The Economics of Conference Food

We’ve been reviewing the evaluations from Southwest Fox 2008. We’ll use this blog to respond to some of the suggestions and comments we received and even to ask the community for more information or clarification.

Today, I want to address food, more specifically food and money. We get a lot of comments about the food at Southwest Fox. Many are positive, which we appreciate since we really try hard to offer a good selection of food that meets everyone’s needs. (We’re probably more sensitive to this than a lot of other people because Rick is a vegetarian and I don’t eat pork.)

Food is the single largest expense for Southwest Fox … by a lot. A major portion of what you pay for the conference is spent on catering. When you hold an event at a hotel, you’re required to use their in-house catering service. Often, the prices don’t bear much relationship to what it would cost to prepare the same thing yourself or even to buy it in a restaurant.

For example, we have continuous coffee and tea service during the conference; our bill for that this year was nearly $2000, including tax and service charges. That doesn’t include the coffee and tea served with breakfast, just the set-up in the main conference building.

A big change this year was the addition of a dinner party on Friday night. It was well-received and most of the comments about it were quite positive. But several people complained about the $50 charge to bring a guest. We were sympathetic, since we understood that a $50 restaurant meal would offer more ambiance. However, $50 was almost exactly what the hotel charged us for each extra person. (We paid somewhat less for attendees because we had a package deal for that day’s meals, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon snack.)

We got a few comments about providing continental breakfast on Sunday rather than a hot meal. In fact, the hotel packages we use for Friday’s and Saturday’s meals offer continental breakfast; we’ve leaned on the hotel to get a hot breakfast instead. On Sunday, we don’t have a package, just breakfast, so we don’t have the same leverage. A hot breakfast would cost 33% more, which we’d have to pass along to you.

Because food cost dwarfs everything else, we put a lot of thought into that area as we plan Southwest Fox each year. We think we’ve found a reasonable balance between what we offer and what it costs.

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1 Comment

1
Friday 21 November 2008 - 6:30 pm

Tamar, thanks for posting this. It is great to get the “behind-the-scenes” take on this issue.



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