On budget and beyond expectation: How to host a pitch-perfect event despite rising costs and venue scarcity

Darlene Lyons

When talking about the events industry, there’s only one word to use: UP. Demand is up, food and beverage costs are up, wages are up.

In fact, recent stats show: 

  • Demand for hotel rooms and venues is approaching 2019 levels, and 2019 was a record year for the events industry.(1) 

  • The average cost of a hotel room has gone up by 28% in the Americas since 2019. (1) Wages for hospitality workers have increased 8% since 2019. (2)

Just recently, I saw a graphic depicting how much the cost of a hamburger has changed in recent years due to inflation. Extrapolate that one hamburger to a multi-day event where you are providing breakfast, lunch and a cocktail hour to hundreds of guests? It's easy to feel your stress levels go UP, as well.  

While it can sometimes be tempting to look around and wonder who is profiting from these price increases, it’s important to note that inflationary pressures are to blame for most of these cost increases. Hotel operations numbers, despite this unprecedented demand, are still below 2019 numbers2—meaning that these establishments and event venues aren’t recording record profits as a result of the increased demand for events. In most cases, they are raising their prices to cover that 15% increase in the cost of ground beef, the 8% increase in employee wages, and so on.  

What can I do about rising costs and venue scarcity? 

At T3 Events Group, we spend every day talking to hotels, suppliers, and our clients to find the best ways to cut back on expenses and host a pitch-perfect, ultra-memorable event despite today’s tricky pressures and high-demand. Here are the strategies and tactics I recommend to every client.

1. Book your venue today 

If you are planning to host an event in the next 24-60 months, you must book your venue immediately. Given that the demand for events is close to out-pacing 2019, we are now able to say with certainty that this is not a post-COVID bump. Events will continue to be popular, especially in a remote- or hybrid-work world. You cannot afford to wait to find the right space.

2. Reuse or repurpose your space 

Due to that rising demand in venues, you may also find that you can’t host one part of your day in Ballroom A, then move to Ballroom B for your dinner and awards ceremony. By staying flexible on the total space you’ll have for your event—and all the different ways it can be used—you may be able to secure your ideal venue for less money. 

Then, you can use your remaining budget to send your guests somewhere unique as you “flip” the space. Maybe it’s to a hip brewery down the block, or to a pop up cocktail party with some fun activations at the pool. By staying open to new possibilities, you’ll have more options and may even create a more memorable experience for everyone.  

3. Rethink the value you are providing to sponsors 

Today, most sponsors are going to look at the direct ROI of the experience, rather than the benefit of getting their brand out there. (In other words, if your sponsor is writing a check for $50,000,  they better have something to show for it when explaining the ROI to their boss.) 

Rather than simply hosting a vendor alley that’s ¼ mile from the primary event space, consider:

  • Putting the sponsors right in the heart of the action.  

  • Offering them a way to get on stage to pitch their product or service.  

  • Sending out a sponsored email packages to your full attendee list. 

  • Encouraging them to host fun and unique activations,  or other traffic-builders as a way to get more in-person engagement.

  • Allowing them to host designated “office hours” with their existing customers, to troubleshoot any issues they’re having and boost their product loyalty. 

  • Getting them involved in the event creation in ensure buy-in and ROI

We cannot assume that sponsors will ever return to their previous blank check mentality. Instead, we can give them a valuable experience so that next year, it’s easier to get their immediate buy-in and check. 

4. Think outside the box on food-and-bev

This is going to be your biggest opportunity to save money once you have your event venue booked, so it’s important to think about how you can cut costs on food and beverage without it impacting your overall guest experience. Here are a few creative ideas we have shared with clients recently:

  • Ask the hotel if they can develop a daily menu, with reduced cost items. If lunch is normally $48 off the menu, you may be able to work with the chef to offer a daily menu item that’s high-quality but for only $40 per plate.

  • Alter your event timing, so attendees don’t expect a meal. You can begin your program at 9:30, instead of 8:30, so folks would not assume there will be a full breakfast provided. Or, offer a two-hour lunch break so that everyone knows that there will be time for them to explore local restaurants off-site. 

  • Instead of offering a full continental breakfast, you could provide a $10-15 gift card to Starbucks, so that attendees can get a sandwich and/or coffee instead of expecting a full spread each morning. (This has been a huge hit, as it offers everyone a little way to treat themselves before the event has even started. Plus, everyone has a fancy Starbucks order these days.)

  • Shorten your cocktail hour to just one hour, so that folks come at 5 or 5:30 for a drink, but understand that they’ll be leaving that open bar to go to a dinner they’ve planned themselves. 

5. Consider your own ROI and event strategy

If you’ve been hosting a similar event for 5, 10 or even 20 years, it can be easy to “copy and paste” the best aspects of it year after year. But today’s shifting event market offers a great opportunity to reframe your reasons for hosting your event, and assess what value it can provide the company.  Work with your executive team to map out intended outcomes from the event. Do you hope to:

  • Add new franchises

  • Recruit new agents

  • Retain your existing agents and build culture

  • Train your top performers 

  • Expose your agents to your new tech stack

  • Get key stakeholders together for a strategic planning session

  • Build your strategic partnerships with sponsors

Whatever your overall goal, start with that and make sure that is where you spend the bulk of your money and time. If you are laser-focused on building culture with your agents, then you may find it’s easier to spend money on that poolside cocktail party or brewery bash. If you’re aiming to get agents trained and retrained on your tech suite, you may want to prioritize a venue that offers plenty of breakout session rooms and extra espresso machines.

By considering your ROI throughout every aspect of the event-planning process, you will feel confident about the decisions you make, the money you spend, and the impact you’ve made on your company’s annual goals. 

If you’re not sure where to start, get in touch today. Our team can give you even more ideas about venues, food and bev cost-cutting measures, and more. 

  • CoStar, January 2023
  • CBRE, January 2023

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