In previous years, FOGcon has offered a Saturday night dinner buffet for members who don't want to venture into downtown Walnut Creek, or who want to dress up (or not) and hang out with other con-goers, or who just like wonderful food at great prices. Special added bonus: no awards, no speeches, instead, we get to talk with one another through the entire event.
This year, the Marriott has substantially revamped its banquet menus and pricing. After reviewing our options, the Concom has decided to host an Unaward Lunch Banquet on Saturday afternoon. The price should be equivalent or cheaper than anything our attendees would find in the hotel or surrounding area, and it still offers us the opportunity to have everyone share a pleasant meal together without having to venture out, wait for large group tables, or miss that afternoon panel you're dying to go to.
But Why Have a Banquet at All!
For most people, including most people who stay in hotels for conventions or professional conferences, hotel contracts and arrangements are a black box. By the time you register, the hotel room rate, parking and wireless charges, and any hotel-sponsored food events are all arranged. You pay what it costs, or you decide you can’t afford to attend.
For the organizing committee, the process is complicated, arcane, and confusing. Here’s a look behind the scenes at how it works:
A group of people (say, the FOGcon organizers, hypothetically-speaking) wants to hold an event at a hotel. In the 21st century, there are websites where we can sign up, describe our conference, and get bids from various hotels in our geographical area. This is much easier than calling individual hotels or even filling out individual hotels’ website forms.
A hotel “bid” to host an event consists of several pieces. Because a hotel makes money in several ways, they want to strike a balance among those income streams. The hotel sales staff tells us what they charge to use the meeting rooms (called “function space”), what they charge for individual people’s hotel rooms, and the “banquet guarantee” (how much they are counting on your group to spend for hotel food).
These numbers are all on a three-way slider; the larger the banquet guarantee, the smaller the charge for function space. The more people our conference can guarantee for hotel rooms, the lower the room charge. Large room rate guarantees also lead to less expensive function space. Sometimes if we can convince the hotel that the bar will get a lot of use, that affects the other numbers. And so on.
Once we have this proposal in our hands, then we start to dicker: could the hotel lower the room rate (always important to science fiction fans, who usually don’t have employers who pay for their rooms)? What if we used one less room for function space? If we raise the banquet guarantee, would that make it easier for the hotel to offer free parking? The hotel sales staff always wants to make a deal; however, they usually have corporate rules and guidelines to follow, and many things are not at the discretion of the individual hotel (which you never call a “hotel” in these negotiations; it’s a “property”).
The banquet guarantee sounds like it’s one number, but it actually represents a much larger number. The guarantee is a base price number, what the hotel actually charges for the food and drink you are buying. But all hotels tack two escalators onto this: they add a service charge, usually 20-25% (yes, much more than you tip in restaurants) and then tax. So a $1000 banquet guarantee (which is extremely low) costs the convention over $1300. By this time, the convention treasurer for this 'example' convention is making pointed and accurate comments about fiscal responsibility.
Hotel food is expensive. At the FOGcon hotel this year, a $1000 banquet guarantee, which costs us $1300, would buy about 13 dinners. Or 15 gallons of coffee service (which isn’t that much, if you want coffee for everyone, not just the dealers). And it’s unreasonable for a convention to ask its members to pay $90 for a hotel dinner, which is usually more than the cost of the convention, especially when there’s food that’s as good as better, for much less money, nearby.
Our example convention (which bears no resemblance to FOGcon. Really.) can’t afford to hold the convention without a banquet guarantee because room rates and function space become too expensive. Neither can we bring ourselves to ask people to pay hotel prices for a banquet. Convention committees approach this potential roadblock in various ways; at FOGcon, we do it by subsidizing the hotel food. That way, several good things happen:
1) Convention members get the good Marriott Walnut Creek food at a much more affordable price than they would without a subsidy.
2) We get a break on our banquet guarantee which makes the whole package affordable for us;
3) Fewer people have to rely on the crowded hotel restaurant; and
4) Everybody gets to have a meal together, talk to friends, talk to strangers, and connect as a community.
In past years, this has become the evening Unaward Banquet, which seemed to be an event many of our attendees enjoyed. This year, food prices at the Marriott went up very substantially. Even with a subsidy, we couldn’t crunch the numbers to make this plan work for a dinner, but it works beautifully for a lunch. We’re hoping you’ll join us.
Whether or not you come to FOGcon, or come to the group lunch banquet, many of us geeky types just like to understand how decisions are made, and why changes happen. At FOGcon, we aim to please AND to inform.
I Am Pleased and Informed! Where Do I Get My Tickets?
Banquet tickets are available now for $15 per adult and $8 per child. You can get them through FOGcon registation.
You can also visit our Unaward Banquet page for more information, including menu details once they are finalized.