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12 Servicing the meeting.

Salespeople are hired and trained to develop new business and fill group quotas for hotel rooms, catering facilities, and other hospitality spaces. In some cases, salespeople will continue to maintain accounts from the time the sales are made until after the meetings are held. However, in most full-service hotels, meeting planners are introduced to the convention services department or the catering manager to finalize the meeting plans. The reason for this transition is to allow the salespeople to return to their specialty, which is selling and generating revenue, and to place the buyer in the hands of people who specialize in servicing meetings. In this way, hospitality firms take advantage of the specialization of labor, enabling them to provide the highest quality service that is possible. In some hospitality organizations, there are not convention services departments, so the catering managers are in charge of servicing the meeting planners.

Making the Transition

The question becomes one of when to make the transition from the sales managers to the convention services managers. Large hospitality chains normally have executive meetings managers (EMMs) who handle smaller meetings (usually 20 or less people) with short lead times. Rather than make an awkward transition from sales to services, these hospitality companies find it better to allow the sales managers to handle the meetings from the beginning to the end. In fact, the EMM position is often used to train new sales managers in the nuances of the meetings business. It is also possible for smaller hospitality organizations to lack a large sales and services staff, making it necessary for the sales manager or the catering manager to handle all of the meeting duties.

In a situation where there are both salespeople and convention services staff, there are three points at which a transition can be made:

1. During the site inspection. In the process of conducting the site inspection, a sales manager could introduce the buyer to a convention services manager who will be in charge of their accounts. The services manager could be helpful in negotiating the terms of the contract, which would be useful for meetings with short lead times. However, during the site inspection may be a little premature and could actually confound the sales process.

2. Immediately after signing the contract. A popular time to make the transition is after the sales manager has made numerous sales calls and the contract negotiations have ended. The sales manager can periodically contact the meeting planner leading up to the actual meeting, but the services manager will work on the details of the event. This allows the sales manager to allocate more time to obtaining additional business.

3. One year before the meeting. The last alternative is for the sales manager to continue to be the main contact person until one year before the meeting. This would coincide with the date used to finalize the meeting details for contracts that are signed well in advance of the actual meeting. The services manager could be helpful in finalizing the terms, especially for food and beverage and meeting space.

It is up to each hospitality firm to determine which transition alternative works best for its particular situation. Also, the transition alternative could vary based on the size of a meeting, the meeting planner's preference, and the lead time for the meeting.

The following sections will discuss the types of decisions that must be addressed in servicing a meeting. It should be noted that many of these areas are covered in the letter of agreement, but the details may not be listed. It is helpful to have some type of checklist covering these areas to make sure that there are no oversights.

Reservation Systems

One of the first areas of concern for servicing meetings is how attendees will make their room reservations. There are four possible methods depending upon the type of meeting and who will be responsible for making the payment.

* Postal reply cards. Postal reply cards are small cards included in meeting packets that are distributed to potential attendees. They are used mainly for association meetings and conventions. The cards should be clear and concise, and include arrival and departure dates, room rates, types of rooms, and any rules and deposit information. The reply cards can include the hospitality firm's direct number (possibly toll-free), which can be used to make the reservation as well.

* Rooming lists. Rooming lists are rosters of the attendees and their room assignments. The hotel merely needs to assign rooms to the people on the list. Rooming lists reduce the hotel's workload, and they are normally used for meetings with mandatory attendance (such as corporate meetings) or attendance that can be guaranteed (incentive meetings).

* Toll-free numbers. This method refers to the toll-free numbers used by hospitality firms. The problem with this method is that some hotels do not release the room block or provide pickup information to central reservations. Therefore, the reservation agents may find there are no vacancies when, in fact, there are available rooms being held by the hotel specifically for the group. This problem can be avoided by providing potential attendees with a specific code for the group. This method could be used for any of the meeting types.

* City housing bureaus. Most large cities have convention and visitors bureaus that operate a housing bureau for citywide conventions. A large convention may require room blocks at several hotels, and each hotel releases a certain number of rooms to the housing bureau at designated rates. In essence, the housing bureau serves as a central reservations service for meeting attendees.

It is fairly straightforward to determine what type of reservation system should be used in a given situation. The only real decision is between using central reservations or having a directed number for association meetings and smaller conventions. Most hospitality firms are choosing to use directed numbers in order to maintain more control. The types of rooms and the room rates are designated in the contract.

