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Published May 2002

Corporate spending
for events ‘getting better’

By Kimberly Hilden
Herald Business Journal Assistant Editor

During the last quarter of 2001, while the economy was still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, companies looked for ways to cut costs to improve their bottom line.

Bonuses were frozen along with pay raises. Overtime hours were reduced, and the annual holiday party was either downsized or, in some instances, cut altogether.

For established planners, caterers and others in the event industry, a loyal customer base and a desire to innovate have pulled them through, said David Lersten, President of Action Entertainment & Event Planning (www.action-entertainment.com).

While his company has weathered the post-9/11 storm and the ensuing slowdown almost unaffected, others weren’t so lucky, he said.

“Some companies have really been hit hard, where they’re not even doing anything ... it’s either they’ve got money or they don’t have money,” he said.

And for those companies that do have money, they’re “just not spending as much,” said Lersten, whose company specializes in corporate events and picnics from Bellingham to Portland.

Over at Celebrate! Catering (www.celebratecateringinc.com) in south Everett, co-owner Sherri Hansen reports that some of the company’s big accounts have cut their catering expenses, but that day-to-day business lunches have continued at a good clip.

Hansen has noticed a cost-cutting trend, though: Clients are holding their corporate lunches and dinners in-house, using boardrooms and conference rooms on site rather than spending money on space elsewhere.

To accompany that trend, Celebrate! has created a new “comfort food” menu “to get the feeling of casual elegance into the boardroom,” Hansen said.

Included on that menu are turkey and chicken dishes, meat loaf, stuffed baked potatoes, apple pie and bread pudding, among others. Zucchini and banana breads are part of the snack line.

“These are things that people recognize and that people enjoy,” Hansen said. “Everybody loves a good apple pie.”

“It’s gotten a great response from the dinners that we’ve done,” she said.

Response for the 2002 holiday season also is encouraging in comparison to last year, Lersten said.

“Right after 9/11 there was a definite drop-off, but now (business) is progressively getting better,” he said. “Holiday parties are really starting to come on strong. People are getting back to spending money again.”

For companies who are planning a company party, dinner or picnic, timing is an important factor when it comes to saving money, Lersten said. He advises companies to plan the event on a weekday rather than the weekend, as those are not peak times.

“Even Friday would be cheaper than a Saturday or Sunday,” he said. And for corporate picnics, plan for June, rather than July, August or September.

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