A Startling Lack of Risk and Contingency Preparation at Meetings and Events

My greatest frustration was around risk and contingency preparation. The numbers tell me that about 70% of those responding have no plans because “working on it” is still a “no.”

In preparation to deliver a short awareness of risk and contingency planning program for an industry association recently, I heard what I always hear from clients and colleagues:

a) we don’t have time or money to develop a plan; b) the hotel (or convention center or other venue) will take care of any risks; c) our security team has it well in hand; and my all time favorite, d) nothing bad has ever happened at our meetings so why bother?

These and other excuses for not planning to protect people, property and reputation astound me. Not an expert in security, I am a long-time practitioner of developing plans and enacting those plans for risks that include threats to people, property and finances.

If even the following issues—not going back as far as 9/11 or 2005’s Hurricane Katrina—are not in the collective front-of-mind thinking, what sort of tragedy or disaster will actually inspire others to stop, process what is going on and make change?

Could it be:

  • Shootings in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Mother Emanuel Church and Pulse Nightclub?
  • Mass murder at a Las Vegas concert for which the FBI has found no known motive and about which there’s been no answer about how a room service cart could have been left long enough in a hotel hallway to install a camera to see who was approaching.
  • #MeToo acts of sexual assault or harassment about which I’ve written and spoken, repeatedly quoting and linking to the website of Sherry Marts for procedures.
  • Alcohol served liberally at meetings—at industry meetings—seeing no harm in the contribution it makes to potential illness, violence and death.

Brad Goldberg, Tyra Hilliard and Ken Wheatley concluded that developing common language, using those trained in security, and rethinking and planning are the best ways to be prepared.

While I agree with those strategies, they are far beyond what most in our industry consider.

And That’s Not at All Where My Frustration With OUR Industry Ends

The other issues and responses I found puzzling in the survey were those about:

  • What worries industry colleagues: yes, we still get no respect and we are doing little as an industry to change that by hosting Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) events that include and thus visually represent the same issues criticized by the non-industry media and governments: people drinking and having a good time versus conducting education and teaching industry colleagues how to lobby government segments;
  • Whether there will be a CSR component to your meeting when individuals and organizations, including many DMOs, have encouraged and supported us to make these parts of every gathering to support awareness and to give back;
  • Events and activities that you’ll conduct, which clearly didn’t include a CSR component and, really … golf is still a big part? (See what John Chen has to say).
  • Sustainable meetings where there is still a belief that digital versus printed materials are the most they can do even when that takes away from education (people learn better when they write versus type) and doesn’t take into account the energy used to charge devices and the electronic waste from those who continue to upgrade their devices. When sustainability is far greater when it comes to people and the environment.

In the week before I wrote the final version of this blog, I met with a retired hotel colleague and his husband, who asked me if I still loved what I did. I hesitated.

As we talked, it was clear that I felt—feel—great passion for the work I do. That includes this industry and the changes I believe that meetings can make in the world and the changes that can be made and made-to-stick in this industry. My frustration increases with the lack of overall change in how we operate and deliver content.

And as it is said, “nevertheless, she persisted.”

To people who tell me to have patience…

I wonder how many years it takes of actively working in an industry where others, including those who provided responses for this month’s newsletter, continue to work hard, speak and teach to impact change—for change to stick.

You Can Get Angry and Maintain a Strong Voice

I wrote this blog post in a way that was a combination of “nice” and cranky because of inspiration from Cindi Leive.

Her “Brief But Spectacular Take” on PBS Newshour on 1.28.19, crystalized it: I’m angry and I’m tired of “making nice,” equivocating about how angry I am.

So, to you, Cindi Leive, I add another dedication for the ability to express the anger I have expressed in the past only to be chastised because “angry women” just aren’t OK in our world. I have learned I can express my anger and still maintain a strong voice.

Join the Discussion and Move Meetings Forward

These are the colleagues who responded to my questions:

I invite you to join us here, in the blog comments, in a discussion about what you think we can do to make change stick. That way in 2019 or 2020 the responses to the Meetings Today Trends Survey questions will reflect that we’ve actually made a difference.

