There are certain factors that will apply to almost every contractual agreement you reach with the venues, facilities, vendors or service providers involved in your meeting or event.  We will touch briefly on some of the most common here to give you an idea of what to expect and what to ask.  One provision that you will find in almost all agreements is “attrition,”  and you must become familiar with it if you are to avoid unnecessary and costly penalties.  More detail on attrition and other booking policy specifics can be found in the Planning Helper Topic of particiular interest to you.  


One of the most helpful things you can do early in the booking process is request a copy of published booking policies from each of your contacts.  You may meet resistance during your initial inquiries if the published policies are available only in a contract or license agreement, but you are entitled to the information and should have it to review and discuss with your contacts before requesting formal proposals from any of them.    


Arrival / Departure Pattern

When booking function space or overnight accommodations, policies regarding arrival and departure dates will be a key factor in availability and cost.  Based on the location of the venue or facility, peak season or high demand dates will vary.  It is a question you need to ask during your initial inquiries.


Sleeping rooms for overnight guests

If you need to book during high peak season, try to adjust the dates that your group will arrive and depart to days of the week that are in less demand than others.  Moving the arrival by one or two days can make a significant difference in the rates you are quoted and the availability of the room types you need.

Yield management policy, a term used to describe a sophisticated process for determining sleeping room rates based on the occupancy that a hotel or lodging venue typically experiences at certain times of the year, will dictate how much negotiating leverage you will have on the dates you request.  To learn more about what constitutes a group room booking, go to the Lodging planning topic.


Meeting or function space

If your group needs only meeting or function space without sleeping rooms, booking policies at hotels will usually restrict confirming meeting space for catered functions until within 3 to 6 months prior to the event.  Why?  Because most hotels rely on their meeting space to generate group sleeping rooms, and they cannot afford to book the space too far in advance for non-sleeping room business.  The name of the game in hotels is to fill sleeping rooms.  Catering business is also important, but group room sales govern the availability of space except for a few high-profile annual catered events that are re-booked from year-to-year at the same venue.  


Meeting room rental

If you book a meeting or function that includes significant food and beverage (a continental breakfast or reception with light hors d’oeuvres or dry snacks is not considered significant), meeting room rental will likely be waived.  There is a relationship between the revenue that is generated from a planned F&B function and the amount of rental charged for meeting room or function space, and there is also a relationship between the number of sleeping rooms your group uses and the amount of meeting space that will be provided for you at no charge.

If you book at a free-standing venue such as a museum for a catered event or a banquet hall, meeting room rental will usually be charged on a sliding scale and will be based on whether you are booking during peak season and the price of the menus you select.  It can be pricey because the venue receives no portion of the revenues from food and beverage that is catered by outside caterers.

Some venues and facilities have begun adding a service charge to meeting room rental whether or not any services will be provided inside the room or space of the property.  Watch for this and try to negotiate for a waiver of this charge since it can be as significant as an additional 20% or more of the meeting room rental charge.  See more on taxes, fees, service charges and gratuities below.


Food and Beverage

Catering policy is often set based on the type of venue you select.  If you choose a free-standing venue rather than a hotel or conference center, policies will be very different.  Hotels, conference centers, banquet halls and such will have an inventory of their own equipment, linens, silver, china and glassware which will be included in the price of the meal.  Free-standing venues will not be equipped to provide such inventory, and you will be responsible for making arrangements with an equipment rental company to provide whatever your caterer does not transport to the site of the event.  This can be very expensive. 

The “guarantee policy” stipulates that you must give a firm guarantee 4 or 5 working days before your arrival date of how many people you expect to attend your function.  You will be required to pay for the number you guarantee whether all are served or not, and if more are served than you guaranteed you will be charged for the total number served.  See also the attrition clause explanation below.


Attrition Clause

You will always encounter an “attrition” policy when booking food and beverage, although it may not be identified as such.  It may be called a “food and beverage minimum” or something similar.  Bottom line, you will be held responsible for paying a certain amount of the food and beverage you order for a planned meal function regardless of how many guests are actually served.  If the revenue your guarantee represents is less than the minimum stated in your F&B contract, your group will have to pay the difference.  If more people are served than you guarantee, you will be charged for the total number served.

A similar clause will be included in contracts for sleeping rooms, golf tournaments, group bookings for airline seats, exhibit space … you name it.  There will usually be a sliding scale included in the contract which allows you to reduce your attrition policy based on when you notify the venue, facility or vendor that your numbers will be less.  Flag those dates!  Monitor your registration for any function very closely and add a contingency line item to your budget to cover penalties in case your event does not materialize in number as you hoped. Be cautious.  It is better to be extremely conservative in your numbers unless you have solid history from earlier events that documents the trends within your group.  Attrition penalties are not going to go away, so you need to understand them and know how to monitor them successfully.  


Taxes and Fees

All booking policies should state what tax rate will be charged and what other fees will apply.  What is not always stated is whether the tax rate is applied before or after the additional fees, including service charges and gratuities.  Ask this question so that you budget correctly.


Service Charges, Gratuities (Tipping)

These terms are not synonymous.  Service charges are mandatory.  You have to pay them.  Gratuities, also referred to as tips, are voluntary and should be paid in addition to the service charge if you are so inclined.  Some planners assume that service charges are distributed to the employees who serve their functions or group, but often these charges are used instead to offset cost of labor (wages) or for maintenance of the equipment used for your event with very little distributed to employees as a gratuity. 

A percentage may go to the salaried managers you work with and another percentage divided among service personnel from departments that may surprise or disappoint you. Before you decide who should receive an extra gratuity, check with the facility to see exactly how the service charge is divided up.

Once you understand how much employees are rewarded from the service charge, you can make better decisions about what you want to tip and how to designate who gets it. We all remember those who work in the front of the house, like bell staff, front desk, concierge, and F&B servers, but the back of the house is the heart of your event. Don’t forget the set-up crew, the housekeepers and housemen, engineering, maybe even the kitchen! The most effective gratuity is the letter to the GM naming specific employees who were exceptional. This may provide more than a few dollars in their pockets – it could mean greater job security or an increase in pay.


Union Regulations

Be sure to check with your contacts about union regulations that require such things as the specified number of tables that can be served by one server; loading and unloading equipment and supplies for your on-site office; setting up exhibit booths and decorations; erecting stands for banners, overtime, and so forth.  If unaware, the extra charges for such services can be a major setback to your budget.