Host Special Events or Banquets? Read This!

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Major chain and boutique hotel food and beverage departments alike have been increasingly challenged by the explosion of bars and restaurants. In some cities, visitors bring lists of must-visit operations they want to check out, leaving the hotels in the area with little F&B income.

During the recent VIBE Conference panel “Restaurants for Show, Banquets for Dough,” the focus was on how best to improve profitability in the one area hotels have an advantage: special events. This informative panel was moderated by Guy Rigby, president of Octopus, a consultancy that specializes in food and beverage solutions.

Hotels have tended toward a focus on the food aspect of F&B, but Rigby pointed out that while food, service, atmosphere and facilities remain important, beverages of all sorts still rank high in guests’ preferences.

For example, data he shared claimed that more than 70 percent of guests consume a beverage alcohol drink either always or most of the time at the hotel special events they attend. And more than 65 percent of special event guests have two to three beverage alcohol drinks per event that they attend. “This is about one drink per occasion more than for general bars and restaurants due to the longer duration of special events,” Rigby said.

Regardless of the type of event, beverage alcohol is important, from weddings and parties to sales meetings, he said.

Special event beverage alcohol offerings are usually limited and often unimpressive, Rigby noted. However, he pointed out that with more than two-thirds of beverage alcohol drink order decisions at hotel special events made at the event itself, hotels have a golden opportunity to impress a captive audience. Most drink decisions, according to Rigby, are influenced by something taking place at the event.

But remarkably, his research showed that most hotel special event guests by far—68 percent—saw nothing in the way of beverage offering communications at the events they attended. A clear majority—56 percent—would like to see more beverage alcohol options at the events they attend.

Rigby posed an apt question: “Why have hotels traditionally placed more emphasis on restaurant beverage programs versus banquet beverage programs when the majority of profit in F&B comes from events?”

He blamed a variety of factors sales teams face in finalizing banquet deals, including: a lack of interest among the convention/corporate meeting planner community in discussing budgets for innovative types of bars; the need for the sales team to close business before it gets away; lack of confidence among event planners in how to sell or even discuss these offerings; a lack of skilled bartenders available to banquets and catering; timely service issues; and finally, lack of supplier involvement at the property level.

Among solutions, Rigby proposed a broader array of quality pre-batched cocktails at special events, and suggested that supplier national account managers were needed to step up in this area. Cocktails-on-tap, on-site bottled cocktails, on-site barrel aged cocktails and infusion jars could also drive interest and unique experiences for guests.

Rigby laid the challenge squarely at the feet of the supplier community: “For years, we have been asking for ‘turn-key’ solutions to this end and, in response, we get menu printing, wine buckets and table tents for promos.”

With budgets too small for individual properties to take on innovative bar programs for banquets and events, Rigby said property-level execs need to be exposed to new types of ideas rather than brand programs. They need to see and experience innovative, on-trend ideas for themselves, figure out how to teach the selling, and implement and execute.