And please don’t still be “working on” your written disaster plan when that time comes!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

*At lunch in December with colleagues who asked me how I was, I used a “not-for-a-family-publication” word to say I was THAT ANGRY at how the industry just doesn’t change or keeps reinventing the wheel around diversity, inclusion, women’s empowerment, meeting design, risk and contingency planning, negotiations and contracts, ethics and on and on.

I was cranky, angry and frustrated to think so many of us had spent so much time working hard to move things along and they did and then BOOM, full stop until the issues are raised again and VOILA! It’s all fresh again and history is not considered or built upon.

And then … we are stuck.

**This blog post is dedicated to my cousin Gayle. And Cindi Leive mentioned later in the post. And, my editor, Eric Andersen, who is truly remarkable and “gets” me!

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

“Diversity fatigue is real,” said Greg DeShields, CEO of PHLDiversity.

And it’s true. People groan when they hear the words “diversity and inclusion.”

They’ve been through training at work, in their spiritual homes, in their communities. Yet, the fear of those “not like us” is great and the lessons learned are not sticking.

The following was posted to the Meetings Today Twitter account from a presentation on storytelling at the MPI Northern California Chapter’s Annual Conference & Exhibition:

“The story always came first. Without a great story, everything would unravel.” The quote is attributed to Matthew Luhn, who worked with Pixar on the Toy Story films and others.

Because the subject is not sexy—a bit like ethics or contingency planning, as I was once told by an industry association staff person—diversity and inclusion at meetings often gets overlooked or, perhaps even worse, we assume that it’s no longer an issue.

I began to write this blog post with the intention of identifying the many things you can do to ensure your meetings, conferences and events are more inclusive.

My initial advice included, but certainly is not limited to the following:

  • Destination and Site Selection: Don’t meet in destinations where laws are passed that discriminate against those who attend or want to attend your meetings. Don’t give business to places where people may be in danger because of who they are, what they look like or their abilities, such as states with “papers please” laws or anti-LGBT laws. Instead, seek out venues with facilities that don’t exclude people who are transgender and where accessibility goes beyond the minimal ADA standards.
  • Speakers: Enlist representative speakers versus the example making its way around the internet of the math-for-women poster showing a panel of four men. Present different points of view and make sure that those who speak are inclusive.
  • Room Sets, Lighting and Activities: Create environments and opportunities that are designed for different learning styles. Ensure you ask what people need to fully participate at your meeting or event and that you then provide for those needs. Some people may require Interpreters, including ASL Interpreters. Some people may need assistance in seeing or taking notes. Make sure to include seating that is appropriate for those using mobility devices. At networking events you should ensure that food is appropriate and labeled and that noise is low enough to allow conversation.

Possible additions to my list included the offering of printed handouts versus having everything web or cloud based because not everyone has a device capable of access.

We also know people learn better by writing than by “keyboarding.” And let’s not forget to ensure that images used in all levels and types of marketing are representative of different ethnicities, gender, attire, age and visible ability.

Then I thought: you know this. You get it.

You are a unique person who wants to be included versus excluded; you hate the pain you see in children and adults when they come to an event dressed differently than others because no one told them or showed them what was acceptable.

At some time in your life, you too were left out for being different. We all were.

I thought the examples shared by those I interviewed for the March 2018 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter would help. And yet, only a few shared personal stories.

As noted earlier in this blog post, the “story comes first.”

Here are some of my own experiences that have instilled a desire to seek out and ensure inclusiveness and diversity in the world in which I live and work.

