Ask the Expert: Why Does My #*%&!!$% Conference Coffee Cost So Much?

By Lisa B. Giamporcaro

Before we talk numbers, let’s take a bird’s eye view first. A coffee bean is actually a seed that is dried, roasted, ground and then used to brew coffee. It takes three or four years for a baby coffee tree to become a big coffee tree and bear fruit. This celestially ordained fruit-of-the-gods is called a coffee cherry. Typically, coffee trees produce only one harvest a year, sometimes two depending on the length of the growing season. Once harvested, the fruit is transported to a plant where it is processed, fermented, dried, milled and exported, then roasted, ground and brewed.

Americans drink more coffee than any other packaged beverage – estimated at a whopping 90 gallons per person per year. Are you surprised? I’m not!

Now that we have some context, it’s time for the big reveal. Your conference coffee can cost anywhere from $60 to $125 per gallon because…drumroll…wait for it… 

I have no idea. Apparently this is a big time hospitality state secret and we’re on our own.

Let’s do the math.

Our friendly neighborhood meeting planner goes to his or her local Starbucks where she purchases a gallon (128 ounces) of coffee, cup by cup, for her attendees. She is worried about having enough to go around and so orders an 8-ounce short for everyone – or 16 cups of coffee.

16 shorts x $2.01 = $32.16

“Exactly!” you crow triumphantly. “You hotel people are charging double, even triple what my local barista does. Criminal!”

But is it really?

A Big Mac and large fries at McDonalds cost roughly $6 including tax. The same meal, at a Hill Country Resort, will run you about $15 to $20 by the time you pay tax and gratuity – double or even triple the cost.

A bottle of water at the gas station costs, on average, $1.50. That same bottle cost me $4 one thirsty post-conference night in a hotel room. 266% markup.

Yes, my prices are well-informed guesstimates, so please don’t judge. But you get the idea. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that almost everything at a conference-capable hotel costs more. Even coffee. Especially coffee.

“Americans drink more coffee than any other packaged beverage – estimated at a whopping 90 gallons per person per year.”

Supply and demand all tied up with a service-and-a-smile bow.

In the end, once we get past absurd coffee prices and board members who want $79 hotel rooms with turndown service, the high stakes nature of our real work comes into focus.

You and I, meeting planner and hotelier, are in the business of creating micro-communities that people can thrive in. Cheek-to-cheek, we dance the tightrope of accountability to our stakeholders, access for our attendees, the demands of our jobs and families, rooms-to-space ratios and allowances for every food allergy known to man. We study General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation and have difficult conversations with ourselves and each other about the safety of our attendees.

In the best of worlds, by the time that dotted line is signed, lasting relationships are forged and the stage is set for large-scale human communion.

Yep. So there you have it – healing the world one high-priced cup of coffee at a time. You’re welcome.

Lisa B. Giamporcaro is the Senior Sales Manager at the Odessa Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

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