by Johannes Tromp
Most Bed and Breakfast Inns have rooms and/or spaces available for meetings, small conferences and receptions. Properly managed, these spaces can contribute significantly to the occupancy rate and the bottom line of the Inn’s operation.
For the remainder of this article I shall use “meetings” as an inclusive term for meetings, receptions, dinners, conferences, etc.
Innkeepers often tend to make meeting space available as an accommodation for their guests, a means of supporting guest room bookings, rather than an independent profit center. In reality, no business can afford to give away the use of its space and furniture with resulting wear and tear. Meetings should contribute to both guest room bookings AND the bottom line.
To target the meeting business, you as an innkeeper should develop a business plan. It should be separate, but in harmony with, your existing B&B business plan. Having a well-thought-out meeting business plan makes marketing your available space simpler and more cost effective.
Your plan should include rates for room rental, equipment rental, and support services such as audio-visual and food and beverage. It should include the cost of adding required specialty items such as specialty furniture, audio-visual equipment, internet connections, phone lines and the like.
Your plan should also include scale drawings of each meeting room and space. These drawings should show all setups being offered, such as classroom style, open-center conference style and meal service setups. Be sure to include the necessary food and beverage service tables in your drawings. To create these plans, consult with your local party equipment rental professionals. They usually have charts on hand showing the amount of square footage necessary for a variety of setups. Completed floor plans are extremely helpful to meeting planners and innkeepers alike, and should include square footage and maximum occupancy based on each projected usage.
Be sure to test your completed floor plans with actual furniture, as scale drawings do not always accurately reflect room variations such as door movements, plants, paintings, air vents, radiators, light fixtures, service movement, or traffic flow. Adjust the plans based on your “live” test results.
When purchasing or renting chairs for meetings, keep in mind participants will be sitting on the furniture for hours at a time. They should be comfortable in order to win them back in the future. Check lighting, air-conditioning, and privacy levels in each room. Small inconveniences can ruin an otherwise successful meeting. Plan on making “break-out” rooms available for side meetings and coffee breaks.
To establish rates for your meeting room(s), evaluate the planned usage, the duration of the event, and the sophistication level of each room in question. Comparison shop by visiting hotels and resorts in your area. Remember, you cannot and should not compete with meeting room rates charged by not-for-profit organizations. Establish your rates, publish them and stick to them.
Train yourself and your employees to respond to meeting inquiries in a businesslike manner. All the necessary information, such as room rental rates, charges for required support services, and maximum occupancy numbers, should be available for those answering the phone. Respond to inquiries in writing (e-mail or snail-mail) within 24 hours. Get ahead of the competition by including a floor plan showing suggested setup(s) tailored for your prospective clients.
Once all the meeting arrangements have been agreed upon, issue a contract to be signed by both parties itemizing all details and costs. Be sure to plan your services and involvement for meetings carefully because these are in addition to, and outside of, your normal daily pattern and may vary greatly depending on the nature of the meeting. These meetings should never interrupt the purpose of your primary B&B business, which is providing your overnight guests with relaxed, attentive hospitality and tranquil surroundings.
When you have completed your meeting business plan, re-evaluate your publicity and advertising material. Prepare brochures, prospective client packages, and update your website to market your new meeting business, either separately or in combination with your regular B&B publicity.
Successfully marketing and managing the meeting business segment of your B&B requires special attention and may be separate from your normal marketing efforts. “Meeting” clientele can include corporations, small businesses, civic groups, foundations, families and church groups. Contact the professional meeting and party planners in your area. Invite them to your property and provide them with all relative information. Host civic group meetings. Their meeting experience will help spread the word in your favor.
Johannes hails from Holland, where he was trained in the classical European manner to be a chef. He immigrated to the USA in 1973, where he started his own catering business. After moving to New York City in 1979 he was director of Catering at the Rainbow Room on top of Rockefeller Center and later became General Manager of the Windows on the World restaurant complex on top the World Trade Center. He settled in Lancaster, South Carolina in 1998 to oversee the restoration of Kilburnie.
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