When the Cost of Catering Goes Haywire


Yes, I like a good muffin and I will hunt them out, but there’s a limit as to what I will pay for my late and muffin. Government meeting planners in the US, however, thought $16 a pop was a reasonable price to pay for muffins at a recent government meetup.


An internal audit revealed the US Justice Department – as western economies were busy being suffering or comatose, it would be OK to spend $4,200 on just 250 muffins at a legal conference at a hotel near the White House, in Washington. They must have tasted realllly good. But the department’s largesse didn’t stop at muffins. Somehow it contrived a way to spend $8 per coffee and $32 on individual snacks in what critics described as two years of ‘extravagant and wasteful’ conference spending.

In 2008 and 2009 the same department spent $121 million on meetings, exceeding its own budget. Given the US owes more than $14 trillion and has an annual budget deficit topping $1.4 trillion, Republican Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Grassley, was probably not exaggerating when he said, “People are outraged, and rightly so.”

This may say much about public sector procurement, or even US eating habits, rather than the meetings industry, but it is a timely reminder that, in times of austerity, nothing riles people like flagrant waste. With the threat of recession looming once again, the meetings industry – both buyers and suppliers – needs to show it is capable of acting prudently… and tactfully. So – can you justify the cost of your coffee breakouts to your client?



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