AV Guide: Tips & Tricks to Save You Money

AV Guide: Tips & Tricks to Save You Money

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Audio/Visual (AV) is essential to your meeting success and a great way to bring the wow factor to your event, but it can also eat up a lot of budget too. Quality sound, screens and lighting are basics that your participants expect to be right if you want to keep them happy and attentive to your event content. The importance of having a solid AV set up at your event, provided by a tech team you can trust to deliver, is essential to any event planner.

Unfortunately, no event manager has a bottomless budget and your AV bill sometimes has to be trimmed back to stay in the black. Here are 8 simple ways you can knock expenses off your AV bill, without compromising on quality. 

1.       Use Your Own AV Company

Of course, it’s convenient to use the hotel’s in-house AV company, but that convenience can be expensive. The hotel AV company needs to pay a large commission of your invoice to the hotel (40-50% on average). To cover that, you will need to pay a premium. If cost is a major concern, and especially if you want any specialized equipment or technicians, you should always consider bringing in your own AV company.

2.       Consider AV When Negotiating and Booking Your Venue

If you have a preferred AV company that supports your events, invite them with you for a site visit to the potential venue. Make it clear upfront that you intend to use your own AV partner. At a minimum, make sure to negotiate the contract so that it leaves you the flexibility to choose the best vendor for you.

3.       Get Multiple Competitive Quotes

AV companies will compete aggressively for your business. By taking competitive quotes back to your preferred vendor, you will usually be able to negotiate a lower cost. If you find out that the prices are similar from multiple companies, you can at least make sure you’re getting the highest value solution for that budget.

4.       Negotiate Multiple Meetings at the Same Time

If you have multiple upcoming meetings, consider using a nationwide AV company. They’ll be able to help you no matter where your meetings are located, and they’ll give you a quantity discount for multiple bookings. As well as potential cost savings this also helps ensure consistency in setup, service and quality between your different event projects and locations.

5.       Opt for Virtual Attendance

It’s great to attend a meeting in person. You’re able to network face-to-face, sit down over meals, and have a shared experience. It’s also expensive to attend meetings, especially when you factor in airfare, hotel, meals, and the opportunity cost of being out of the office. Many planners are moving to hybrid events, combining a live event with a professional webcast, to give the best of both worlds. There is even the option to monetize virtual attendance if you wish.

6.       Ask the Pros to Help You Uncover Inefficiencies

It is always worth talking to your AV provider to learn any areas where savings could be made. If you have multiple meetings, a great AV partner will provide you with improvement ideas after each one. Ask them to have a Project Manager onsite who can identify opportunities to lower your costs by optimizing crew size, eliminating unnecessary equipment, and looking for ways to get the work done in less time.

7.       Consider Various Service Levels

For some events, you may need full service, including setup, onsite technicians to run the show, and teardown. For other events, you may simply need a self-service equipment rental. Make sure you’re not paying for service you don’t actually need. A good AV company will not provide you with a “take it or leave it” proposal. They should be able to present several options, at various price levels, for you to choose from. An AV partner will work with you to identify different solutions to realize your vision, while staying within your event budget.

8.       Offer Creative Sponsorship Opportunities

There are many event technology solutions that allow you to add powerful sponsorship potential. You can often pay for these technologies through the sponsorship revenues, and sometimes they can be profit drivers for you. For example, you could rent a video wall and utilize the displays to mix sponsorship messages together with event information and social media activity.

In Conclusion, AV plays a vital part in the success of your event and you want to be sure to get it right. With these 8 tips you can be sure that you are saving money on AV and achieving the best value for your event, without compromising on quality.


Get the Most Out of Your AV Company

Selecting the right AV suppliers is one major component of producing a successful event. However, audio visual & IT equipment can be a very confusing to understand and it can be hard to know where to start. Jargon such as HDMI, aspect ratio, condenser or dynamic mics, lumens etc., can be hard to understand, but putting it all together can be another thing all together...

This is why event planners hire an AV company to do it all for them. Here are a few tips to help get the most for your money:

1. Audio Visual Production companies provide more than just technical equipment and wires

Often AV companies offer a range of services related to events and it’s important to leverage their expertise. For example, you could ask your AV Supplier for advice on your venue selection, event theming ideas, drapes, red carpets, CAD designs / room layouts, signage printing and customized stage backdrops. If they don't offer that service, there is a good chance they will be able to recommend someone else in the business who can help you.

Your AV production company of choice should also be willing to offer content creation services such as creating PowerPoint's and Keynote's, videos, graphics and cutting music for awards dinners. You may also find they offer event filming and live streaming if that is of interest to you.

