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| Written by the M&IW Team

The Joys of HCP Sourcing and Meal Caps

The current state of affairs in HCP sourcing is a tricky business. Not only do meal caps for pharmaceutical meetings make it difficult for meeting planners to deliver quality food and beverage (F&B) at their events, they are an additional obstacle for hotel partners looking to keep or attract new business. Compliance reigns supreme, but the rules and regulations for meal caps and other enclosed line items are always changing—and they are not keeping up with increased F&B costs around the world. Every country, region, or state, has different requirements on HCP meal caps which include varying guidelines for global companies that host the same meeting in multiple countries.

Below are things to consider while sourcing for pharmaceutical meetings:

The Struggle with Meal Caps

Participating healthcare professionals (HCP) travel from all over the world, each country of origin has its own caps per room and per meal period. While some countries deflect to the meal caps of the “host country” this is not always the case. During the sourcing and contracting period, among many other things, meal caps are reviewed holistically, and one specific country’s limits become the lowest common denominator for each meal period, in the country it was sourced.

Before the buyer begins, they will determine how many HCP’s are attending per country to start where attendance is the highest. Then they will review where the budget will go the furthest. This includes countries and cities where there are no HCP’s but have a good lift for air or centrally located to ensure companies are getting the most bang for their buck. Offhand, meal caps may seem like a smaller line item for your meeting but the dramatic swing of your F&B costs can easily affect flights, accommodations, and entertainment options if not properly accounted.

Location, Location, Location!

Choosing a location and venue takes time. Experienced hotels and their vendors offer shortcuts and relationships, sharing past successful HCP F&B offerings. For this reason, choose your location first. Tier-one cities, determined by their high availability of good flight connections (Paris, New York) may have the highest gratuity, tax, and union percentages, which means global HCP dollars do not extend as far as companies would like, even though flight connections are great and the city may be centrally located. Tier-two cities (Milwaukee, Tallahassee) may be more flexible or willing to offer more benefits to obtain HCP business. While cities such as Austin, Nashville or soon to be Louisville, may be thought of as tier-two cities, they are also considered “hot” destinations and F&B costs vary wildly.

Global Sourcing

Hotel brands and are aware of the needs of pharma clients and the F&B accommodations they must make in order to host such events. So, why do it? While it is getting more and more difficult, building new relationships, garnering new business and filling dates creates big opportunities for hotels and may even spread into additional banquet needs, meetings or incentive programs. It’s a risk they are still willing to make. Due to their challenges, global hotel brands rely on major sourcing teams such as M&IW to help marry these needs into successful events. Other hotel considerations you want to consider before booking would be to determine, agreeing upon, and disclosing all HCP limits before initial locations are sourced, ensuring hotel, vendor, and client accountability. During the RFP process, limits must be transparently disclosed, and hotels may choose to decline the event due to a low budget.

Menu Perception versus Menu Reality

Hotels that have pre-determined HCP menus are our kind of people. Airport hotels or places with pre-set options are always the places to start. If you don’t need to reinvent the wheel—don’t. Otherwise, your buyer and your hotel’s F&B team should create a “sample menu” for the contract based on caps, essentials as far as the menu and then work from there. Clients, hotels, and buyers all need to consider the champagne dream versus the beer budget. Just because we make magic happen fiscally, doesn’t mean the end product will look like magic aesthetically from the hotel’s or client’s perspective. So, flexibility, creativity, and a little bit of smoke and mirrors go a long way on a menu when you want to offer good food, but you have these types of HCP requirements. The buyer’s goal is to go for as little exceptions to the meal caps as possible because exceptions aren’t always a sure thing. Respectfully, the buyer’s aim is to meet the goal of the meeting with the funds provided.

For large, multi-country HCP programs, we’d highly suggest a global procurement solution. At M&W, we have established and refined our venue sourcing process to deliver maximum savings and the best possible contract practices for our clients at the enterprise level. Leave the negotiations to us. For a consultation on HCP meal cap limits and sourcing best practices, visit or call 262-835-3553 and ask to speak to a global procurement expert.