Function Room Assignments

The guest room control book will contain the room commitments by group, along with the availability and rates. Similarly, the function book contains the daily schedule for meeting rooms and public space. A separate page should be allotted for each day and one person should have the authority for making final assignments. There are various software packages that can be purchased by hospitality firms that automate the process of scheduling meeting space and food functions (for example, Delphi and Breeze). Tentative assignments are often made at the time the meeting is booked, but final assignments should be made approximately 60 days before the meeting.

As mentioned in the chapter on hotel contracts, several factors should be considered in making function room assignments. Primarily, the size of the room and seating capacity for the type of meeting room setup will affect the room assignment.

* Auditorium or theater style. Chairs are set up in rows facing the speaker, resembling a movie theater or school auditorium. This style can accommodate large groups. The general rule of thumb is to divide the room's square footage by six to obtain the number of people that can be accommodated. This allows for more people, but when people are crowded, there are bad sight lines, and it can be difficult to take notes.

* Schoolroom style. Chairs are set up in rows facing the speaker, but there is desk space like in a classroom. This style can be used for both small and large groups, but it takes up a lot of space. This style offers good sight lines and works well for presentations. The rule of thumb for schoolroom style is to divide the room's square footage by eight to obtain the total number that can be accommodated. You can typically seat two to three people per six-foot table or three to four people per eight-foot table.

* Boardroom or conference style. There are many variations of this style, of which the main purpose is to facilitate discussion. Although space and sight lines can be a problem, this style is often used for small groups. The rule of thumb is to divide the total square footage by ten to estimate room capacity. Some of the more common variations are the U-shape, the hollow square, and banquet style or "rounds." Banquet style is popular for food functions and usually eight to ten people per table can be seated depending on the size of the table.

Other factors that will affect the function room assignment are the type of event or presentation style, the room location with regard to traffic, and the room location with regard to adjacent meetings.

Food and Beverage

Several possible food and beverage components are associated with meetings. The three main types of food and beverage components for groups are meals, refreshment breaks, and receptions.

Types of Food Service

Hospitality firms can realize good revenues from catering for meetings. In conference hotels, banquet sales are often more than two times the sales from the hotel's restaurant(s). Banquets allow more price flexibility and the ability to serve a large number of customers in a short period of time. Food costs associated with banquets are lower because of the volume preparation and the fact that there are no large inventories. Attendance is guaranteed and food is purchased to meet the estimated attendance. Also, labor costs are lower and employee productivity is high. It is easy to staff banquets because of the guaranteed attendance and set time frame. Hospitality organizations often use part-time staff to whom they do not have to pay benefits; these firms only schedule as many workers as necessary. Finally, the beverage profits are high because costs can be easily controlled and there is a lot of price flexibility. People may not order drinks other than water in the restaurant, but meeting planners will order beverages such as tea or wine for all of the guests.

There are five basic types of food service to choose from for banquets or food functions. The best alternative will depend upon the number of people, the room setup, and the desired menu. Following is a brief description of each type.

* Plate service. This is the most common type of food service. The food is assembled in the kitchen and requires little skill on the part of service personnel. The plates are carried on a large tray from the kitchen and one is placed in front of each guest.

* Pre-set service. This type of service is good when time is an issue. One or more components of the meal are set on the table before the guests are let into the room (for example, first course, appetizer, and dessert). The food for this type of service is limited to what can set out for a while, and it may not be as attractive as other methods.

* Buffet style. This type of service can be very efficient for large groups. It requires less labor and more food items can be offered. People choose the items they want to eat, resulting in less waste.

* Platter service. This is a variation of plate service. Platters of food are placed on the table and guests are responsible for serving themselves and passing the food among themselves. It requires more work on the part of the guests, but less effort on behalf of the hotel.

* European service. This is the most labor intensive of all of service alternatives. The food is served to guests from platters and, in some instances, some of the food is prepared at the table. This type of service requires more space between tables and some level of skill on the part of the servers.

Usually, the decision on the food service types is based on the buyer's preference, but the other factors listed above may limit choices. The sales manager or services manager should explain the advantages and disadvantages of each service type to the prospective buyers.