2. Get your AV supplier involved as early as possible

Audio Visual, Staging and Lighting shouldn't be a last-minute addition, in fact, by seeking our expert advice as early as possible you can make sure you get several quotes and conduct meetings to select the right supplier, overcome hurdles early and ensure a professional finish to your event. Booking early will also be one more thing off your shoulders.

3. Know your venue’s potential (your AV company can help!)

Getting to know the venue or space you will be using is crucial when it comes to getting your event right. Speak with your suppliers about the venue as early as possible, even before you commit to booking. Your suppliers should be more than happy to help advise you on what can or can't be achieved in your desired space.

Your chosen AV Company will have more than likely worked in many different kinds of venues of all types and sizes, from conferences to festivals, and there is a good chance they might already know venue straight away, especially if it’s based near by their offices (always worth asking).

4. Create the right format content

Before your make any content, first decide the format required. There are lots different ways of showing content such as PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or videos & graphics played form a media server. There are also lots of different sizes from ultra-wide-screen to square. Obviously, you don't want to create square content when you have asked for an ultra-wide LED video wall hire.

5. Communicate with your AV supplier

Once venue is confirmed and requirements have been agreed, there will still be lots to do. Start off by making a draft event schedule or Run of Show (even if it’s not perfect) to include setup times, rehearsals, show times and of course time to dismantle. Share this with your venue and AV company to make sure the times set out are achievable.

If you ever have any worries or concerns, pick-up the phone to your supplier. A good AV company will always be happy to talk and will normally assign at least 1 project manager who will be your first point of call. More than often they will provide you a direct phone or email, so you can discuss anything that comes up.

A week before the event arrange a final pre-event call or meeting to run through the final schedule and discuss all requirements so that they can ensure everything you want will be delivered.

6. Technicians are there to help you

With an onsite team you can ensure your display will be set up and monitored without glitch free, and you can trust that the equipment is being managed in the right way.

Depending on the nature of your event, you may have dedicated onsite technicians and AV experts as part of your AV hire package. While onsite support and service can entail an additional cost, the result is often well worth the additional expense.

If you get the feeling that your AV company is not responsive or experienced from the first phone call or meeting, then trust your gut. Events only happen once, and they need to go perfectly as there is no turning back time to change things.

7. You get what you pay for… Don’t go with the cheap one

A professional AV supplier will carry key backup AV equipment onsite (not necessarily stated on the quote), dedicated event project managers, very high-quality equipment from leading manufacturers and of course, well trained and experienced staff that are friendly and very presentable.

Good Work Ain’t Cheap and Cheap Work Ain’t Good” teaches us that you get what you pay for. A company using inferior products that have a potential to breakdown without backup equipment is a problem you can’t afford to have. Like any product or service, AV companies vary a lot in quality, experience, knowledge, equipment, size and structure. You want to make sure that you select a company with a proven track record, comes recommended, understands your requirements and can work to provide the best for your budget.


Audio Visual Knowledge Checklist

Everything is perfectly into place until you get that dreaded tap on the shoulder. “The video won’t show up on the screen.” Before you can react, another person rushes in your direction. “None of the microphones work.” Sound familiar?

Miscommunication between an AV team and event staff is inevitable. Understanding basic terminology is key to ensuring catastrophes like a washed-out stage, a blank screen, and missing sound never happen. Because of how specialized and complex today’s A/V tech is, you need to be knowledgeable about the jargon that comes along with it.

This simple AV checklist will ensure that you’re communicating well and asking your AV provider all the right questions.

1. Mixer / Sound Board

Have more than one microphone in the same room? To balance the sound, control feedback, and adjust volume levels on microphones, your a/v team will be using a mixer or sound board. These electronic consoles manipulate and combine audio signals before routing them to your speakers. Be sure your A/V team knows exactly how many speakers will need microphones.

Will your event also requires additional microphones for audience questions? Then, make sure your mixer has enough channels.

Pro tip: To ensure presenters on stage will hear questions from the audience, you may want to consult your A/V technician about installing monitor speakers.

2. Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio refers to the ratio between the width and the height of a screen. The two most common ratios are 16:9, which are High Definition screens (also called widescreens) and 4:3, which are Standard Definition screens. This is usually a problem that planners run into when speakers create their own presentations. These days, widescreen is a more common standard. Make sure speakers are submitting slides that fit the 16:9 aspect ratio.

While your budget will dictate which screen you choose, remember to have your guest speakers format presentations accordingly.

3. Projectors

The type of projector you select depends on your event. Are you showing PowerPoint presentations or videos? Will you need to stream a speech or interview?

