By now you have more than likely heard about the dreaded ‘Muffin-Gate’ which occurred following a meeting held in Washington, D.C., last year. If you haven’t, here is a brief summary: after a Justice Department meeting was held at a Washington, D.C. hotel a standard audit was done on the billing for the meeting. It was first assumed and reported that the meeting’s attendees were charged $16 for a single muffin. Media frenzy ensued with reporters shocked and the public dismayed at what many considered a blatant lack of conscientious spending by our government. After an in-depth investigation by the inspector general, it was realized that this “muffin” was in fact part of an entire continental breakfast. The breakfast, which included other items inclusive of tax and gratuity, totaled $16 per person.
The erroneous information of the original report had a drastically negative effect on our industry. The original story emphasized the indecency of the Justice Department spending $16 per muffin. It also highlighted something that many outside of the industry would consider a "price gouge". The story was on page 1 of many newspapers, headlined on multiple news channels, and highlighted on many web sites. Unfortuantely, the follow-up story with the corrected information was barely acknowledged by the media.
Meeting industry professionals are accustomed to the food costs of hotel venues across the globe. Therefore, from an event professional’s perspective, a continental breakfast of $16 inclusive of tax and gratuity in Washington, D.C., could be considered a real bargain. However, the general public and many esteemed lawmakers don’t understand this value. Educating them about food cost control and labor costs of hotel venues would be an arduous task, assuming they are even interested.
These types of articles do shed light on an industry which has long flown under the radar. Some may say that the publicity will benefit us - and it could. However, others know that when you get put into the spotlight when you aren’t prepared, things can go drastically wrong very quickly.
In a follow-up “retraction” article, Senator Charles E. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary, made the following statement, “The fact remains that the Justice Department is spending $32 on Cracker Jack packages and $600,000 on event planners and not minding the taxpayers who are footing the bill."
Again, Senator Grassley's "crack" (excuse the pun) about the Cracker Jack's was misguided and again incorrect. There are facts missing from these statements but at this point the comment is out there and it is setting the general public and our lawmakers’ brains “atwitter”.
As meeting professionals, we know that the U.S. meetings industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs, $263 billion in spending, a $106 billion contribution to GDP, $60 billion in labor revenue, $14.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue. But how can others outside of the industry know this information?
How do we as an industry ensure misinformation, in an age of knee-jerk technological reaction, does not negatively impact our industry's reputation? How do we make sure that ‘Muffin-Gates’ do not become a part of our future?
I think the concept of government waste and frivolous government spending in general just made this a hot topic. People like to scrutinize the ways the government spends their tax dollars (and rightfully so) and I think that's the main reason this became such a hot story. Jenise Fryatt wrote a great blog post about this on the Cvent Event Blog http://blog.cvent.com/blog/jenise-fryatt-bio/much-ado-about-muffins
You're probably heard it said by reporters..."We don't cover aircraft landings." That means their life is built around sensationalizing what they perceive to be a story.
In the case of muffin gate, you probably know it was based on a false report by the government, who later retracted. The muffins weren't $16 each, the price was for a whole expanded continental breakfast per person. The property in question, however, supposedly didn't respond to the government's inquiry until embarrassed by national press attention.