Food and Beverage Pricing

The prices for food and beverage service are normally included on a series of menus that are placed in the sales packets distributed by most hospitality firms. In some cases, hospitality organizations do not deviate from the listed prices, while in other cases, sales managers are given some latitude for negotiating prices. The following is a list of questions that need to be addressed when determining actual payment.

What records will be used to determine the payment for meals? A method must be chosen to determine the volume, or the amount of usage. Some of the more common methods are:

* Distributing tickets that are collected by the servers. The final count can be determined when things are not as busy, and the group is only charged for what is actually consumed.

* Counting heads during the function. This can be done while the guests are seated. However, the count is performed amidst the confusion of serving the guests and can be open to error.

* The kitchen counts the number of plates that are prepared and distributed. Once again, the group is only charged for what is actually consumed, but there may be some confusion trying to count while there is a lot of commotion in the kitchen.

* Charge the group for the actual quantities that are consumed. The payment is based on what is used from the inventory and can be tied closely to cost; is easy to calculate the profitability of the function.

How many servers will be provided? This decision is often left to the hospitality firm, but it may depend on union regulations. The number of servers is based on the size of the function, the room setup, and the type of food service. There are rules of thumb that can be followed (for example, one bartender for every 100 guests). The banquet captain and services manager are experienced in determining the right number, but it also depends on the availability of part-time employees. Therefore, the actual ratio of servers to guests might vary by event, regardless of size, service type, and room setup.

How should the group be charged for beverages? The prices for beverages are determined ahead of time, but a method must be agreed upon for calculating the actual usage. Following is a list of common approaches

* Charge a fixed fee, or package rate, per person. This amount is based on the average number of drinks consumed by the average person in a given time period.

* Charge by the drink. This method is fair for both the hotel and the group, but it requires the bartenders to keep track while they are busy serving. This approach is easier to use when pointofsale systems are available at the site of the function.

* Charge by the can or the bottle. This method can be used for refreshment breaks or meals when everything is served in cans or bottles, however, it can't be used when drinks are being poured (e.g., mixed drinks or iced tea). When used, this method allows the count to be performed after the event, based on the beginning inventory.

How should hors d'oeuvres be charged? There are three basic approaches for charging groups for hors d'oeuvres.

* Charge per person per hour. This is based on the average amount of food the average person will consume per hour. It is an easy method as long as an accurate head count can be determined.

* Charge by the table or tray. If guests are seated, then you can serve the same amount of hors d'oeuvres per table. Otherwise, it may be easier to charge for the number of trays served at the agreed upon price per tray (there may be more than one variety or price level of hors d'oeuvres).

* Charge by the piece. This may be the most accurate method, but it is also the most time consuming.

What other costs should be considered? There may be some additional costs that, if overlooked, could cost the hospitality firm money.

* Taxes. The hospitality company must pay tax on its revenues and must make sure to include tax in the pricing scheme. Some hospitality orgnizations' menu prices include the tax while others do not. It is important to make it clear to the meeting planners to avoid confusion or dissatisfaction.

* Gratuities. Tips or gratuities are normally charged in addition to the food and beverage prices. In some cases, they are at the discretion of the buyer, but hospitality firms that are unionized must require a certain amount (such as 17 to 20 percent) regardless of the level of service. This should be made clear.

* Surcharges. Prospective buyers should be made aware of any other charges that are not included in the price. There are instances where hospitality firms incur additional charges that need to be passed on to the consumer.

* Corkage fees. Some hospitality firms allow groups to supply their own beverages, but local and state laws may require a corkage fee, which is a fee charged to open the bottle on site.

Audiovisual Equipment

A service that is often required during meetings is the use of audiovisual (A-V) equipment. Hotels generally have a price list included in the buyer's guide that describes the equipment that is available for rental. The sales manager will normally have more flexibility in pricing A-V equipment when it is owned by the hospitality organization and not leased.

These advantages are similar to the typical "rent" or "own" comparisons made for many products. In general, there is a trade-off between risk and return. As your potential return increases, it is accompanied by an increase in the risk of loss or failure. The hospitality firm's A-V equipment needs will affect the decision whether to own or use for lease equipment.

Most corporate buyers or meeting planners use the basic types of A-V equipment on a regular basis, but the need may arise to request equipment that is not as common. For instance, more groups are now using teleconferencing and satellite hookups. However, most hospitality firms cannot justify owning the equipment, given the low number of requests they receive for this type of equipment. Therefore, another alternative is to own or lease or rent the other types of equipment on an as-needed basis. The most commonly used types of A-V equipment are slide projectors, overhead projectors, video projectors, and flip charts/chalkboards.