For presentations, a brighter projector is generally better since it ensures good visibility. Always consider the amount of natural light, however. If a room has a lot of windows you will need an even brighter projector to ensure that everything is easily visible. As for streaming content, rear screen projection might be the solution for you since it provides better quality visuals.

4. Microphones

Before selecting a microphone, ask yourself these questions.

For what will the mic be used? Will it stay in one place?

If one speaker needs a mic and will stand in the same place, go wired. But, what if your speaker intends to take questions from the audience? A handheld wireless mic will ensure ease of movement. Consider using a CatchBox microphone to make Q&A even easier. It makes for a more interactive experience and easily integrates with most mixers.

Delivering a presentation and need your hands-free? Choose lavalier, a small microphone that easily clips on an earpiece or on clothing like a collar, tie or belt.

Last, a wireless microphone needs a transmitter to send audio signals through radio waves. For lavalier or headset microphones, a bodypack transmitter will do the trick – it can be mounted on clothing or fit inside a pocket.

5. Bandwidth

Does your event have to support multiple devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets? If you answered yes, then you may need more bandwidth.

That’s because bandwidth dictates how much information your internet connection can handle in a given period of time. Imagine water flowing through a pipe – too much water and the pipe could burst. So, what does this mean for you?

More bandwidth means more consistent upload and download speeds. It means uninterrupted streaming. And, most importantly, it will prevent the internet from crashing. Consider how many internet connected devices we use every day. If your event has 100 attendees, but they’re each bringing a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet, you’ll need to allocate enough bandwidth for more than 300 devices.

6. Frequency Band

A frequency band is a band of continuous frequencies that travels between two limits and transmits radio and television signals.

Every electronic device like wireless microphones, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and projectors emit signals at a particular frequency so make sure your microphone does not have to compete. Otherwise, you’ll hear screeching, which is fun for no one.

7. Transmitters and Receivers

Planning an event with live streaming? Or, need wireless microphones for your keynote speakers?

To avoid wires in the middle of the floor, you will need a transmitter and receiver. These devices work in tandem and help transmit AV signals through radio waves to projectors and speakers across the room.

8. Adapters and Dongles

Are you speakers presenting from their own laptops? Do any of them need to be plugged into a projector? Then it’s a good idea to have several adapters on hand.

The simple reason is that most computers don’t HDMI outlets. HDMI is what allows you to connect your computer to your TV to watch things like Netflix, but they can also save your events from a potential A/V disaster.

Dongles connect computers and TVs to watch Netflix, but they can also save you from A/V disasters.

You don’t need to be as fluent as your technician but knowing how things work will improve your ability to identify your AV needs, and manage your budget. 

How to set up a formal table setting


In setting up a formal table, everything should be geometrically spaced: centerpiece at the center; place settings at equal distances; and the utensils balanced. Decorations and flower arrangements around the setting as you like. 

The placement of utensils is guided by the menu, the idea being that you use utensils in an "outside in" order. In the illustrated place setting, the order of the menu is:      

  • Appetizer: Shellfish     
  • First Course: Soup or fruit     
  • Second Course: Fish    
  • Entree    
  • Salad   

Service Plate: This large plate, also called a charger, serves as an under-plate for the plate holding the first course, which will be brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the service plate remains until the plate holding the entree is served, at which point the two plates are exchanged. The charger may serve as the under-plate for several courses which precede the entree.

Butter Plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting. 

Dinner Fork: The largest of the forks, also called the place fork, is placed on the left of the plate. Other smaller forks for other courses are arranged to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when they will be used. 

Fish Fork: If there is a fish course, this small fork is placed farthest to the left of the dinner fork because it is the first fork used. 

Salad Fork: If the salad is served after the entree, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork. 

Dinner Knife: The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate. 

Fish Knife: The specially shaped fish knife goes to the right of the dinner knife. 

Salad Knife (Note: there is no salad knife in the illustration): If used, according to the above menu, it would be placed to the left of the dinner knife, next to the dinner plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the knives would be arranged (left to right): dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife. 

Soup Spoon or Fruit Spoon: If soup or fruit is served as a first course, then the accompanying spoon goes to the right of the knives. 

Oyster Fork: If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork goes to the right of the spoons. Note: It is the only fork ever placed on the right of the plate.  

Butter Knife: The small spreader is paced diagonally on top of the butter plate, handle on the right and blade down. 

Glasses: Glasses are placed at the top right of the dinner plate, above the knives and spoons. These can number up to five and are placed so that the smaller ones are up front.