I am or was:

  • the child who was kept at school to be “babysat” by teachers when all the others who weren’t like me went off (public school) campus to Bible School.
  • the young person called a “Christ-killer” on the playground because of my religion.
  • pained when other children were bullied or left out because of their looks or income or weight or other circumstances that they most often could not control.
  • the child who saw her parents fight “redlining” and “blockbusting” [look them up; they continue today] and whose family hosted people from Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Greece, Norway and other countries and who realized, by the age of 16, how big the world really was and why it mattered and was grateful.
  • the younger-than-many representative on an industry board who was patted on the head and told “honey just wait until you’re older—you’ll know more.”
  • the industry professional who, in too many negotiations was told I was trying to “Jew down” the salesperson and “oh, don’t take offense—it’s just a saying.”
  • the industry professional who was tired of trying to explain why the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners existed and was needed in our industry.
  • the planner of LGBT events who had to explain to a Director of Catering why it was acceptable to have men dancing with men and women with women at a fundraiser.
  • the non-college degree holder who constantly hears that people without college degrees can’t make it anywhere and wouldn’t be hired even by my own clients who, still though, want my expertise, and who realize I have, by sheer will and lots of continuous learning, done pretty well.
  • the person dealing with a mobility disability and who, upon finally getting the white hair my great-grandmother had and that I had for years thought I wanted, is now experiencing age and ability discrimination and exclusion.
  • and the highly sensitive person who notices exclusion and wonders why it has to be hurtful—or why it even has to be in the first place.

You can check calendars for dates to avoid so that you don’t meet over holidays and you can delve into why some religious holidays are more important than others.

You can learn by talking with people who aren’t like you—that includes those who are your members or customers or who want to and could be if they were just asked. You can talk with your HR departments and those who conduct diversity training like Jessica Pettitt and learn more about the importance of diversity and inclusion for all.

You can read what people are posting about the “math for women” conference that showcased a panel of four men and realize your marketing isn’t showing who you want to attract—you too hotels and cities!

You can read the U.S. Department of Justice website to understand your obligations to help people with disabilities attend and participate in your meeting and you can stop asking why you have to provide sign language Interpreters because they’re expensive.

You can read what Tracy Stuckrath has written about food and beverage and shared elsewhere in our industry. Or why meeting the needs of those who “claim to be vegan” really means they need to eat what they need to eat so they feel valued.

It’s pretty easy to understand why people want to be included in all the activities at your conferences and in your facilities. And why it hurts so much when people are not.

We need to be hospitable and welcoming in all that we do.

It all matters because we live in a global society and we all need to support each other, no matter how much we or others might think or say otherwise. It all matters. It just does.

Related Reading From the March 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

Your ROLE As a Hospitality Professional: 4 Keys to Greater Success

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Your ROLE As a Hospitality Professional: 4 Keys to Greater Success

Reading

Observation

Listening

Exploring

I didn’t mean to create an acronym; it happened as I thought about what has helped me become a smarter professional. In fact, this blog began as one only about reading until more crept in. I didn’t mean for the the subject to sound like a self-help article because I’ve read that self-help articles are not great for any of us. It just happened.

This was inspired because of a number of Facebook conversations through which I learned how many people in my circle of colleagues didn’t know what (or where) Aleppo was. They ‘fessed up after Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson, had a “moment” in an interview.

Here’s what I do know and practice and hope you will too.

Reading

This industry has been my home since I was a little girl. Right—no title when I helped create street fairs to raise money for polio research and when I worked for an art museum coordinating events and for public TV coordinating on-air auctions. In fact, not until I moved to D.C. in 1978 and got my first professional job did I know it was a profession.

And from childhood, I’ve loved reading. The trips to the local library, bringing home armfuls of books, were pure joy. I was fortunate to live in a home where my parents read: newspapers and periodicals and books. We didn’t have a television for the earliest part of my life though my dad, of blessed memory, a ham radio operator, was an early adopter of television. Our first TV was purchased in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Army-McCarthy Hearings, both of which I was mandated to watch (That could also be in the other ROLE categories).