Slide projectors are popular among many presenters because they provide good color reproduction, are capable of projecting a large image, and offer the advantage of remote operation. The speaker can face the audience and walk around the room during the presentation. A data projector is another form of slide projector that allows speakers to use computers in their presentations. Data projectors make it possible to use motion in the presentation, whereas slide projectors are limited in this respect. However, both types of equipment can be noisy because of the fans.

Overhead projectors are still standard at conferences and meetings. Overhead presentations are easy to prepare and the machines are simple to operate. The speaker can face the crowd and make additions by marking or highlighting the overhead transparency. The other advantage that overhead projectors have over slide projectors and data projectors is that the room does not have to be completely dark to see the presentation. However, the color reproduction is not as clear as that of the other projectors and they also have the fan noise.

Video projectors can be used to make full-motion and color presentations. They also have some computer capability and are relatively easy to operate. Another advantage is that you can easily "playback" part of the presentation if necessary. However, depending on the size of the television, or projection screen, the size of the audience may be limited. Also, there is still no one standard format for tapes.

Flip charts and chalkboards represent one of the earliest, most basic forms of A-V equipment. They are inexpensive, the presentation can be spontaneous, and there usually is not a seating problem. However, the size of the audience is limited and it can be messy to erase or cross out unwanted materials.

Regardless of the type of A-V equipment being used, it is important to ensure that the best sight lines are available for session participants. The best position for placing screens or flip charts is in the corner of the room, preferably away from the door. The presenter can stand on one side of the screen or flip chart without blocking the audience's view. Unfortunately, some hospitality firms have fixed equipment that cannot be moved and it tends to be in the center of the wall.

Exhibit Space

Some conventions and conferences require exhibit space so that members or attendees can view displays of various products or services. Large conventions often include trade shows where suppliers display their newest products and features. When corporate meetings reserve exhibit space, it is billed directly to the company. When association meetings reserve exhibit space, the association is charged. However, the association often resells the space to potential exhibitors in an effort to make some profit. The following steps show the normal procedure used by associations in securing exhibit space.

1. The association contracts with the hospitality firm for exhibit space.

2. The association solicits exhibitors and contracts with them for booth space.

3. The association contracts with a decorator to coordinate the overall exhibit and follow hotel guidelines.

4. The decorators send information to the individual exhibitors and work with them on their booths.

5. The booth locations are assigned and the floor plan is submitted to the local fire department for its final approval.

The amount the group is charged depends on a variety of factors. Initial prices can be adjusted after considering the group's guest room and meeting room commitments, the expected food and beverage revenues, the group's potential for repeat business, the other demands for the space, and the total square footage required. In addition, the hospitality firm should consider any special problems that could be related to the group's use of the exhibit space. For example, some trade exhibits require 24-hour security because of the value, or sensitive nature, of the materials. The hospitality facility may choose to supply the additional security for a certain fee, or may require the group to find its own security. The firm's policy on security and its liability should be made clear in the contract.

Key Concepts

Chapter 12 focuses on servicing the meeting after the sale is made. There are a number of issues to consider, starting with the decision of when to make the transition from the hotel sales department to the conference services department. There are three points at which a transition can be made:

* during the site inspection

* immediately after signing the contract

* one year before the meeting

There are four possible methods for making room reservations depending upon the type of meeting and who is responsible for making the payment:

* postal reply cards

* rooming lists

* toll-free numbers

* city housing bureaus

Function room assignments are based on the type of setup and the type of food service. The three most popular meeting room setups are:

* auditorium or theater style

* schoolroom style

* boardroom or conference style

The most popular types of food service are:

* plate service

* pre-set service

* buffet style

* platter service

* European service

The following questions are used to determine the actual payment for food and beverage functions:

* What records will be used to determine the payment for meals?

* How many servers will be provided?

* How should the group be charged for beverages?

* How should hors d'oeuvres be charged?

* What other costs should be considered?

Finally, the conference services personnel must take care of audiovisual requirements and work with the group on exhibit space if there is going to be a display area or trade show.
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Publication:Hospitality Sales: Selling Smarter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:11 Hotel contracts.
Next Article:13 Personal selling tools.

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