Champagne Flute: Placed on the right side and closest to the utensils.

Red/White Glasses: Place to the left and slightly behind the Champagne Flute.

Water Glass: Placed on the left side of the glass arrangement and hovers over the plate setting.

Napkin: The napkin is folded or put in a napkin ring and placed either to the left of the forks or on the center of the dinner plate. Sometimes, a folded napkin is placed under the forks.

Coffee Cup and Saucer: (Not in illustration) At home, most people serve coffee after the meal. In a restaurant serving a large number of people at once, the coffee cup and saucer are placed above and to the right of the knife and spoons.

In General:        

  • Knife blades are always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate.     
  • No more than three of any implement is ever placed on the table, except when an oyster fork is used in addition to three other forks. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then the utensil for the fourth course is brought in with the food; likewise, the salad fork and knife may be brought in when the salad course is served.      
  • Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.

When do I need to get an ABC Liquor License and Event Permit?

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Knowing whether or not you need a California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Liquor License and Event Permit for catering and special events in California can be confusing.

One can be easily misguided regarding the laws regarding liquor licenses, alcohol service and permits for catering and special events. In addition, the ABC has become increasingly strict with the types of events they approve for alcohol service and the enforcement of the law. Not complying and maintaining proper licenses and permits can result in both legal and financial consequences to the both the hosting party and venue.

Common questions we get are: When do I need an ABC permit? Do I need to hire a licensed caterer? Can I hire a licensed bartender? We have put together some commonly asked questions and answers to assist in the professional, compliant and legal service of alcohol for your next event.

Who governs the service of alcohol at events?

The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is a state-run government agency that oversees the licensing of alcohol service in the State of California for all restaurants, bars, hotels, retail stores, caterers and events. (http://abc.ca.gov/)

When must I have an ABC event permit in place?

Under one or more of the following circumstances, an ABC event permit is required at an event.

• The event is open to the public, i.e. no private guest list or someone can walk in uninvited

• There is any admission cost for the event, i.e. ticket price, donation or door charge

• Any other fundraising activities are being held at the event, i.e. silent auction

• Drinks are being sold at the bar, i.e. no-host or “cash” bar

• A licensed caterer is providing the alcoholic beverages

• The event venue requires an ABC permit to be in place for the event

When do I NOT need to have an ABC event permit in place?

An ABC event permit is not required if ALL of the following are true.

• The event is private, i.e a bona fide guest list restricts access to invited guests ONLY

• The host is providing all of the alcohol

• All drinks are complimentary, i.e. hosted bar

• There is no admission cost for the event, i.e. no ticket price, donation or door charge

• The event venue does not require an ABC permit

Do you need to own a Liquor License to cater alcohol at an event?

Yes. The first step to cater alcoholic beverages anywhere in the State of California is to own a Type 47 or 48 (full liquor license) or a Type 41 or 42 (beer & wine only license). These licenses are typically held by a restaurant, hotel or licensed caterer. With one of these licenses, the licensee must then apply for a 58 License (sometimes referred to as a “Caterer’s Permit”) which then allows the licensee to apply for event permits (see below) to serve alcohol outside their licensed premises.

What is an ABC event permit?

An ABC event permit (also known as an ABC 218) is required whenever a licensed caterer serves alcohol at a catered event. The ABC license owner files a request and pays a fee to the ABC with the event date, location, event sponsor, hours and guest count for the specific event. Once approved, the permit must be on-site during the catered event.

Who may file for an ABC 218 event permit?

You must be an ABC license owner as described above to file for an ABC 218 permit.

How long does it take to get an ABC event permit?

It is very important to plan ahead. The ABC requires the permit to be filed at least 10 DAYS prior to the event. I see it happen time and time again with frantic last minute requests. Event planners don’t take the ABC requirements seriously or simply don’t think it applies to them. They are then scrambling a day or two before the event to find someone who can permit the event. By that time, unfortunately it is too late.

Can I get an event permit for my private party without hiring a licensed caterer?

You must either hire an ABC licensed caterer or if your event is a fundraiser and your organization is a registered and certified Non-Profit Organization (501-C3), then you may apply for a 1 day event permit (ABC 221) directly with the ABC. Keep in mind that you still may want to hire a caterer or licensed event staffing company to staff, serve and manage the alcohol service.

Can someone other than the ABC provide permits to serve alcohol at an event?

No. The ABC is the only organization that is authorized to approve alcohol event permits.

How many ABC event permits can be issued at an event venue per calendar year?

The ABC limits the number of event permits that can be issued at a single event location to 24 per calendar year.

Can multiple ABC event permits be obtained for the same event?

