How to Cut Costs without Cutting Corners

When it comes to planning a conference or meeting, expenses can add up quickly, and before you know it, you are over your budget. Now, you have to explain to the planning committee how and why you went over . . . not a fun conversation to have. Let me save you from having those difficult conversations by looking at some ideas as to how you can “cut costs without cutting corners.”

  1. Breaks/Beverages: Many attendees expect breaks and beverage stations when they attend a conference or meeting. This does not help the budget. However, there are ways to “save money” without your attendees going hungry or thirsty. One idea is try finding items that are charged on consumption (e.g., granola bars and whole fruit). This way, you are not on the line for what is not eaten. Another idea is to avoid the pre-selected break packages that the hotel offers. Instead, look at the a la carte options and choose one or two for your break. Now, you are only spending $5 to $10/person versus $20 to $25/person. When it comes to beverages, one cost-saving measure is to have a central beverage station versus one in each breakout room. You are now only paying for one gallon of coffee versus five. You can also have a water dispenser/decanter versus individual bottles of water at the beverage station. When doing a walk-through to pick up after a break, I often find opened (but not fully empty) bottles of water. A water dispenser/decanter saves on cost, is not wasteful, and some caterers even infuse them with fun flavors. Lastly, try pulling beverages 30 minutes to 1 hour before the meeting/conference adjourns. This way, you do not have attendees sneaking beverages on their way out, and you are not on the line for paying for them.


  1. Meals: Typically when planning a large conference or meeting, it is more cost-effective to choose buffets versus plated meals. However, even buffets can still be expensive. When choosing a buffet, try finding the cheaper option for breakfast/lunch—one that still has some variety yet is not overboard. Another cost-saving tip is to only send your caterer the actual guaranteed number. There is no need to pad it, as many caterers make 2% to 5% over the guaranteed number.


  1. Receptions: Receptions are a social and fun way to network with coworkers and meeting attendees. However, they do not help the budget. If your reception precedes or is after dinner, try having a few light appetizer options for the attendees. Since it is not their main meal, no need to waste money on expensive, heavy appetizers. Limiting the amount of drinks the attendees can have by giving them drink tickets is another way to save some money. This way, you are only being charged for the number of tickets used versus giving the bar a cap and having the attendees reach it. Finally, when sending out the invite to attend the reception, ask that the invitees accept or decline the request versus not answering or accepting as tentative. Because some invitees forget about the reception when it comes to that day, I typically guarantee 10 to 15 attendees lower than the actual (another money saving tip!).


  1. Décor: When you attend a wedding, do you remember the colors, centerpieces, or ceiling fixtures? My guess is no, you probably don’t. You most likely remember the food and how much fun you had. The same is true for conference/meeting attendees. They are not going to remember the centerpieces at the award ceremony or the props at the themed dinner. Décor is a nice “extra,” but it is not always worth the extra cost. If you want to spruce up your meeting, try finding budget-friendly alternatives. Oriental Trading Company® has nice options for centerpieces that do not break the bank. Also, some hotels have centerpieces that are included in your rental package. This is a nice option when you want to have some décor without having to pay extra for it.


  1. AV/Internet: AV/Internet can be a huge expense when it comes to hosting a conference or meeting. AV providers charge high prices on services and equipment because they know meeting planners need it, regardless of cost. The same can be said for Wi-Fi in the meeting space; providers charge anywhere from $100 to $200 per connection. One cost-saving measure is to see if the AV provider will allow you to bring in your own equipment (e.g., projectors and microphones). This way, you are only paying for the screens and audio patch. Another idea is to see if you can negotiate a discount with the AV provider. If you do a lot of business with this provider or will be doing a lot of business in the future, the company may give you a discount on AV and internet.


Conferences and meetings can get expensive and have a tendency to “bust” budgets, but they do not have to. By implementing some of the examples above, you can cut costs without cutting corners. It can also save you from that awkward conversation with the planning committee. Instead, the committee members will be singing your praises for saving money.

Nicole Folken

Nicole Folken is an Education Specialist at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She manages internal education meetings.