My reading is eclectic:

  • At least one daily newspaper (in print) and many digitally, and on Sundays, my treat is the Washington Post and The New York Times.
  • Periodicals, in print and digitally, that include Meetings Today (of course!) and other industry trade pubs, and The AtlanticThe NationThe New YorkerNew York MagazineTimeThe WeekMoment and SojournersScientific American and Architectural Digest, among many.
  • Books—in print. Only in print. A dear friend and colleague gave me a Kindle once and I tried. It just didn’t feel, literally (pun intended), right. I read an article about how people learn better from reading on paper. I love the feel of paper and especially of books.
  • Blogs, social media posts, interviews—if it has words, I’m there!

I can take most of what I read and relate it back to what we do. This article, about a class called “Designing Your Life” and the related book, from the Sunday, September 18, New York Times is an example (Of course I’ll read the book and wish I could take the class).

As I started reading that article, I was skeptical. The more I read and learned of the professors (and authors) diverse backgrounds, age, experiences, and took in the quote from a retiring professor about what he would do next and the request to take the class, I was hooked.

The format (take note, Kristi Casey Sanders!) of the class—even the use of the much maligned PowerPoint, grabbed me. Like Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” (published in 2006), I envisioned sessions created around some of the concepts.

“5 Ways Total Strangers Can Make Your Trip Better” helped me rethink how we put people together at meetings and how we can make the experience richer for them and use that to further their appreciation for being in the same space.

Chris Elliott wrote about Zika and airlines and refunds. With a client with upcoming meetings in Puerto Rico and Florida, it hit close to home. All hospitality professionals are grappling with Zika and its impact.

Observe

  • How and where people congregate, how strangers or people who work together interact. I love watching people at airports especially when there’s a shared experience of, say, a delayed flight, and how they band together; or at a food court as the workers arrive and their interactions. One can learn so much that can be used in developing meeting environments by observing others.
  • Who the industry sponsors who sponsor outside the industry are. While watching “Guy’s Grocery Games,” a commercial for Burgers-Brew and Que  showed that Michigan Tourism was the sponsor. “Brilliant!” I said out loud. I wonder how many DMOs (aka CVBs) or state tourism boards do the same.
  • Food and what you can replicate or how it is presented that you’d do differently. That’s an easy one given the number of photos of food on social media! Go beyond the photo and ask questions about placement, or as my colleague, Tracy Stuckrath did when I posted photos from the Charter Member Day at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. with catering by Windows Catering, if they labeled the food for ingredients [I responded that they didn’t and in other circumstances, I’d have noted that to them but I was so delighted to be there and so surprised that they had food available, I let it go. Sometimes even this professional becomes a regular person!]. [Note: if you are planning a D.C. trip and want to go to D.C.’s newest museum, check about tickets. They’re free and because of the interest, best procured ahead for specific times].

Listen

I confess: I eavesdrop and learn so much. If we listen to what others are saying in conversations we’re in or those near us, if we listen to the news or what people are saying at meetings in the “open space” (casual) spaces like at breaks, in restroom lines (yeah, usually for women only), in elevators. If we take time to hear silences as well as noise, we generally learn more.

One of the reasons I love learning and practicing improvisation (“improv”) is because it teaches one to listen without jumping ahead. I’ve had the privilege of being in sessions with Izzy Gesell who is a great improv teacher and who, with a hotel sales person (Bob Korin), is teaching improv as a tool for sales managers as Izzy has at PCMA and ASAE and to many others.

Scientific American, one of my favorite publications, has a great take on listening. After you’ve read this, spend some time practicing.

Explore

You don’t have to go to one of the Poles to be an explorer! You can explore in your own office, city, town, country. You can explore by reading  something you’ve never read (see Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” for ideas); by going to a meeting that isn’t something you usually attend; by taking classes or listening to webinars even if you think you know the subject. Brainpickings (one of my favorite blogs) has better ideas—and illustrations!—than I can give.

What are you reading? What’ve you observed that has made an impression, created an “ah-ha” moment that inspired you and/or your work? Did you eavesdrop recently and listen to another person or people who might have given you ideas? In what ways have you explored and where and what did you learn?

Share! We learn best from each other.