No. The ABC only allows one event permit to be issued for an event so only employees of the licensed company can serve under that permit.

How can I be sure that the caterer I hire is ABC licensed?

Ask your caterer to provide you a copy of their ABC liquor license and 58 Caterer’s Permit.

Is an ABC liquor license transferable for an event?

No. Liquor licenses and event permits are not transferable and cannot be “borrowed”. The only staff authorized to serve alcohol under an ABC liquor license and event permit are the employees of the company that owns the license. Always check to make sure the name on the liquor license is the same name as the company you are hiring.

What is a “licensed bartender”?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “licensed bartender”.  Companies are ABC licensed, not bartenders, however it is always best to hire bartending staff from a licensed caterer or event staffing company. If a bartender says they are licensed, just ask to see their ABC liquor license.

What do I do if my event venue asks for proof that I am hiring a licensed caterer?

Once you have secured the services of an ABC licensed caterer, ask them to provide a copy of their ABC liquor license and event permit to the event location.

Do some event venues require a permit even for private events?

Yes. Event venues are becoming increasingly concerned about non-licensed companies serving alcohol at events and the liability associated with this. In order to insure that a licensed company is serving, a venue may require a permit even if the ABC does not.

Are there any event venues that cannot be permitted for an event?

The ABC will not issue event permits for locations that currently are in the application process to obtain a permanent liquor license, i.e. restaurant, bar, hotel or banquet facility. In addition, any property that has a history of violations or repeated problems with law enforcement agencies may not be able to be permitted.

My caterer says they can provide liquor, but don’t own a liquor license. Is this okay?

No. You must own an ABC liquor license to cater alcohol for any type of event. Contrary to popular belief, most caterers do not own liquor licenses and cannot legally cater alcoholic beverages. Purchasing alcohol at a retail store and reselling it to you or being “reimbursed by you” is illegal and strictly forbidden by the ABC. If your caterer is providing you alcohol under any circumstances, they must own an ABC liquor license.

If I provide the alcohol for my own event, can my caterer or staffing company serve?

Yes. A non-licensed caterer or event staffing company can serve alcohol providing to them by the host. Make sure that all the criteria for a non-permitted event apply if you are hiring a non-licensed caterer or staffing company (see above). Also, make sure that they provide you a copy of their Liquor Liability insurance policy (not General Liability). This way you know you are protected from any liability resulting from alcohol service.

Will a liquor store license work for my event?

No. A liquor store license, also known as an “off sale” license, is not permitted to cater alcoholic beverages and not able to apply for ABC event permits (see types of licenses required above).

Can a Beer & Wine only license owner cater Full Liquor?

No. Only the privileges extended to the license owner under their liquor license can be extended to the event, i.e. Type 41 or 42 licenses can only serve beer and wine at an event, type 47 or 48 licenses can serve Full Liquor at an event. Full Liquor includes the service of spirits, i.e. cocktails and mixed drinks.

If drink tickets instead of cash are used at the bar, do I still need an event permit?

Yes. Tickets are considered the same as cash. Either way, the ABC views it as money changing hands for drinks, so an ABC event permit is required. Also, the old fraternity party trick of “charging for the cup” and giving the alcohol away free is still considered paying for drinks.

Can I be fined for illegally reselling alcoholic beverages?

Yes. The ABC is actively pursuing the illegal service of alcoholic beverages at events, non-licensed caterers, and events operating without proper permits.

What is the legal drinking age in California?

At no time are alcoholic beverages to be served to or consumed by any person under the age of 21.

What time do you have to stop serving alcohol?

At no time are alcoholic beverages to be served between the hours of 2:00am and 6:00am. Furthermore, all drinks must be out of the hands of guests by 2:00am, therefore, it is recommended to stop alcohol service no later than 1:30am.

Is it legal to serve alcohol after 2:00am if it is in a private home?

Though it may be commonplace to consume alcohol in a private home after 2:00am, it is NOT legal for a hired company (e.g. event staffing or catering company) to serve alcohol after 2:00am, even in a private home. If they do so, they are breaking the law just like they would be if in a restaurant or bar. If you must have that drink at home after 2:00am, you will just have to get up and serve it yourself.

Is it illegal to serve someone who is obviously intoxicated?

Yes. It is a misdemeanor to serve alcohol to any person who appears obviously intoxicated and, of course, it is illegal to drink and drive…so don’t do it.

We hope this helped clarify any confusion regarding the Alcoholic Beverage Control rules and regulations regarding alcohol service. Please reference our PREFERRED VENDOR LIST for license caterers to help you with your next event!